As various countries and states in the U.S. begin taking steps on the road back to content production, Realscreen‘s virtual video roundtable, RealTalk, returns with an episode exploring what the new protocols will look like, and how they will impact the production industry going forward.
Joining Realscreen editor and content director Barry Walsh for this episode: Rhett Bachner, co-founder and executive producer at B17 Entertainment, an Industrial Media company; David Brady, CEO of Cream Productions; Thalia Mavros, filmmaker, founder and CEO, The Front; and Jay Schlossberg, president and owner, Media Central.
Questions, comfort levels and common sense
With California being among the latest to offer up guidelines of some form to the production business, the RealTalk panel says it’s vitally important to balance the desire — and need — to get back to work with the protocols that need to be put into place in the COVID-19 era. California state officials have offered June 12 as a date to resume film and television production, depending on infection rates in particular counties, which corresponds with the panelists’ wishes to kick things back into gear this month or in July. And while different states and global territories place emphasis on different measures — voluntary quarantines, frequent and consistent testing, on-set medics, et cetera — the trick will be determining which practices are essential, which aren’t, and how that will be decided upon, and by whom.
“The common factors are ones that we already know — social distancing, disinfecting, simplifying the workspace, reducing crew and interactions of crew,” says Cream’s David Brady. “But everywhere you’re shooting is a little bit different. So we’re starting with the low-hanging fruit… We’re working it all out, but we’re waiting for guidelines to show up.”
According to B17′s Rhett Bachner, “For us the big question mark is general congregation of people. It’s one thing if we’re doing another season of [Quibi's] Thanks a Million, and we’re out in the field doing some remotes. It’s another if we’re looking at 75 to 100 people that need to congregate to make something at the scale of [HBO Max's] Craftopia.
“Some of this is about comfort level,” he adds. “I know we’d all like a little black and white in this area but the truth is that even in August, if the numbers are far improved, there are still people you want to work with that you trust who will have a different comfort level than someone else and you just have to do everything you can to create an environment to make people more comfortable.”
For her part, The Front’s Thalia Mavros agrees that ensuring the comfort level and safety of talent and crew being brought into productions is paramount. “I know everybody’s ready to go back to work and do fun stuff, but let’s step back and have a conversation about the broader impact of what’s to happen, in a way that’s uplifting and purposeful and not fear-mongering.”
“I based most of [our protocol] on common sense — you may have heard of it,” quips Media Central’s Jay Schlossberg. Disinfecting, keeping crew and talent as separate as possible, and swapping lav mics for booms and shotguns were all part of the process for the crews he has worked with over the last two months.
“I wanted to make sure we got beautiful pictures, great sound, but I wanted to make sure that everyone was as safe as was humanly possible.”
Taking the steps back into business
“It needs to be slow and thoughtful and not rushing into anything,” cautions Schlossberg, who says that he still senses a lot of fear from producers about moving back into business. “It’s one step at a time for everyone.”
Brady says he anticipates that networks “are going to protect themselves through this so we as production companies are probably going to bear the brunt of certain restrictions, like when it comes to insurance, or completion issues. So we have to be ready for that.” While in Canada, discussions are being held about the federal government providing an “insurance backstop” in the event of a second wave of COVID-19 prompting another lockdown, he and Mavros agree that pitching programming that could be produced under quarantine restrictions if need be makes good strategic sense, “giving our buyer friends the opportunity to say yes and to be comfortable in saying the yes,” in Mavros’ words.
To get the industry back up and running, producers and buyers will need to work in tandem perhaps more than ever before, and more as colleagues than competitors… at least for the immediate future.
“In Los Angeles, we are all using the same people. so someone who’s running a show for us, or crew that is coming over, is probably two weeks removed from somebody else’s,” says Bachner. “I do feel like the unscripted community has been coming together to help form these best practices, and I plan on reaching out to everybody who’s on this call at some point to see what we’re all developing.”
“We’re headed in the right direction, but it’s going to be a long slog,” admits Schlossberg. – BW
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