COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on almost every industry, with television and movie sets also on standby across much of the world. As might be expected, the idea of having numerous actors, directors and technicians gathering to shoot a production has thrown up plenty of issues since the pandemic took hold in early 2020.
With households mixing, close (and prolonged) contact and enclosed spaces, movie or televisions sets are a recipe for disaster when it comes to the spread of COVID-19. Fortunately, production companies have found ways to mitigate the inherent dangers of being on a production set, meaning the public has been able to enjoy some new episodes of its favorite shows during the height of the pandemic.
Despite the ability of popular shows such as ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘This Is Us’ to churn out new episodes over 2020 and into 2021, they have not been completely unaffected by COVID-19. Medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy, had its 16th season suspended for a period of months due to the pandemic. Similarly, recent episodes of This Is Us due to air in January 2021 have been postponed at short notice with post-production issues related to COVID-19.
Of course, there are numerous reasons as to why TV shows and movies might struggle to complete production processes at the moment. It is certainly not easy to travel to new locations that could be relevant to the plot, and with rigorous testing and periods of self-isolation required for many crew members, delays are often inevitable.
As such, directors have been set the challenge of adapting their production processes to make them suitable for the era of COVID-19.
General Guidance for Producers
In December 2020, the AICP (Association of Independent Commercial Producers) published guidance alongside L.A. County’s Department of Public Health. With the case rate of COVID-19 still a big concern in an area home to Hollywood, producers are always taking stock of a rapidly evolving situation and changing production protocols as needed.
Here are some of the latest ways producers have been advised to adapt their safety measures during COVID-19:
- Place special focus on the number of people working together indoors. Where possible, reduce the number in close proximity when indoors.
- Try to split crew members into shifts where possible. This is one of the most effective ways to try and reduce the number of people in the same building.
- As has become clear, producers should try to encourage virtual work where possible. Video meetings and remote work should be actively requested.
- If possible, take steps to optimize ventilation indoors. Try to prevent a build-up of people in areas with a poor air flow.
- Remember the basics of COVID-19 safety and apply these to your production set: wearing face coverings, remembering social distancing and staying at home if sick or recently exposed to the virus.
Periods of self-isolation and 14-day quarantines pose the potential for significant delays to production if this happens with a large number of crew members. Producers should remember to allow extra time to complete their projects, expecting delays if team members test positive or need to travel from other locations.
Major examples of production difficulties
Adaptation has been the name of the game since COVID-19 took over in 2020. There have been plenty of examples of producers creating makeshift solutions for their crew.
Stars like James Corden have been made to film their flagship shows away from their regular locations, with the Late Late Show being broadcast from his very own garage.
With productions often working to tight deadlines, adherence to the COVID-19 guidelines can often be the difference between meeting a deadline or suffering delays due to a reckless exposure to the virus. For this reason, Tom Cruise was recorded berating members of his ‘Mission: Impossible’ crew for failing to be socially distant during production.
Producers are having to be very flexible when it comes to working on sets during COVID-19. From filming without a studio audience to pushing back release dates almost a year (see James Bond’s latest installment), it is almost impossible to produce a show or a movie like we did pre-COVID-19.
However, there are constantly evolving safety guidelines which help producers work towards creating shows and movies for people to enjoy during these uncertain times.