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The Future of Production in a COVID World

By May 14, 2020 September 17th, 2020 No Comments

Photo by Marita Kavelashvili on Unsplash

June 2020 update: Read about our first shoot back

For producers, being forced to shelter in place — to sit still — is especially hard. For many of us, it’s the first time in our careers that we’ve been grounded from travel. We’re discouraged from congregating (i.e., anything on set). And we’re forced to think about everything conceptually, rather than practically. It’s frustrating. But it’s also rife with opportunity. 

Suddenly, we have all the time in the world to think, plan, and scheme. And are we ever! It’s funny, I feel like my calendar is just as full as it was before. In this post, I’m excited to share some of what #TeamGreyHouse has been up to. We’ve been working with others in the industry to come out of this smiling and raring to go — not only leading the charge in producing in the coronavirus era, but also taking the time to reflect and improve internally, so we can be even better externally.

Putting systems in place

A big part of production is solving a problem before anybody knows they have one. When I was starting Grey House, especially as I was building our systems and processes, I was trying to make sure we had resources in place before we had clients in the wings. Now, it feels like I’m doing it all over again. Someone I know once compared production to a railroad track, and I think it is more fitting than ever before. We are building this calculated, strategic, behind-the-scenes work that is equivalent to operating a railroad switch: when a train comes to a fork in the tracks, the shift to follow one path or the other is super-subtle. Most don’t ever feel it. But it’s been set up miles in advance. That’s the framework that we’re working on right now: setting up a safe path to shooting during the coronavirus era. And when we succeed, no one will feel it.

Collaborative process

Over the past few months of the national lock-down, I’ve had a ton of calls and conversations with my colleagues: artists, producers, talent, clients, and so forth. I’ve been working with our team to build the initial framework, then pass it to colleagues in other positions, to help account for any blindspots. In a conversation with artist-agent Heather Elder, she kept reminding me that by nature, producers are resourceful people. We’re always looking to problem-solve. Throughout our careers, we’ve never just said, “No.” We’ve always said, “How about this instead?” There’s always a negotiation; we’re practiced at presenting options. We’re embracing that thinking even more now, to address concerns without putting anyone in a compromising position.

Embracing change

The fact of the matter is, we’re not going back to normal when this is all done. The industry may be afraid to return to work. But we’re also going to be afraid not to work. What we don’t want, is for post–COVID-19 production to be a race to the bottom of a money pit. If anything, shooting is going to be more expensive than ever, because we’re including line items we’ve never included before: sanitization before and after shoots, an extra PA hired to clean, mass supplies of PPE available for everyone on set, probably a set medic, and so forth. These are all the things we’re talking about now. Is it different than before? Of course. But it’s not a bad thing.

Pivoting with grace

As a production company, we must be adaptable. Period. Just like the restaurants setting up dining rooms in their parking lots, we’re doing the best to do what we love in a way that works…for right now. And just like those makeshift dining rooms, no one expects these measures to remain in place for the long run; it won’t be a surprise when we inch back toward normalcy. Yes, production looks different right now. It’s evidence of the fact that we are prepared to pivot under pressure. But we won’t compromise under it. 

Together with others in the industry, we are proud to have recently released a COVID-19 Production Guide detailing what we see as three phases of this new world:)

Phase 1: Where We Are Now 

Right now, when news and guidelines change almost daily, we’re simply doing what we can. If a client has a product that needs to be shot and there’s a photographer with a studio available, do it. The only safe set is with one person on it. So that’s what we’re promoting.

Phase 2: Produce & Protect

Whenever scientists say it’s safe — either because there’s widespread testing, there’s a vaccine, or shelter-in-place is relaxed — this phase begins. And we won’t dive into it. For instance, even if shelter-in-place is gradually lifted, we may not have medics available for set, because they’re still on the front lines. Just because it’s safe for the world to start going back to normal, it may not be safe for us just yet. So, we’re looking at the nuances. 

Phase 3: The Future of Production

We’re never going to go back to how it was. Instead, we’ll pivot. The benefit of this forced pause is that we’ll realize the ways in which we weren’t efficient, and have the opportunity to make amends. We’ll recognize the ways in which we were previously putting ourselves at risk — either from liability, contracts, etc. — and be able to fix them. At Grey House, we began implementing quite a few nontraditional practices last few years — from payroll to additional insurance security, and written agreements with all crew and vendors. Especially now, we have the time to keep tweaking our best practices to get them just right. So that when the time comes, we’ll be ready.

If you’re interested in receiving our COVID-19 Production Guide, download a copy here.