Video Production During the Pandemic: A Marketer’s Checklist
NOTE: This article was written in February of 2021, before COVID-19 vaccines were available to the general population in the US. However, many of these testing, face covering, and sanitization practices are still necessary (even for fully vaccinated crews) due to the spread of the Delta variant in 2021.
- COVID compliance increases your total production budget by 5-10%.
- It is important to hire a responsible video production company whose producer actively enforces safety precautions both before and during filming.
- A good video producer knows the difference between the multiple COVID testing options (and their pros and cons).
- On-set COVID safety protocols include wearing KN95 or N95 masks, setting up hand sanitizer stations, preparing individually packaged meals and snacks, securing fresh air access and much more.
- A good video producer works with labor unions (especially SAG, the actors’ union) to get a production’s COVID mitigation plan approved before the shoot.
- If you do not have the resources to safely film a live-action video, animated projects are a great, cost-saving option.
If you are considering hiring a production company to make videos for your brand, you are probably wondering what the production limitations are amid the pandemic. You may be wondering, “can we even film a commercial?”
Our short answer to your question is yes – you CAN film a commercial, but you need to make sure you hire the right people and work with a production company that takes COVID seriously. Highly informed and experienced producers can help you create a high-quality video while also ensuring the safety of your cast and crew.
In our own work, we have been taking numerous precautions to prevent the spread of COVID, on set and off. We have also shifted to doing a lot of animation work, because it can be produced remotely with zero risk factors.
For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on things that you need to know as a client when it comes to filming on a live-action set during the COVID crisis.
Understanding two types of COVID tests:
The PCR Test
PCR tests provide the most precise results. PCR tests are typically done with either a nasal swab or saliva swab. These tests detect COVID-specific RNA (the virus’ genetic material) in the sample and can identify COVID-positive patients even if they are asymptomatic (a.k.a. not showing any active COVID symptoms such as cough or fever). PCR tests are considered the “gold standard” for COVID testing.
The Antigen Test (More commonly known as the Rapid Test)
Antigen tests are done with a nasal swab. This type of test detects protein fragments specific to the COVID virus. However, the results are not as accurate as PCR tests, especially if the person being tested is asymptomatic. If the person being tested is not experiencing any COVID-related symptoms, the chance of a false negative is 50%. On the other hand, the false positive rate is considered extremely low. If you cast and crew are only taking the antigen test, there is a considerable risk of having an undetected COVID-positive person on set. The Antigen test is also referred to as Rapid Test because you can get the test results as soon as 15 minutes after the test.
Knowing where to take a test and its cost:
Normally, you can take both PCR tests and Antigen tests at a public testing center, lab or hospital. If you are taking a PCR test, you can often use a drive-through test site that administers the PCR test while you are still in your car. Depending on your jurisdiction, tests range from $105 – $150 per person.
If filmmakers are taking on-set testing, then that is usually a Rapid Test. Usually a laboratory staff member will be present to take samples from everyone and will have the results ready on set. That way, the cast and crew will have their results before the crew starts working.
Producers can also get their cast and crew tested off-set at a private clinic. This helps producers on a logistical level because they do not have to manage each individual’s testing. This type of testing will be in the $105 – $150 per person range depending on your jurisdiction.
As a rule of thumb, if you plan to make a live action commercial during the pandemic, it is safe to say your production budget will increase by 10%, compared to what the budget would have been pre-COVID.
Frequency of COVID tests for cast and crew:
If you are doing a commercial project, the cast and crew probably only need to be on set for 1 or 2 days. Also, pre-production can be done virtually most of the time. Under these specific circumstances, testing is done once right before filming begins.
For our projects, we utilize a PCR test for cast and crew 3 days before the shoot since it takes roughly 48 hours for the test results to come back.
In a case of longer projects where filming takes more than a few days, we have two sets of testing protocols for cast and crew. For cast, we require them to take on-set testing every other day. For crew, we require testing twice a week. This difference is due to the fact that the cast has to take off their masks when they perform in front of the camera, whereas crew members wear their N95 (or KN95) masks throughout the day of filming.
Working with great video producers:
If you are planning on hiring a video production company, it is important to listen to what their producers have to say about their commitment to COVID safety.
Usually, producers will prepare the following materials to safely conduct filming:
- KN95 or N95 masks for cast and crew
- Ear savers for cast and crew so that their masks do not pull their ear. (They will have to keep their masks on for 10 hours a day)
- Hand sanitizer and other sanitizing station kits
- Individually packaged meals and crafty
- Individually packaged drinks (this means more plastic waste, but we are learning how to run more sustainable video productions during the pandemic, and in the meantime, safety is priority).
In addition to this, a great producer will take leadership over enforcing safety protocols and ensuring everyone on set follows all COVID guidelines. Having a producer who really cares about the health of cast and crew motivates everyone to be respectful, safe, and do their best work. We start our days with a COVID safety meeting every morning before the cast and crew begin work, reinforcing our standard procedures.
SAG Union Guidelines:
If you hire union actors, your video production company will have to work with the actors’ labor union, called SAG. When a project hires SAG actors, a Covid Compliance Officer (CCO) is required on set and will be responsible for enforcing safety guidelines and making sure no one is acting irresponsibly or putting others at risk. Usually, hiring CCO will cost about $400 a day.
SAG Union Approval Process:
If your video only involves interviews and does not involve professional actors, the safety of your interviewees, cast and crew is up to the producer and the county or state’s legal guidelines. However, if you hire professional actors, SAG requires you to get their official approval in order to hire actors who are members of their union.
To get SAG-approved, your video producer will have to prepare a COVID plan and documentation that describes how the producer plans to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID during the course of the project. This COVID plan includes things like:
- Production’s Dedication Statement
- General Guidelines for Pre-Production
- Production Protocols
- Perimeter Description and Maps for each location (Zone System)
- Department Descriptions
- Mitigation Plan
- Lab Details
- Testing Schedule
- Reaction, Tracing, Containment and Hospitalization
In addition to these requirements, the producer will be asked to provide scene-specific or location-specific information. For example, they will have to describe a plan for securing fresh air ventilation, providing air purifiers with HEPA filters for closed locations, and a list of on-set safety rules for the Hair & Make-Up department (who must work very closely with actors).
We wrote this article to be transparent with our clients about our COVID safety measures. We are welcoming new projects as long as they can be completed safely.
If you are worried about making a live-action video, even with proper safety protocols, animation projects are a great option as well. Animation projects can be done completely virtually, so they do not incur any COVID-related budget increases. You can learn more about our animation here.
If you are not sure whether you should use animation or live-action for your communication approach, please reach out for a free consultation where we can learn more and hone in on your marketing strategy.
Whether you work with us in the future or not, we hope this article was helpful, and empowers you and your marketing staff to make informed decisions and execute your campaigns safely!