We wish we could enthusiastically write, “Aaaaand, we’re back!” and simply pick up from where we left off before COVID-19.
But the fact of the matter is, production looks different now. A lot different.
Our first shoot back wasn’t easy. The good news? We got through it, which means the next one will be even smoother.Continuing our ongoing efforts to communicate with our industry about how we can all work safely during this time, we’re sharing a run-down of our first shoot back.
Over 6 days in mid-June, our first shoot back happened to be with a longtime client for which we do a big two-week, on-location holiday shoot every May. Historically, we’ve had a 25- to 35-person crew and 150 models. So off the bat, we knew things would have to be very different. Managing expectations became our biggest theme. We talked with our clients about how to do this shoot with safety as the top priority, while also knowing it’s their biggest campaign of the year, driving their holiday revenue. (Not to mention, this company has recently undergone dramatic changes at the executive level, and creatives were clearly feeling a lot of pressure to perform.) We took on balancing a lot of emotional energy, as well as underscoring the realities of a safety-first shoot.
One of the most difficult things to navigate is that everybody has a different perception of our country’s pandemic situation, and how seriously to take it. Someone might say, “You’re being way too strict,” while someone else, even with all of our rules, might say, “I feel super nervous to be here.” Making sure everyone is cared for and heard is key — and it’s no easy feat.
Providing a Safe Space
Everyone had really different expectations, so it was important to us to provide a safe place to those who felt like the odd-person out — no matter which end of the safety spectrum they were on. Taking a page from “The Psychology of Crisis Webinar” we watched in early March, we met as a group — socially distanced, of course — before entering the studios on our first day: we named the thing that was causing our collective anxiety. We acknowledged that our first shoot back can be very scary and intense, but it can also be exciting — and that those two can coexist in our work. We also reviewed safety protocols that had been delivered by email, introduced key roles (i.e., the set medic), and let everyone know the chain of command for any concerns or questions.
Cut & Double
Cut your shot list in half, and double your shoot days. This is how we managed to pull off a shoot of this size. We have to move so much slower now — sanitizing between everything, working with significantly less crew, needing to give breaks due to masks, and so forth — which just adds time.
Increasing Communication with Crew
Before we even put together a bid for the job, we had a ton of conversations with our department leads. We wanted to know exactly what was needed for a realistic pacing for the shoot so that we could set them up for success. We wanted there to be nothing in the back of their minds that we hadn’t already considered and accounted for. Throughout the shoot, we were making sure to listen to our crew and take a pulse on their emotions, as well.
Increasing Communication with Clients
Typically for this client, and others with whom we’ve had repeat jobs over the years, we tend to have a looser creative brief and fill in the gaps as we go. This time, we asked for more specifics, hoping to pinpoint exactly what they hoped to get out of the shoot, and how we could safely do it in the state of Illinois. (Especially now, when guidelines vary so widely between even neighboring states, it’s important not only to double-check the rules, but make sure they’re clear to everyone on set — including the client.)
Managing Crowds & Maintaining Space
For this shoot, though our talent were primarily children, we didn’t allow any parents on set. This was communicated to agents and talent in advance so no one was surprised. To reduce talent’s exposure to others when on set sans masks, we cast siblings or “quaranteam” members whenever possible. Our art director was off-set — way off-set, in Wisconsin — virtually reviewing work with only a 2-second delay, which worked wonderfully. On set, we increased our monitors (we had seven total) to avoid crowding around just one, and allowed some to serve as command stations for departments. This allowed wardrobe to have a virtual show-and-tell with clients off-set, and HMU could preview a style to get feedback in real time.
Tag-Teaming On Set
At shoot time, Illinois advised against gatherings of more than 10 people. We limited our crew and talent, which was do-able, but it meant for a much slower production since we couldn’t have additional bodies helping to transition between takes. So ultimately, we wound up renting two 4,000 square-foot studios, and dividing our production into teams: Team A was prep (HMU, wardrobe, products, etc.), Team B was action (lighting, camera, talent, props).
Hands-Off Craft Services
Our teams remained separated for meals, staggered for space and seated outdoors. Instead of buffet-style, we pre-ordered individual boxed meals, then sanitized each box with UV-C light and marked each with “SANITIZED” stickers. To limit cross-contamination, we designated just one person to hand out food and retrieve drinks from coolers. In the end, we wound up with less food waste than a typical shoot (we were able to compost and recycle on set, per usual).
Sanitize, Sanitize, Sanitize
Grey House has always been big on hand sanitizer; pre-COVID, we would typically keep 1–2 gallons on set. At this shoot, we had about 5 gallons on set, divvied up so that each department had their own. One PA’s entire role was just sanitization —door handles, light switches, computer cords, backs of chairs, you name it — all day, top to bottom, sanitized with EPA-certified disinfectant and microfiber cloths (which were then washed every night). The best testament to our cleanliness came from a vendor who relayed what he’d told his wife about his two shoots that week (ours, and another): “Let me put it to you this way: When I’m other peoples’ sets, I feel the need to sanitize before I come home. When I’m on [a Grey House] set, I feel the need to sanitize before I get there.”
For more on how Grey House is handling production in the time of COVID-19, please refer to our newly released (and free to download!) Production Guide to “Shooting During the Coronavirus Era.”