5 Ways I’m Staying Safe on Set During COVID-19

5 Ways I'm Staying Safe on Set During COVID-19
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Staying safe on set can be challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic.  I recently learned that another fellow DGA member has died from the virus.  I heard that he got sick a few days after working on a 6-day commercial that had no testing protocols in place.  In addition to the outpouring of grief on social media for a very popular colleague, people expressed anger that some companies are not taking set safety protocols seriously enough.  This is especially true on commercial sets, where COVID-19 safety protocols were developed in conjunction with the AICP.

For commercial productions to obtain DGA signatory status, the DGA commercial contracts department talks to each production about their COVID-19 safety plans.  Producers must follow the plans that have been approved.  On non-union commercials, it may be unclear what the safety protocols are and who is enforcing them.

Last month, more than 300 crew members signed a letter to IATSE complaining that COVID-19 safety guidelines for commercials were too lax.  The letter demanded stricter safety protocols for commercials.  A recent article in the Los Angeles Times listed some safety complaints by crew members working on commercial sets.  The complaints sited inconsistent enforcement of existing safety guidelines, vans not being sanitized, limited handwashing availability and an inadequate supply of hand sanitizer.  On one shoot, excessive numbers of crew people crowded into one small room of a house, prompting another safety complaint.  It’s been reported that some commercial productions aren’t even doing cast and crew temperature checks, let alone testing.  In my opinion, productions with lax safety protocols are sets to avoid.  I’m not sacrificing my health or my life for a job.

Big budget features and TV shows are finding ways to implement elaborate set safety scenarios that include zones, frequent testing and numerous hand washing stations.  Projects with shorter shooting schedules, such as commercials, may not be as focused on the health and safety of cast and crew members.  Therefore, I’ve planned for how I’ll institute my own protocols for staying safe on set.

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Here are 5 ways I plan to stay safe on set:

  1. I’ll ask questions about safety protocols on set before I even agree to take the job.

These days, the job starts before you get to the job.  For a company to get signatory status with SAG-AFTRA or the DGA, they must have already submitted a safety plan to those guilds.  Unfortunately, actors and crew members may never see those plans, so it’s crucial to ask questions.  Are masks strictly required at all times on set, in vehicles and at base camp?  Are cast and crew temperatures being taken daily, and if so, by whom?  Is there nasal swab testing being done?  If there are several locations in a day, is everyone traveling between locations in their own cars?  Will there be a cleaning person on set, sanitizing doorknobs, counters and other high-touch areas?  If there will be extras, I want to know how many and if they’re working inside or outside. I also want to know that there’s adequate space for social distancing in the extras holding area.

  1. I’ll always have a change of masks with me.

I recently did a job that involved filming outdoors in heat over 100 degrees.  I was glad I had change of mask for when we went inside to film.  Also, I’ll choose my mask type based on what I learn about the job.  I have KN95 masks, as well as a variety of fabric masks with filter inserts.  What I won’t wear are the pleated surgical masks from China that I wore outside in the heat that day.  My face sweated profusely under that mask and I ended up with a rash that took 2 weeks to get rid of.  Careful mask selection is key for me.  Also, no vented masks.  You can’t even enter the Mayo Clinic wearing a vented mask.  That’s good enough reason for me not to wear one.

  1. I’ll have a visor with me at all times to wear as needed.

Depending on how close I have to be to other people, I’ll keep that visor handy.  It’s known that the virus can travel via aerosol transmission, so I’ll protect my eyes when in an enclosed space around people.  I know some crew members working on big jobs are wearing goggles on set.  I’d consider getting a pair based on the job, but I haven’t needed them yet.

  1. I’ll find a space for a mask-free zone.

A 1st a.d. who was a featured guest in a recent DGA virtual chat mentioned that he found it necessary to establish a mask-free zone near the set.  Crew members needed a safe place to go to remove their N95 masks for a few minutes during long, difficult shooting days.  I couldn’t agree more, especially in the heat.  On some locations, it’s easy to find the space to just walk away for a few minutes and remove the mask.  I did it recently in the back corner of the yard at a house where we were filming.  On other locations, it may be more difficult.

  1. I’ll have my own hand sanitizer and wet wipes.

The commercial I worked on recently provided plenty of hand sanitizer, but that may not always be the case.  Ideally, there will be an easily accessible place for hand washing, as it’s essential to stopping the spread of the virus.  I also won’t touch anything I don’t need to touch and will always have my own pen handy for any paperwork I need to sign.

The Producers Guild recently released their version of safety protocols for working during COVID-19.  The COVID Safety Protocols for Producing Independent Productions guidelines are similar to The Safe Way Forward set safety document published jointly by the unions.  It contains recommendations for zone systems, regular testing, personal protective equipment and set sanitation processes.  While both documents are thorough and the recommended safety protocols are well thought out, the world of commercial production is unique.

Those of us who work in commercials need to be especially prepared for our own safety.  In the current environment, reports that the AICP COVID-19 safety guidelines may not be adequate and are not being consistently enforced is frightening.  I plan to be pro-active with my own set safety protocols for my health and peace of mind.  I would advise anyone who works on set in any capacity to do the same.



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