Jan 18th 2020
Lights, camera… COVID
‘I was anxious to see how the filming process would operate in Covid-19...’
said Francesca Jones in the Art Department.
‘It was almost like being on set for the first time! …’ said Matteo di Cugno, the sound engineer on set.
‘… I wasn’t sure how it was going to work...’ Emily Williams, Art Department.
‘I honestly didn’t think I’d be working at this level again until 2021...,’1st AD, David Gregory
Overcoming unprecedented challenges in an industry that exemplifies ‘the show must go on’ mentality
It turns out that it is possible to shoot a short film with a cast and crew of over twenty while still following British Film Commission (BFC) guidelines. But is it still as enjoyable of an experience if everyone is masked up and giving a wide berth? We at Worthily Films would argue yes.
When the BFC finalised the ‘COVID-19 Production Guidelines1’ at the end of May, the small team at Worthily Films were already a few months into itching to make the move from development into pre-production and get back on set. ‘Waiting for Time,’ a script written by Paul Chronnell, was to be the vehicle we would use to find out just how difficult shooting a socially-distanced film would be – and on Super 16 film, no less. This was a script that had incredible emotional investment from the start, so it could have been a risky choice to attempt filming as we all really wanted to do justice by it. However, we knew that it would just compel us to work harder and push ourselves to creatively overcome any obstacles.
Spoiler alert: the 16mm film has already been processed and, as two weeks have passed since the film shoot without any coronavirus symptoms arising in any of the cast and crew, it is safe to say that we have successfully made a COVID-friendly film shoot a reality.
So, how did we do it?
Preparation is always important, nay, vital, during pre-production but this was arguably the step that we had to be the most careful with to ensure that everyone felt comfortable going forward with this film shoot. We stocked up on enough cleaning supplies to sterilise a full hospital, which was a challenge in and of itself considering how some supermarket shelves were still bereft of cleaning wipes and gloves.
Before call sheets were even sent out, the entire crew listened to a presentation outlining the safety measures put in place. For many of the crew (probably the vast majority, in fact), this would be the first project they would have worked on since lockdown, as well as the first time they would be in a room with more than just their flatmates. There was a tinge of uncertainty in the (Zoom) room, trepidation at acting as pioneers – or guinea pigs. However, with such an incredible crew assembled, everyone agreed to follow the rules to the letter and endeavour to find a way through the days ahead.
‘I was anxious to see how the filming process would operate in Covid-19, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how smoothly it all operated.It soothed my nerves to know that everyone was taking it all very seriously, whilst also being very well prepared for it,’ said Francesca Jones in the Art Department.
Our lead actors were just as supportive and enthusiastic about following guidelines. In fact, the contracts were only signed once we at Worthily Films outlined our safety protocols in detail and their agents were happy with those terms. With everyone on the same page, it felt safer and ended up making the experience easier on set.
Maintaining social distancing
was reinforced on set. We put masks and gloves in every corner and put each department in a designated space to avoid too many people crossing paths. Both the BFC, in writing their guidelines, and the Waiting for Time cast and crew understood that keeping a two-metre distance would not be possible throughout the entirety of the shoot, so – as per the BFC’s advice – masks, gloves and sanitisation was used thoroughly when close proximity was necessary.
Anyone who didn’t need to be on set was sent to play outside, and keeping the doors open during most of the day kept the rooms ventilated. We certainly felt that luck and favour was on our side, as all three days of our film shoot were met with sun and cloudless skies.
Across different departments on set, a similar emotion took hold.
‘It was almost like being on set for the first time! I felt like I was rediscovering a new joy from the camaraderie and the filmmaking process… like starting again after a fresh start…’ said Matteo di Cugno, the sound engineer on set.
‘… I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, as I remember some sets being very cramped while filming. It didn’t hinder being able to get things done or the enjoyment on set, you just had to be more careful!’ Emily Williams, Art Department.
The positive attitudes present on set, along with the buzz created from work prospects picking up again, kept everyone motivated to remain conscious of safety procedures even after long hours on set. Our diligent first assistant director, David Gregory, was instrumental in ensuring the crew was on its best behaviour and more importantly, always felt comfortable within these circumstances.
‘I honestly didn’t think I’d be working at this level again until 2021, especially with a 20+ person crew. The experience of working on Waiting for Time was not only hugely beneficial in terms of the actual film we made, but in easing any anxieties I had in our industry rolling up to work again. My role as 1st AD kind of requires me to visit every single bubble at least every 30 minutes. This is the risk we take when deciding to work on a busy film set, much in the same you take the risk when you visit the supermarket. You know the safety precautions are there but it's up to you to adhere to them and make sure your fellow human is too. Just a risk you take stepping out of your front door.’
Looking back on what we planned to happen and what actually happened, we are happy to say that there is a large overlap in the two. Nights of preparation paid off and we all left set on the final day (at 10pm, of course) feeling satisfied and no longer apprehensive. We had made a movie!
For anyone that is eager to return to work or get back in the saddle, just know that it is possible but it is no longer business as usual. We would like for our experience to serve as motivation, and would be happy to speak in depth with anyone looking to embark on this journey!...............................................