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      Safety in the Time of COVID

              You have undoubtedly heard the phrase “these are unprecedented times” to the point of exhaustion by now. Determining how to navigate these uncharted waters is a complex issue, one that cannot be detailed in a single blog post. However, I’ve attempted to outline the key points below as determined by the framework developed by the AMPTP, DGA, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, Teamsters and the Basic Crafts. While it is still unsafe for productions to resume as “normal,” some projects are opening up in limited capacity. For example, commercials are shooting again, but on-camera talent is typically confined to members of the same household (read my Q & A with commercial director Matt Miller, where he discusses his experiences on set - and on Zoom - during this time). While some major productions have the resources to provide adequate testing and safety protocols in order to resume work, that doesn’t necessarily translate to smaller productions, leaving many cast and crew members to remain unemployed.

      If you are an actor, chances are you’ve received a request to self-tape at least once in the last several months, as in-person auditions can still pose a health risk. SAG-AFTRA recommends that all initial auditions take place virtually unless there is a specific reason why this would not suffice. Any in-person auditions should be held in a space that allows physical distancing, move paperwork to a digital format including scripts, schedules, and confidentiality agreements, and offer actors the ability to wait outside until they are called. If a group audition is required then a partition should be placed between performers and/or clear face shields should be worn.

      Hair and Makeup
      With the hair and makeup departments working in such close proximity to performers, it is vital that all involved parties adhere to strict safety measures. As outlined by SAG-AFTRA, hair and makeup departments will have health and safety training specific to COVID-19. Hair and makeup artists must wear PPE, workspaces should be adequately ventilated, and strict sanitation measures should be taken regarding workstations and tools.

      The same safety measures apply to wardrobe; PPE must be worn and strict sanitation protocols must be followed. In addition, the number of people who come in contact with costumes will be limited, and wardrobe crew must plan ahead to prevent overcrowding of work spaces.

      As with other areas of production, strict protocols will be in place regarding props to ensure the health and safety of cast and crew, including thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting props before and after each use, and limiting the number of people allowed to handle them.

               Ultimately, the responsibility falls to the producer to provide PPE and testing, and ensure all safety measures are in place. SAG-AFTRA’s video below provides details on how to safely return to work (an outline begins at 10:18). For further information visit sagaftra.org/backtowork.



      Q & A with Director Matt Miller

      Recently I chatted with Matt Miller, a Chicago-based industry professional who has been working in the arts for more than twenty years. Here he discusses navigating jobs through a pandemic and his thoughts on the future of theatre and tv/film production.


      What is your job title?

      I'm a director. Plays and commercials mostly.

      How long have you been doing that?

      I've been directing theatre professionally since I moved to Chicago in 1999. I've been directing commercials now for the last six years.

      I’m sure COVID-19 has caused quite a disruption in your occupation. Are you working or are things at a standstill?

      Live theatre is at a dead stop and will be for a long time I fear.

      Commercial and TV/Film production stopped for a couple months when quarantine began back in March, but, as we have learned more about the virus and how to contain it, production has adapted and slowly re-started. Commercial production pivoted quickly to user generated content at the beginning of quarantine and now more traditional shoots are happening with new protocols, social distancing, and on-set COVID compliance officers in charge of keeping everyone safe.

      How is your job different now than it was before the pandemic?

      In May I directed a commercial for Lowe's that took place in four locations across the country (LA, Chicago, Alabama, and New Jersey) all through Zoom. That was definitely a very different experience and not something I ever anticipated doing. I don't think anyone liked working that way, but we were able to keep people safe and capture some good content that the client loved. I can see that kind of shoot happening again.

      Matt Miller on set

      What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced while working during this time?

      With the return of commercial production, the biggest challenge has been keeping actors safe. For crew, there are all kinds of protocols and procedures in place. However, most of those safety practices are rendered ineffective when you need to put actors in a scene together without masks. Right now most productions are casting actors or families who are already quarantined together to reduce risk. This will probably be the norm for the rest of this year at least until testing can become more readily available.

      Has anything good or pleasantly unexpected come from being quarantined?

      Well, on a national level I feel like our country is more actively wrestling with the many social inequalities and injustices that have long been allowed to fester in a culture that normally likes to serve up plenty of distractions. I think that has been positive and hopefully continues.

      On a personal level, I'm trying to use this time to read more and work on projects around the house that I have been too busy for previously. My girlfriend and I are also growing tomatoes on the back deck and they are straight up delicious.

      What are your thoughts on how you see the industry moving forward?

      For a time, I do think that anything that can be done remotely through Zoom will be. Already clients and ad agencies are watching shoots via Zoom rather than being present on set. Now that this option has been tested, that approach may be something that sticks as it's a big time and money saver. Casting directors have been able to use the break-out room feature in Zoom to good effect and virtual casting sessions have become more standard. This development puts more responsibility on actors especially to have quality at-home set ups for recording with proper lighting, backdrop, and microphones. So I think we are going to see--and already are seeing--the rise of the home recording studio for actors. While I think we will get back to in-person casting sessions when it's safe, I would not be surprised if Zoom casting sessions remain in the mix after the pandemic.

      What advice can you share with actors as they navigate through this crazy time?

      Read fiction. Engage with challenging stories. An actor's best tool is their imagination and reading fiction helps keep that blade sharp in the absence of actual stage or screen time. And, on a practical level, today's novel is tomorrow's movie.


      Check out some of Matt's work at mattmillerdirect.com.