Now that movie theaters are finally reopening and Hollywood is getting back to work; Emmy award filmmaker, Janet Urban, talks about the steps movie executives are taking to safely restart productions.
Janet, a twenty-six-year veteran of the Film Industry, she has spent her career working as a commercial sound mixer. In that time, some of her most notable achievements have been her Emmy win for her work on National Geographic’s Sea Monsters and an Emmy nomination for Return of The Wolf. Urban has garnered a resume full of names like Darren Aronofsky, Damien Chazelle, and Peter Berg.
In 2012, she started a new venture – a film industry coaching program that helps newcomers find professional film work and build a solid career.
Janet’s programs include online mentoring courses such as A-list Work-Study, where she instructs her students on how to find professional film work with networks like Netflix, Marvel Films, the BBC, as well as music videos, reality TV, and commercials. She also teaches a personal development course called A-list Fire.
From selecting locations to feeding the crew, nearly everything about film production has been affected by COVID. Since the early 2000’s the speed of production has accelerated. Equipment has become more specialized, and crews have been able to shoot more footage in less time. That resulted in more people on set at the same time.
In between setups, a set often resembles a hive full of honeybees. So meeting COVID requirements of six feet of separation is quite a challenge that requires the different departments to come in and do their work in phases, which significantly slows down the filming process.
To manage the compliance of the new COVID guidelines, productions are adding a compliance team department. For smaller shoots, the compliance team may oversee adherence to guidelines such as pre-shoot testing, PPE usage, minimum distancing, as well as disinfection of shared facilities or equipment. On larger shoots, the compliance team may also be involved in pre-production, identifying COVID compliant bottlenecks from transportation to workflow patterns.
Urban says, “For those of us on set, a COVID test is often required before being allowed to work. In addition to the test, prior to reporting to set, everyone goes through a COVID screening. All crew members are required to wear a face mask at all times, and a face shield is also required if working in proximity of the talent. Instead of the flurry of people on set between setups, access is restricted to only a small group or one department at a time.”
The resulting slowdown in filming has led to shoots taking considerably longer to accomplish than before. A 12 hour day can easily become a 14 hour day with a slower, more careful pace.
Another change is crew size. For some productions, this may mean scaling down of crew to the minimum needed to allow for distancing, for others, it means scaling up of additional crew so that departments can take on the additional duties needed to stay COVID compliant.
Production is responding with less elaborate scenes, a simpler shooting schedule, fewer actors if possible. There are fewer background actors on set. Streaming services are utilized to remote the executives, sometimes even the director.
It all boils down to being able to profitably shoot. Smaller-scale productions are able to make it work, and larger-scale productions like TV and features films are still figuring out how to get their shows shot with the budget and time required.
According to FilmLA, the Los Angeles film permitting office, the vast majority of permits currently being issued in the Los Angeles area are for commercials and still-photo shoots. Janet told us “I personally feel safe on set because the strict requirements production is enforcing. With people staying 6 ft apart, wearing masks, with face shields, temperature being checked twice a day, a medic on set in case anybody is not feeling well, hand washing stations, I feel pretty certain that I would not get this virus on set.”
Although the state of California has tightened its requirements for businesses, film production has been allowed to continue as long as it stays within the safety requirements.
It is a time in which the industry desperately needs to continue shooting. During the shutdown, current content has been rapidly consumed and new content is desperately needed.
Tens of thousands of industry jobs are directly tied to the production of film and many more jobs that support the industry. From advertisers to caterers, to supply houses, to equipment manufacturers, the film industry affects the livelihood of families all across the U.S. and the world.
It isn’t often that the film industry goes through a major transformation like it is now. It will be interesting to see how this event transforms the experience of filmmaking in the future. Will life on set remain fractured with fear of newer viruses in the wings? Or will we return to what we love so much about the process of filmmaking, a work environment of hugs, and life’s shared moments that make working in film more like a family outing than a real job?