COVID Testing for Production in the Age of Omicron

Nearly two years into the pandemic, COVID testing is an essential part of production as companies of all sizes look to comply with protocols, keep sets safe and contain risk. The challenge for testing labs is to keep up with the ever-changing variants. Currently, it’s the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Even fully vaccinated people who believed the shots were a step back to normalcy have been watching anxiously as Omicron has jumped from 12.6 percent to 58.6 percent of COVID-19 cases by Christmas. While early research suggests Omicron may cause milder illnesses, testing remains an important tool for productions to keep their cast and crew safe.

Here’s what production companies need to know about testing in the age of Omicron… and what experts say you should do if a member of your cast or crew test positive.

How long to wait to test after exposure?

Every viral disease has an incubation period. That’s the time from when you were exposed to a pathogen to when it can be detected. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends waiting five after exposure to COVID before taking a test. Early data suggests that it takes only around two to three days for people to start showing symptoms after exposure to  Omicron. In addition, Rachael Piltch-Loeb, a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says that tests seem to be picking up the virus within about two days of exposure. Although that speaks to the quick transmissibility of the virus, the upside is that it may take under five days to get a positive result, allowing productions to make changes.

Which test to use?

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests are the gold standard for detecting COVID. These tests, which look for the presence of genetic material from the virus, are highly sensitive and unlikely to have false positives. Given how quickly Omicron can spread, productions should use labs that offer PCR tests with results in less than 24 hours.

Rapid antigen tests are less reliable. Studies have shown that rapid tests overall are able to catch up to only 85 percent of COVID cases. They detect pieces of proteins from the virus and work best when you have a higher viral load. That is why they’re used when people are already symptomatic. Check the CDC website, which lists the best rapid antigen tests that have been authorized for emergency use in the U.S.

Ultimately, choosing a test comes down to risk tolerance. PCR tests are the most accurate but rapid antigen tests have their place, particularly when someone is symptomatic. It depends on the time frame you are working in. When there’s more than 24 hours before the start of production, do a PCR test. For same day tests, do a PCR test in addition to a rapid antigen test. That way you’ll have an immediate result but also PCR confirmation within 24 hours. But to be clear, it’s always best to test cast and crew 24 – 72 hours prior to the start of work.

If you test positive, what do you do?

Each variant changes the guidance slightly. On December 27, the CDC issued new guidelines for people testing positive for COVID:

  • Stay home or self isolate for 5 days.
  • If you have no symptoms or your symptoms are resolving after 5 days, you can leave your house.
  • Continue to wear a mask around others for 5 additional days.

It’s important to always confirm a positive test. If the person is vaccinated and doesn’t have any symptoms, follow up with a second rapid test later that day or the next. If both tests are positive, they pose an infectious risk. When the second test is negative, then the results are inconclusive. They should get a PCR test after that to be certain.

When a cast or crew member tests positive during a work day, contact tracing becomes critical. Production must notify anyone that person had close contact with from the previous two days. In some cases, that might mean a temporary shutdown of the set to test all individuals.

Who pays for the tests?

In film and video production, it is the client’s responsibility to pay for the tests. Cast and crew are either reimbursed for the test costs or payment is already in place with the lab. If a cast or crew member wants additional tests, the production company decides who will pick up that expense. As testing is often an uncontrolled expense (i.e. how many tests are necessary), it is listed as a cost-plus budget item.

COVID test prices depend on type of test, test location and how quickly you need to have the results. Here are some current ranges:

  • Rapid Antigen – $75 – $100/test
  • PCR (24-hour turnaround) – $150 – $175/test
  • PCR (1-hour turnaround) – $250 and up/test

Production can also schedule a concierge nurse to come to set for testing at an even higher amount. Although Congress passed laws mandating free COVID-19 testing, the scheduling and result wait times can range anywhere from two to five days. When time is a factor, it is best to schedule your own test.

