While currently, most productions are shutdown, it’s not too early to think about how we can conduct interviews and live streams in the future. This may apply to limited video productions going on right now, which may be justified on an essential business need. It will most certainly apply to most productions once things ease up and social distancing still must be practiced for the foreseeable future.
Most office workers have switched to work from home and spend most of their days on Zoom and Skype calls. For internal communication that is certainly enough, and we all get to enjoy looking into each other’s living spaces and getting to know kids and pets.
But when companies communicate with the public or clients, production value still matters. There are also a lot of organizations on the front lines of the crisis response that much create PSAs and other essential communication that at times requires more than a webcam.
So how can we execute these productions, be responsible and follow all guidelines? Especially for those happening right now, or in the near future? If a public safety organization asks us, we should confidently be able to say it’s justified and that we are in compliance with all current rules.
I’ve discussed possible safety protocols with several production companies I work with and below is a set of rules that came from those conversations.
- Minimize the number of people in the building. Know what the local rules are. In many places, the limit is 10 people, some places it may be even fewer. Regardless of the limit, the fewer people in the building the better. It should be possible to do this with less than five including talent and crew.
- Clients/talent should enter the building via the shortest possible path and touching the least number of surfaces. Have clients/talent call ahead when they arrive and have doors propped open by a crew member for arrival/departure.
- Clients may bring the on-air talent plus one producer. However, at all times they must be at least 6 feet from each other. If multiple on-air talent is needed, try to time stagger them and have them arrive/depart accordingly. No waiting in groups.
- Talent should be placed at chairs/tables that have been sanitized before their arrival. That stage area should be the only place talent is throughout the production. No crew member should come within 6 feet of talent. Provide hand sanitizer at the talent’s position.
- If possible, rely on boom mic audio only. If a wireless lav is required, the lav should be sanitized and left at the talent seating position before their arrival. The talent should apply the lav themselves. That may limit the ability to hide lav mic wires. Compromises are needed during these times.
- Crew members should wear appropriate protective equipment. Details may depend on the client’s requirements and situation and may include face masks and gloves. Use them correctly to avoid cross-contamination.
- All crew members should be checked for symptoms before arrival, which may include a temperature screen. Anyone with a cough or temperature should not be allowed on set. Assure the client that everyone has been screened. Consider keeping a screening log for everyone to see on a whiteboard on set.
- Provide the crew with hand sanitizer and means of cleaning the equipment, especially equipment that has come in from off-site.
- Keep the crew to the absolute minimum. For a live stream, consider keeping some cameras locked off and only have one manned camera. A crew of three could consist of one camera operator, one sound mixer and one live stream operator yet still produce a multi-camera live stream.
- Crew must remain at least 6 feet from talent at all times. To the degree that crew positions can also maintain distance from each other that should be considered. Maintain crew roles more strictly. While it’s nice to help each other out on a small set, if most equipment is only touched by a single person there are fewer contamination vectors.
Some studios have control rooms with a view of the stage. If the client has additional producers that must attend, consider placing them in remote rooms rather than on stage if that is safer.
Consider the structure of the live stream, the ability to get away with green screen, video inserts or pre-recorded interviews to minimize on-air talent. If possible, limit on-air talent to two at a time, and with proper distance.
An increasing number of live streams make use of remote presenters that are patched in via Skype call. Prepare the technical infrastructure to make that possible.
Assure everyone that if conditions change at the last moment or a person doesn’t feel comfortable proceeding, the production should be cancelled without penalty. Safety comes first.
There is an opportunity for studio spaces and production companies to team up to build combined offerings. Having an easily accessible stage and production company that can leave equipment set up rather than having to go to various client locations can make it easier to keep sanitation protocols and reduce unforeseen circumstances.
While this is a long list of considerations, I believe it is important that we don’t just give up. Let’s use this time to develop the protocols and techniques to responsibly help companies and organizations communicate effectively. Doing this right can help companies keep their employees safe while also continuing critical business operations. A case can be made that limited and responsible live streaming productions are an essential business function.
We have seen many news organizations create remote studios at the homes of their hosts. Being innovative to help everyone is what we should be doing right now.