‘We’ll never go back to the way things were’: Confessions of a producer on in-person shoots

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Before too long, vaccines will be made available to the majority of Americans (pending pandemic protocol changes under President Joe Biden’s administration). Once employees have the option to get them, a whole can of worms will be opened about what the return to shared workspaces will look like.

The situation will be further muddled with employees’ comfort levels to get the vaccine in addition to the uncertainty around transmission between the vaccinated and unvaccinated. This will likely impact what is realistic when it comes to welcoming staffers back into offices.

A good portion of the workforce is uncomfortable going back to a shared work environment without guarantees of safety, said Chris Mullen, PhD, the executive director of The Workforce Institute at HR and workforce management solutions company UKG.

“A lot of that comes back to the trust that they have with their employer,” Mullen said.  

And while 52% of employees reported that their trust is higher at their organization now than it was before the pandemic, 38% of employees said they did not trust their organization to put employee interests ahead of profits, according to a survey of 4,000 employees that UKG published in December.

In the latest edition of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor, we hear from a coordinating producer at a digital media company about directing in-person video shoots during a pandemic as well as job expectations once vaccines are made available to her team.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How many projects are you working on at any given time and how many of them are currently being shot in-person?

I’m usually overseeing at least six projects at a time that are active and 90-95% of them are shot remotely. I have about one or two in person shoots a month, with really, really small crews, maybe three or four people everyone has tested before. The cooking series that I oversee [is shot in person] because we need a kitchen and it is also an effort for us to make some content that’s a little bit higher quality.

We have studios in the office so it’s been nice because we know that it’s being cleaned properly. We manage all of the in-house crew, who are being tested constantly. We can limit the people on set because everyone works together already.

Do you think your job will return to how it was pre-pandemic once the vaccines are widely distributed?

I think for a long time, even when the vaccine is fully rolled out, we’re still going to be implementing testing and cleaning and all of those protocols just to be safe. Now that we’ve thought about how dirty the sets could be it’s changed my perspective. There’s no reason to risk it.

We’ll never go back to the way things were even if the virus is eradicated. The things that we’ve learned will stick with us. There’s some things that you’ve rethought being on set, like, do we have to squeeze as many people into a holding room? Do we have to have [craft services] that’s shared? It’s going to be an abundance of caution and a slow rollout [of adding back in-person shoots] just to test the waters first and make sure everything is safe. Because it’s a big cost implication as well to ramp up and then have to ramp down again.

Are you able to keep up the remote productions to the extent that you have been doing them, considering the videos end up being lower quality than in-person videos?

I think for the digital media space, it definitely makes sense [to continue remote production]. The commercial world and television is a different story. They don’t really have that option to make quality content, but in the digital space it for sure makes so much sense.

What do you mean by a big cost implication?

It’s a huge difference [between remote and in-person costs]. Depending on how much you’re paying talent, remote shooting with drop kits, your total cost could be $5,000, as a base price. Then if you’re shooting in person and you’re adding crew, it could be $30,000.

[Covid] testing is about 20-30% of your budget. If you have to have everyone quarantined together, that’s another huge cost implication. A Covid compliance officer has to be on set, and cleaning has to happen before and after. It’s just endless. All of those things definitely add up.

Do you think you or your company will prioritize bringing employees who have been vaccinated back into the studios for shoots sooner than those who haven’t been or don’t want to be vaccinated?

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I’m not sure that legally I can hire someone because they haven’t gotten the the vaccine. But I wonder what the narrative around it will be — is it an appropriate question to ask someone if they’ve been vaccinated? It feels a little taboo to talk about or ask someone right now.

Directors, especially, don’t need to be on set, I think a lot of them will [continue to] call in remotely. But there’s obviously some roles on set [like a camera operator] that really can’t be remote.

The biggest thing that I always talk about, though, is there’s so much planning and so much money and thought going into testing and making sure we’re operating under all of the current CDC guidelines. But at some point, it’s like, you have you have a time window [for when you can test people]. They could get it two days before they’re walking on set or they could get it when they’re in the car on the way there. So there is a time window after testing when you could become positive. There’s no black and white line of like, ‘OK, you’re safe.’

Are you planning on getting vaccinated when you are able to?

I’m back and forth. It’s a tough situation to be in. I want to make sure that the people that I’m around, especially family and friends, are safe. That’s the biggest factor for me is just making sure that people around me are safe, but it’s definitely a hard decision. It’s a selfless one for sure.

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