While solutions to the COVID crisis have shifted to vaccinations, testing remains key to combating the spread of the virus. But the CDC and experts point out that some protection against the virus is always better than none. If there’s any time to get vaccinated, this is the time. You’re going to want that protection in the weeks ahead as Omicron and other eventual variants surge across the country.

 

The Role of the COVID Compliance Officer

If we told you in 2020 that a pandemic-specific compliance officer would be the most critical positions on set you would have probably rolled your eyes. But with COVID continuing to disrupt productions, COVID Compliance Officers (CCOs) have become a key part to keeping productions safe.

In most cases, public health and union regulations require production companies to have a certified COVID Compliance Officer present on set from the very first scout days to tail-lights on the final day of shooting. But depending on what producer you talk to, the role of a CCO can have different meanings.

Some people think they’re licensed nurses, while others see them as glorified PAs. In this post, we’ll define exactly what a COVID Compliance Officer is and their responsibilities.

What is a COVID Compliance Officer?

A COVID Compliance Officer oversees coronavirus safety protocols on set. The job is loosely defined, usually requiring only the completion of a two-hour course. The title varies from COVID Manager or COVID Assistant to Health and Safety Coordinator.

A CCO is hired at the same time as other crew members. They sit in on pre-production meetings because COVID compliance touches every aspect of production – from locations, crew size and catering to how to set up the cameras.

Job responsibilities include administering COVID tests, sourcing safety equipment (called PPE or Personal Protective Equipment) and enforcing social distancing. On larger shoots, cast and crew are split into different zones (A, B and C), based on their contact with talent. The CCO is responsible for making sure these groups don’t mix. They have to intervene if crew members crowd together and don’t wear their masks properly. CCO’s are also required to maintain health and safety documentation and safeguard each crew member’s privacy.

Depending on where the production is shooting, the job can get even more complicated. Every shoot location has its challenges. Small sets or rooms are challenging for COVID compliance. Large studios are best as they provide plenty of room to social distance and normally have good air handling systems. But if a production is constantly moving locations, more planning is required to scout places with COVID protocols in mind.

Day in the Life of a CCO

Work often begins several days before a shoot begins. Check-in procedures are given to the producer to be included with the daily call sheet. These procedures include a medical history questionnaire for each crew member, screen for COVID symptoms and adhere to general state and local protocols.

Testing commences 72 hours prior to crew coming to set and everyone should have a documented negative COVID test result. Any crew with positive results will self-isolate and be scheduled for additional tests.

The night before filming, the CCO prepares PPE kits which will have masks and sanitizers at a minimum. They show up at least an hour before call time to ensure that sanitizing stations are set up, signage is posted (proper hand washing, physical distancing guidelines, etc) and check-in policies are in place.

All crew entering set are screened by the CCO during check-in. PPE kits are distributed and temperature is taken with a contactless thermometer. The CCO should also remind every person of the importance of proper mask usage and hand washing technique as well as frequent hand sanitizing and physical distancing in a general safety meeting at the start of every shoot day.

From there, they monitor every aspect of the production for proper safety, making sure everyone has their protective equipment on, sanitizing between scenes, and maintaining the proper occupancy for the square footage. After production wraps, CCOs stick around to disinfect and clean the set before going home to start prepping for the next day.

Set Medic vs. CCO

Health and safety positions are new to the entertainment industry as we have not had to respond to such a destructive pandemic since the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. A few organizations were prepared to respond such as National Set Medics and IATSE Local 80.

However, the job of a Set Medic and COVID Compliance Officer are very different, though both must have a medical understanding of the coronavirus. They work together to provide the strongest scope of safety on set.

CCOs understand the health and safety protocols in their particular county and state, as well as the requirements of various unions (SAG/AFTRA, DGA, IATSE). They stay updated on guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) regarding transmission and how it affects protocols. The job of a Set Medic is to respond to emergencies and triage on site. A medic is not allowed to take on a secondary responsibility on set.

