Thoughts On The Productivity of Film Sets Post COVID-19

Streamlining the Future of Filmmaking

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused major consequences for the economies of many countries. In this article I wanted to focus on the effect the virus has had on the Film and TV industry. I will use the UK as a reference for my examples, but there is no reason why the ideas outlined in this article cannot be applied to any film set, or industry where communication and tight deadlines are key.

The UK lockdown saw a halt in all but a few of the TV productions in the UK. Many of the workforce were told to go home and await further news and instruction. The lucky were already working and could get some minor financial aid from their respective production companies. For those who were between jobs, I can imagine that the confusion and worry would have been tenfold.

I wanted to share my thoughts on what improvements could be made to the organisation of productions when we ultimately return to work. In an environment where we need to be wary of a life-threatening virus, I believe they’re to be two pillars of measures that we need to accommodate for. The first being effective social distancing and physical protection measures on set; the second effective and efficient communication between all members of crew and production.

It may be possible that as a result of the introduction of social distancing measures on set, among other regulations. The coherency of communication could break down between production and departments.

The industry currently face issues regarding the use of paper to communicate call-sheets and other production information. Paper being a potential source of infection as well as a huge impact on the environment.

Another long-standing issue and bugbear is Email. I feel that it is unreliable and insecure in most areas, I think that these issues are exemplified during a state of pandemic. It must be imperative that all crew members are informed and updated regarding the status of the production and members of the crew. This is extended to dailies crew who are often even more in the dark until they actually arrive on the day of shooting.

There can be no risk of emails not reaching crew members due to incorrect email-addresses, being missed off the productions mailing list, issues with PDF documents and Microsoft Word Documents to share information and messages defaulting to spam folders and not being seen.

There are situations where email has to be used. For example, communication with people working outside the production, or for contacting crew members who are in the process of being engaged for work. But for production communication I believe that email should be the last resort.

What I suggest should be implemented is a central system of information. Where all production information, such as; call-sheets, schedules, safety information and updates can be placed. Each crew member is invited to this shared space. Depending on their level within their department determines what access they have. Guests may view and read content but HOD’s may want to add and edit certain areas.

Another area of thought is the use of an instant messaging system. WhatsApp has taken over and many crew members find themselves a part of WhatsApp groups for communication on a production.

WhatsApp is a great tool for communication with groups of people, however I feel that it lacks the control and advantages that we require in the workplace.

Group chats often become a mess of different threads and finding the information you want is difficult. The conversations can sometimes be annoying and drift off-topic.

Having spent some time researching the issues mentioned above I will suggest ways of implementing a solution in this section. I understand that cost is always an issue so will endeavour to try and illustrate how to keep costs down whilst improving the communication and productivity of a film production.

There are two standout tools that I think should be employed when production is to resume. These tools both offer free and paid for versions. So should be accessible for productions of most budgets and duration.

Firstly, I would like to discuss Notion. This service is a collaborative note keeping system, though It offers the flexibility to create much more than just notes.

Information centres can be created within this system. Collaborators and guests can be invited, information is categorised and kept in one place. Calendars can be created, and notifications can be sent to keep everybody in the loop.

There are many features to list here that the software package is capable of, so I have created an example production workspace that will serve as an illustration to what can be done.

The second mention would be Slack. Slack is an instant messaging app that can serve as a replacement to WhatsApp and Email. The service focuses on work and productivity. Each chat is separated into channels, which can be designed by the administrator.

Channels can be used to delineate between different departments or topics. Each channel can be assigned a topic and is searchable.

In a case of Slack over email for internal communication, I feel that my preference is always with Slack. With Slack, there will be no issues of messages going to a spam or junk folder.

Compared to email, the area for attack on Slack messages is much smaller. Messages posted on Slack stay on their ecosystem in an encrypted format. In contrast to email, where messages are sent, hop across any number of servers to reach their destination mailbox, in most cases unencrypted. Each Slack server comes with a set of security policies and vulnerabilities.

Slack adds several other additional features such as reminders and crucially offers integration with Notion, among other services.

By implementing the solutions I have described above. The sharing and distribution of production information can be streamlined.

In the examples I have created a single source of information in the form of a Notion workspace. Production can update this workspace knowing that everyone who has access to this workspace will get the information and even be sent a notification if needs be.

For crew the benefit of this is substantial, when starting a job they can be invited to the Notion workspace. Information on the productions COVID policies will be there, call-sheets, schedule and important contacts, as well as a host of other things that the production may find useful to share.

Instant communication on the film set can be unified with Slack, its integration with other tools allows the user to bring other external information back into a unified place. It maybe that in some cases just one of these tools will meet the needs of the production.

With these two tools we have reinforced our social distancing and physical protection with a dependable communication system. In doing so, we have created the two pillars we need for safe(er) film-making whilst negotiating the pandemic.

The ideas I have mentioned are only a step in the right direction. To think that there are only two pillars of measures that need to be implemented would be underestimating the task at hand. I am sure that there are many more, but if we start with our social distancing and communication pillars then we can grow and learn as we go.

By no means are these tools the only tools that you could apply the methods outlined above. They are just the tools that I know the best. I would be happy to add details of other systems that people already maybe using. Though for uniformity I think that the industry should decide on a collection of tools and stick with them.

By Howard Colin



Freelancer. Film and technology enthusiast.

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