PRODUCTION SOLUTIONS

Expert Advice from Epitome's Production Safety & Risk Management Specialists

How COVID-19 Affects Shooting Schedules

In the COVID-19 era, shooting schedules need to be longer and more detailed than ever before. The health and safety of the cast and crew—as well as the survival of the production itself — depend on a well-written, detailed schedule. This schedule should account for all the additional steps that COVID-19 protocols demand.

Because COVID-19 affects every aspect of a shoot, it has a compounding effect on scheduling. In short, productions are taking longer, but at the same time, they are getting less complex. In later articles, we will go into exactly how and why things are taking longer while simultaneously becoming simpler.

This article will help you understand what effects the pandemic has had on scheduling and offer tips to help you when you schedule your next production.

BEFORE COVID-19

Let’s refresh our memories on what scheduling in the pre-COVID-19 era looked like. After all, it has been a while since we have had the opportunity to make a movie or a television show.

While all productions are different, the scheduling standard has always been that one page takes about two hours to shoot. Or put more exactly, 1/8 of a page usually takes about fifteen minutes to shoot. But we can’t forget to account for load times, prep times, and camera set-up times in our schedules.

On pre COVID-19 sets, load in time took an additional hour, prep time took about two hours and camera set-up was about thirty minutes per shot.

Before COVID-19

Task Time Required
Shooting 1/8 page 15 minutes
Shooting 1 page 2 hours
Load In Time 1 hour
Prep Time 2 hours
Camera Set-Up ~ 30 minutes per shot

CHANGING EXPECTATIONS

COVID-19 doesn’t affect how the camera operates, how lights shine, how actors act, or how mics work. In truth, the physical shooting of a designated shot will not change much in the COVID-19 era. The majority of the changes—and the majority of the added time—will come before and after getting the shot.

The CDC recommends restricting person-to-person contact, maintaining social distancing (six feet at a minimum) and cleaning surfaces often. This means that on-set crews will have to be smaller and that equipment will need to be wiped down before and after use. Your set will need to be a mini-bubble. There are many ways to achieve this. All of them will add time to your day.

Again, each production is different, but we estimate that load in times and set-up times will at least double. Prep times will increase by about 50%. We estimate, however, that actual shoot times will most likely stay about the same. This means that, on average, it’s best to estimate a load in time of at least 2 hours, prep time of 3 hours, and a set-up time of 1 hour.

During COVID-19

Task Time Required
Shooting 1/8 page 15 minutes
Shooting 1 page 2 hours
Load In Time 2 hours
Prep Time 3 hours
Camera Set-Up ~ 60 minutes per shot

To help you when scheduling your next shoot, we have a few tips to keep in mind.

COVID-19 SCHEDULING TIPS

We all know that no production is ever the same and few ever end up following the schedule to the letter.

During this pandemic, however, there are a few things to keep in mind when scheduling:

1. Minimize crew on set:

Sets need to be mini-bubbles and they need to stay that way for as long as possible. One of the best and easiest ways to do this is to keep the crew to a minimum.

This doesn’t mean that crews on the whole need to be small. It only means that we keep to a minimum the number that are physically on set. If you need tons of equipment for your shoot, you still may need a large crew, but it is best to keep most of them outside the mini-bubble of the set.

2. Minimize company moves.

Sanitizing a location will take time, money, and energy. So, once a location is sanitized it makes sense to stay there as long as you can. Travel is the most dangerous activity during the pandemic. We can’t sanitize travel and, therefore, travel is the most likely culprit for COVID-19 transmission.

3. Simplify shot lists.

As we have already outlined, shoots are going to take longer that we are used to. To keep budgets from ballooning uncontrollably, we need to simplify where we can. One aspect of production that we will need to address now, during the scheduling phase of pre-production, is shooting.

Its best to sit down with the director and DP to talk about what shots are possible and advisable during COVID-19. Remember two important things that will affect your shots:

  • Smaller on-set crews
  • Social distancing

Complex crane shots, for instance, require multiple crew members standing right on top of each other. Same goes for dolly shots, jib shots, etc. While it is generally best to leave the artistic decisions to the artists, you will need to stress to the DP and director how important it is to keep the crews small and to maintain social distancing.

It might be possible to achieve a similar shot with a drone or a Steadicam. It also might be possible to reconfigure the shot entirely to accommodate smaller crews and social distancing.

4. Push large shots to end of shoot.

If you have a scene that requires a large amount of extras, we recommend that you push that scene (or scenes) to the end of your production schedule. These shots increase the chances of COVID-19 exposure and, therefore, are likely to delay, or shutdown, your production.

In addition to organizing sets and shots to limit cast and crew interaction with extras, we recommend that you reduce to a minimum (or eliminate, if possible) any shots with tons of extras. If, however, your production needs to film one of these types of scenes, make it one of the last things on your schedule.

5. Go virtual when possible.

The Mandalorian on Disney+ illustrated the value of virtual sets before the pandemic. Now, during COVID-19, that value is nearly immeasurable.

Instead of using costly green screens and CGI in post, virtual sets rely on LED-lit screens to bring the location to life while on set. This means that, if we can afford to make it part of the budget, we can shoot many different locations in one, sanitized place.

While outdoor shooting can be safer than indoor shooting, indoor shooting, especially on studio soundstages, offers far more control. If the indoor location has modern ventilation systems, indoor shooting can be safer than outdoor shooting during the pandemic.

But building indoor sets requires larger crews, which is something we are trying to stay away from. This is where virtual sets come it. They can require fewer crew members to set up, and the images on them can be changed far more quickly than physical sets can be torn down and rebuilt.

THE GOOD NEWS

All of this might seem daunting and expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Just remember: We know how COVID-19 spreads. And knowing that means we can prevent it from spreading. The new reality of production scheduling simply aims to do just that.

The worst thing that can happen to any of our productions is an outbreak. The steps we take now, in the scheduling phase, will help to prevent one. It might mean longer shoots but—and here’s the good news—at least we are getting to make movies and television again.


Brian Smolensky is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and a former Air Force Full Spectrum Threat Response Officer with over 15 years of experience in film and television production.


DISCLAIMER: This information should not be considered comprehensive and is not a substitute for hiring risk management professionals and personnel trained in COVID-19-specific procedures. Please consult with your insurance company, your investors, all applicable union reps, and health and safety professionals before starting production in a pandemic.