Why? Medical negligence. A medic cannot be engaged in a secondary activity when they are acting in the capacity of a medic. A CCO can have a second responsibility as long as it’s not that of a medic.

Challenges

The position has many challenges. Some productions ignore the authority of the CCO altogether. A safe set works best when there is respect for the CCO position and adherence to health and safety protocols within the entire production team.

Even when productions implement safety protocols on set, a 100% safe and secure production is not guaranteed. When there are concerns about safety, the COVID Compliance Officer has the power to discipline, or even fire, health and safety protocol violators. In worst case scenarios, they can even stop a production. Given that shutdowns on large productions can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a day, that’s a huge responsibility.

No matter the size of the production, nothing is more important than protecting your cast and crew. Productions can’t cut corners or break rules that endanger cast and crew. Prevention in a time of a pandemic is expensive but positions like a COVID Compliance Officer are the best strategy to keeping your set safe.

Health and Safety Protocols during the Coronavirus Pandemic

For film and video production companies, the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) offers a lesson in the contagion risks facing workplaces that need close proximity and interaction to function. Social distancing is almost impossible when offloading equipment, setting up camera and sound gear, applying hair and make-up, or getting into a 12-passenger van to get to the next location. And careless sanitary conditions on set have long been one of the production industry’s dirtiest secrets.

The sad state of hygiene on set has largely been accepted as part of the job. But when productions started shutting down nationwide to slow the virus’ spread, a debate emerged on what a safe (and sanitary) set looked like. Until now, having hospital information on a call sheet and a Set Medic on bigger productions was often the only health and safety protocols in place. That’s not nearly enough.

At some point, production will ramp up again and when it does, COVID-19 protocols need to be put in place. Although extra preparation is required, establishing a hygienic working environment is both possible and easy to implement. Here are some basic protocols to follow.

Common Sense Hygiene

Although there’s lots of information circulating about the virus, it’s best to follow what the health authorities are reporting. The CDC and numerous state authorities have issued recommendations to help prevent the spread of any respiratory disease. The nature of the production industry suggests additional guidelines, including:

  • Determine is anyone can effectively work from home during prep, shoot or wrap.

  • Keep workspaces clean. Disinfect them daily. The CDC recommends using diluted household bleach solutions or alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol.

  • Limit specific areas of the set to essential crew and personnel.

  • Require frequent and thorough hand washing by all crew, without exception.

  • Maintain social distancing of no less than 6 feet whenever possible on set. Have crew wear masks when that’s not possible.

  • Respect 12-hour turn arounds for all departments so people can get enough sleep.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has an excellent fact sheet on coronavirus that’s clear and concise. Attach it to call sheets and post on set.

On Set

Once on set, COVID-19 should be one of the first things talked about at your Safety Briefing. Stick to the facts, don’t offer opinion or spread rumors. Distribute a Health and Safety Protocol sheet to crew and place signs around the set explaining not to shake hands and to let the Producer know if you are feeling ill. Some commonsense measures include:

  • Have payroll, waivers and talent/location releases all done electronically with no paperwork exchanging hands on set.

  • Limit specific areas of the set to essential crew and personnel. Create policy of no Visitors on set.

  • Allow one department at a time to “step in, step out” of a set up, before the next department.

  • Provide masks, gloves, sanitizing wipes, tissues, and hand sanitizer in production spaces.

  • Place signage around restrooms and food services to wash hands and be clean.

  • Self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 and report to your department head if you are sick or experiencing signs. Stay home when you are sick.

Set Medic

The Set Medic is often the medical provider hired on larger productions and works as the first aid department head. They are an excellent resource to research protocols for safe filming and can also help in creating a Health and Safety protocol sheet for the production. Every state is a little different, but there are health and safety bulletins used throughout the industry.

Schedule a time at the Preproduction Meeting (or sooner) to have your Set Medic fully explain all health and safety protocols to cast and crew.  Then empower them, and the Assistant Director, to enforce all rules (firmly but gently) on shoot days.

