You needn’t look far to witness the effects COVID-19 has had on communities, families, and businesses around the world. The ripple effects have imposed implications on nearly every aspect of the way we used to go about our daily lives and conduct business. For the entertainment industry and the professionals whose livelihoods are tied to producing and distributing movies, music, and more, the ramifications have been especially pronounced.
COVID-19 is forcing many changes to the operations of the industry and resulting in a paradigm shift in “business as usual.” Boiled down, there are two major components to any production—people and access to gear—and there’s no doubt both will be profoundly impacted by and changed as a result of the pandemic.
The largest impact COVID-19 has had and will continue to have is the new regulations surrounding the number of people who can be safely gathered in an area at any given time. While these regulations vary from state to state, it’s clear that for a while, productions aren’t going to be allowed to have the crowded sets the industry is known for.
Pre-COVID, it was commonplace to have entire teams of staff on set helping with every single aspect of production. Lighting, audio, camera operation, filming, staging, etc., these crews would all need access to their specific tools required for the job and work in concert around each other, often in close quarters. Where an indie or commercial shoot can operate comfortably with a crew of 10-20 people on set at a time, bigger shoots often saw hundreds of workers on set, cycling through their specialized tasks.
While limited labor is a major factor, access to the gear needed to complete the job has also changed in a significant way. Previously, bigger productions rented gear and rigs from rental houses, and it was common for camera teams to show up to rest gear for hours at a time. The larger the production, the higher the need for multiple camera and lens combinations of primes and zooms, specific lighting equipment, and support and grip equipment. Now? With production bays significantly constrained by gathering regulations, access to all that gear has become more difficult.
Project timelines have also been significantly uprooted. Aside from projects being postponed, the formula of less crew plus reduced equipment automatically results in it taking longer to complete projects. Whether productions ask crew members to take on additional responsibility or crew is working together in different shifts, the reality is that the job is going to take more time and result in longer productions.
So, how was the industry pivoted?
One solution is smaller “skeleton crews” with additional responsibilities. This is easier said than done, but it’s possible. Regardless of the project, the essentials remain the same: cameras, lenses, lighting, support equipment, and a crew to operate, setup, and manage all of it. Small adjustments, such as deploying a single zoom lens in lieu of two or more prime lenses, a well-placed lighting kit, and using a boom pole for sound as opposed to miccing up several actors are practical solutions that can be accomplished with less crew. Now more than ever, it’s important to consider what is going to keep the crew comfortable on set and be realistic about what is feasible under the new conditions.
Limiting the number of people on set is another major way the industry is pivoting. No way around it, sets are going to have to look very different. There’s just no way to do the job the way it was done before with the number of people needed to do them and still adhere to the guidelines from the state, location, or production company. This means producers have the unenviable job of accessing what jobs are absolutely essential, identifying what can be done behind the scenes or off location, and at times, separating crews by position and granting them alternating access to the set.
Pre-COVID, it was common for dozens of people to crowd around a single monitor. Today, that can’t happen. So how do all these individuals get to keep an eye on the action while limiting set occupants? One practical solution is to deploy wireless transmitters that can stream to connected smartphones. Another is to offer a live stream video feed for clients and non-essentials who insist on keeping an eye on things. These alternative mean productions can keep additional skilled crew members on set to help speed up production.
Openness to new ways to get the gear they need is another pivot the industry is undergoing. With traditional, large-scale rental houses restricted, other viable options are being called upon to help fill the equipment void where possible. At BorrowLenses, we do what we can to be PAs, prep techs, and ACs. This means we’ll talk through setups, test all the gear on an order, look for potential needs, and address anything and everything we can before a rental leaves our warehouse. With direct shipping, productions can eliminate the need for crew to run all over town to pick up gear.
Despite significant disruption, the entertainment industry is resilient. While COVID-19 has forced the industry into considering new ways to complete the job that are safer for all involved, it’s also proved the industry can continue to work through any obstacle placed in front of it.
For more on how to hire the best team for your production, visit Backstage’s crew hub!