Wardrobe, Make Up and Hair

Taking certain precautions when applying makeup can keep everyone involved safe. Disinfect and sanitize any tools (tweezers, scissors, brushes, etc.) or products to make sure they are hygienic. Other tips:

  • Keep the number of people in makeup room/area to a bare minimum.

  • Work stations need to be cleaned between each user and distanced a minimum of 6 feet apart. Make-up chair and its handles should also be sanitized.

  • Before and after hair and make-up session, both talent and make-up artist are required to wash or sanitize their hands.

  • Applicators are not permitted to be reused on different people. This includes mascara and lipstick.

  • Ensure only wardrobe department touches clothing until it’s decided what the actor will actually try on.

  • Disinfect jewelry, glasses and accessories with sanitizer that will not cause damage.

  • All background extras, should wear their own clothes and dress from home. If that’s not possible, production should provide dressing facilities that allow for social distancing measures.

Craft Services and Catering

The area where your crew congregates also needs special attention. Get everyone to wash and sanitize their hands prior to eating any meal. As with production spaces, wipe everything down any time someone not on the crew touches it. Use paper towels to clean surfaces instead of repeat-use towels. Other to-dos include:

  • Buffets are not permitted. Meals and drinks must be served as single serving portions. Individually boxed meals are ideal but realize some may prefer to bring their own food.

  • Stagger meal times to decrease number of people getting food and seating simultaneously. Have food served to crew, as opposed to allowing self-serve.

  • Sanitize your hands before touching craft service equipment, including inside ice chests, the handles of serving utensils or other commonly shared surface.

  • Use suitable utensils, spatulas, tongs, deli paper, dispensing equipment, or gloves for food.

  • Communal ready-to-eat foods (chips, nuts, candy, cookies, etc.) are not permitted. Remove any bowls or canisters of snacks that crew could reach into. Provide snacks in individual, prepackaged portions or put them in plastic bags or Dixie cups for people to take away.

  • Reduce and streamline the variety of beverages. Offer the capability to refill an individual’s reusable water bottle without contact between refill source and bottle.

Fighting COVID-19 on set cannot be taken lightly. It requires a paradigm shift. Although the specifics will depend heavily on the type of production, new procedures and protocols rooted in safeguarding health need to be adopted. By creating cleanliness standards, we can reduce the risk of exposure on set.

If you’d like a copy of the in-depth Health and Safety Protocol sheet we distribute to our crews, please email us at info@moviemogul.tv

Keeping Your Business Afloat During Lockdown

Like many of you, we saw our work dry up fast when Coronavirus (COVID-19) spread across the nation. As the weeks tick by it’s easy to become frustrated, waiting for stay at home orders to end and the country to get back to work. But with an uncertain future, it’s important to find ways to take advantage of the present. We’ve used the term “creatives” to describe ourselves… it’s time to earn that moniker in a whole new way. Here’s how!

Shift Your Vision 

A canceled shoot doesn’t mean the content can’t be created, it means it must be created in a different way. Focus on project prep so you’re ready to roll when things open up. Turn your dialogue scene into an animation, and your in-person testimonial into an infographic. Ask your editor, “How can we visually present this project in a different way?” Motion graphics artists, graphic designers, and animators build their careers on solving such challenges.

Remember, you don’t have to halt all jobs in process. Problem solve. Find creative solutions to offer your clients and salvage your projects (and the all-important income) the best you can.

Leverage Remote Work

One unaffected area of business is digital postproduction. While everyone is working remotely, editors, colorists and animators are still fully capable of accomplishing any project. All color grading, digital retouching, photo compositing, animations, and video editing can still move forward. Think ‘outside the box’ by:

  • Compositing assets into new designs and ads

  • Creating animations out of video projects

  • Re-cutting previous video shoots into new promos

  • Using archival or stock footage in new ways

Prepare for the Future

At some point (hopefully sooner than later), production will resume. With that in mind, there’s no reason you cannot plan for future shoots. Although we don’t recommend asking to hold dates for shoots at this point with the possibility of moving them, there’s plenty that can be done in preproduction. Items to work on include:

  • Estimates and budgets

  • Storyboards and mood boards

  • Script drafts and initial shot lists

  • Talent searches

  • Virtual location scouting

Many shoots have already been postponed which means our calendar for late April, May, and June is starting to fill up. Please reach out to schedule your shoot or discuss a future project.

Learn Something New

When working remotely, what seems like an eternity of free downtime can easily get taken up by the most menial of tasks. Reading emails, doing laundry, organizing (and reorganizing) your desk. While those things need to be done it’s also an opportunity to sharpen our skills in new areas we know that we need.

While we hesitate to recommend YouTube tutorials because they’re often full of bad information, there’s still a lot that can be learned there. It’s an easy way to get introductory material on a subject. And while most software applications have a free trial period, many learning platforms (Lynda, Pluralsight, Master Class, Sundance Institute) also offer free trials. If you get something good out of them consider staying on once the trial is over.

Give Back

Production companies have always played a role in times of crisis. Although we all love to shoot spots that look beautiful, right now content is king. Offer practical help to brands and not for profits. What are they working on right now? What messaging are they trying to communicate? Would creating a user generated content approach provide the raw materials for that message?

With our free time, we worked on a coronavirus PSA campaign, called The Cure is US, creating over 90 video messages in four weeks. The work won’t make us rich but making a difference trumps the almighty dollar in these times.

Bottom Line 

It’s going to be a tough few months for the production industry and none of us really knows what the future holds. But film and television production thrives on Murphy’s Law – we are always ready for things to go wrong at any time. That resourcefulness is going to be an asset as we try to figure out what comes next.

No one understands working through problems better than us. No one. Together, we can get through this.

Going Remote in the Face of Coronavirus

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc, the pandemic has accelerated the deployment of remote-working options to such an extent that many clients and production companies may never look back.

In the past, production companies lost out on projects because either the client didn’t want (or was unable to) fly out for the shoot. But what if they can see what’s happening on-set from their office? Streaming the live camera feed from the shoot directly to clients might be the best solution to keep productions moving forward.

While the concept of streaming video has been around for quite awhile, it seems particularly relevant now for film and television productions. Clients don’t have time want to wait for months to have health concerns resolve themselves. They’re on a tight delivery schedule. And travel expenses are always an issue in any production budget. With the right streaming technology, clients can get their projects shot on their timeframe and save money in the process.

The first step is determining what the client wants to view. Do they need to see the camera feed or just dailies throughout the day? The choice will affect the amount of remote workflow involved. In either case making your Video Assist the point person is a must. While the main role of the Video Assist is to provide playback to Video Village, they are ideally positioned to get your video footage to remote clients.

With the abundance of streaming technologies in the market, there are many different options to choose from. Let’s talk about three of the most common solutions.

Video Conferencing

Many services provide video conferencing, including SkypeZoomGo-to-Meeting, and BlueJeans. These services generally have fees associated with them, so research carefully and make the client aware that they will be responsible for this additional expense. Note that the on-set bandwidth of the wireless network plays a major role in video quality. Recorded video looks much better than streaming video on these services and can affect the way the client responds to the work.

Also note, many wrap-up insurance policies do not cover transmission failure. Given that, you should identify this activity in the special risks exhibit of the wrap-up insurance addendum, and/or have the agency indemnify you for costs and delays related to transmission.

Video Streaming

Live video streaming from set is a popular choice but like video conferencing, it requires a steady and reliable internet connection on location. Most streaming options offer the ability for client, agency and other team members to join and watch video shoots in real time. The difference comes in whether the solution is hardware-based, app-based or a combination of the two.

At the low-end, the elgato Cam Link 4k is effective and simple. It has an HDMI port on one side and a USB port on the other. When you plug the camera into the HDMI port and the USB into the computer, your camera will show up as a webcam. Stability is an issue, however, as this system requires occasional restarts for no apparent reason.

For a more substantial solution, Blackmagic Web Presenter is a hardware-based solution that gives you multiple input options that you can switch between. Similar to the elgato Cam Link, you need to plug in the HDMI in and connect the USB into a Mac on set, running FaceTime. The Web Presenter then becomes the “WebCam” for almost any popular streaming software (YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Twitch, Skype… even FaceTime). Any number of viewers using their phone, tablet or laptop can call in and watch the video. It also has USB interface for audio equipment, so you can hook your mic into it.

Using video assist hardware like QTAKE is another popular option. QTAKE has been used for years to stream video playback on sets where camera location and Video Village are separated from one another. Numerous vendors push the QTAKE video output to the cloud so clients in other locations can view the footage with a web browser. By installing a steady and reliable Satellite Internet connection on location, we’d be able to set up a VTR, switcher and encoding service such as LiveU or AWS Elemental to upload a feed to any streaming platform available

Turning to web services, Virtual Village provides an internet-based portal that securely delivers video to any internet connected viewing device. Stream to your phone, tablet, laptop or set up your own village in a client’s office. Virtual Village even offers concierge service! Although only currently available in popular filming destinations like Los Angeles and New York City, and countries like Mexico, Brazil, New Zealand and Spain, they say that their system can be implemented wherever you need it.

On the software side, OpenReel is an app that enables producers to remotely capture and live direct video anywhere. The technology allows footage to be recorded locally on your device, ensuring that the full quality is recorded and then is sent directly to the cloud. It works on both Apple and Web-based platforms, allowing you to remotely pair with another phone or tablet. Quality control, video and media teams control capture, and you can drop into editing right from the app.

Immediate Dailies

Dailies have been part of filmmaking since the dawn of the industry. Digital technology has impacted the way dailies are processed, making them downloadable and streamable. Now companies like Moxion provide software to share your dailies with all crew – on and off set, across multiple units – instantly. Using QTAKE, clients can review footage from set instantly on any device or even via their Apple TV app.

As an added benefit, editors can start editing seconds after the camera has stopped recording, allowing them to quickly share assemble edits back to the Director on set. That aids the creative process and dramatically reduces the cost of pickups later in production.

Remote Postproduction

Remote postproduction is fast becoming a viable (and sometimes preferable) workflow for many teams these days, according to Frame.io. For editing, platforms such as Frame.io, Vimeo, Filestage.io, Wipster and others provide tools for version control, change requests, tracking status and approvals. This can make it easier to communicate with clients, complete revisions faster, and have higher-quality content out the door quickly.

Remote post also works well for VFX studios. For smaller VFX teams, they can upload assets to an off-premises destination, where artists can easily download what they need to their home computer and upload their final shots or elements. Larger studios may have their teams access a VPN to connect remotely to their on-premises workstations and use a remote desktop solution like Teradici.

Take a cue from people who have already implemented remote workflows. Flourishing communities for post professionals to network and join projects already exist, from Blue Collar Post Collective to the Editors Subreddit.

Costs Involved

As far as cost is concerned, there’s a wide range of available pricing. Depending on what you’re looking for, you can find streaming options for anywhere from $250 to $10,000. With such varying price tags, it’s important you know exactly what you’re getting. As you talk to vendors, be sure to ask these questions:

  • What’s included in the quoted price?

  • Additional costs for increased viewership or storage?

  • Additional costs for extra features?

  • Startup costs such as cameras and equipment or one-time fees?

Film and video production has been behind the curve in using remote working technology compared to other industries but that might change in the post-virus world. Workflows that free staff and crews to focus on higher-impact creative tasks will allow production companies to leverage the best talent – wherever they are in the world.