The UK production sector now has a comprehensive set of coronavirus safety protocols, with the British Film Commission (BFC) today publishing its guidelines following wide industry consultation.
The UK government has endorsed the publication of the guidelines.
“The UK is recognized around the globe as a brilliant place to make films, and is home to the world’s best film and high-end TV talent,” said Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden. “We’ve worked hard to support the industry through these difficult times, and I’m delighted we’ve been able to agree this step forward towards getting the cameras rolling safely again.”
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As the government has already given the green light for production to resume in the UK once the guidelines were confirmed, theoretically the sector can get back up and running right away. Today’s news does not, however, mean an automatic return to work. There are still hurdles to overcome, including insurance. As BFI chief exec Ben Roberts noted, “There is still work to done to address the cost of recovery and business insurance as a result of COVID-19, but government support has been crucial in getting us to this point.”
It is worth noting that the guidelines are intended to be “advisory” and “not mandatory”. They are also designed to be scalable to fit the needs of projects of all sizes. That means producers will need to make the call on exactly how they implement the protocols. The wording of many of the guidelines makes this clear, often encouraging those in charge to “consider” implementing certain protocols, rather than demanding they do so. The orgs involved said that further support regarding how to apply the guidelines will be provided in the coming weeks.
The news paves the way for big budget productions to resume on Brit shores including Warner Bros’ The Batman, Netflix’s The Witcher, Universal’s Jurassic World: Dominion and Disney’s The Little Mermaid. It is expected that the new guidelines will take time to be implemented, but it is thought that certain productions could get up and running as soon as July.
UK body ScreenSkills will be implementing training courses later in June to help workers get ready for being on set in the post-coronavirus reality.
The release of today’s guidelines follows last week’s publication of a slimmer, 15-page document from a combo of British broadcasters and producers, which you can find here.
Separately, the UK’s VFX and post-production sectors have combined to produce guidelines for how those industries will continue to operate post-pandemic, which you can read here.
Today’s production guidelines emerge from the BFI Screen Sector COVID-19 Task Force, which was established to steer recovery initiatives after the pandemic hit the industry, forcing all production to shut down after the nation went into lockdown. Netflix, BAFTA, Disney, HBO and Bectu have all been a part of drawing up these initiatives. To date, the loss of revenues for UK production companies alone is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Deadline revealed a draft version of the BFC’s safety protocols on May 6, which covered many of the same suggestions as those in today’s document.
The finalized doc covers 30 individuals points, from COVID-19 awareness, through to travel, mental health, and location shooting. Here are some of the key points:
- COVID-19 symptom checks must be conducted daily with cast and crew, and daily temperature taking should be considered .
- Social distancing must be applied “whenever possible” on set in accordance with government guidelines.
- ‘COVID-19 Safer Working’ induction training must be undertaken online by all cast and crew prior to work. Supervision staff and first aiders must take further training.
- A COVID-19 isolation and return-to-work protocol must be established for the production.
- For international cast and crew, UK government guidelines must be followed in terms of quarantine and PPE measures – this includes anyone arriving in the UK self-isolating for the period demanded by authorities (currently two weeks).
- For catering, the usage of pre-packaged food and single-use cutlery is encouraged (this could draw criticism from environmentalists).
- All working, waiting and communal areas must be professionally cleaned and disinfected, preferably using a specialist contractor.
- Increased hand washing should be “encouraged”.
- For any parts of the shoot that require close contact, cast or crew should be used in fixed teams to minimize the risk.
- Avoid crowd scenes where social distancing requirements cannot be observed, with alternative technical solutions encouraged.
- Studio cafes/canteens will operate take-away only service until UK government rules suggest dining-in is acceptable.
- For costuming, avoid face-to-face positioning during fittings and ask cast to dress themselves when possible. Hair and make-up should use perspex screens between stations. Time in the chair should be limited when possible.
“The industry is extremely keen to restart production as soon as possible, but not without a comprehensive road map for how to do it safely while the threat of COVID-19 still looms large,” said Adrian Wootton, Chief Executive of the BFC. “Today’s guidance provides that reassurance, reflecting the latest government, technical and medical advice available. We will also update it on a regular basis, giving clarity on the latest measures recommended to ensure a safe shoot for cast, crew and the wider public.”
Various industry figures have weighed in with their support for today’s document.
“This guidance, created by the BFC and their colleagues, forms the cornerstone for allowing productions to get back up and running in the UK. The resumption of filming will mean that thousands of people can return to work, most importantly, with safety being paramount,” said Simon Emanuel, Executive Producer on The Witcher season one and The Batman.
“The BFC’s guidelines enable us to take tentative steps to return to set, providing a promising breakthrough after this painfully fallow production period. They are designed to be translatable to projects of all budget levels and needs, which is a welcome concept for the independent sector particularly,” added Nicky Earnshaw, Head of Production, See-Saw Films. “These guidelines cannot stand alone, so it is crucial that they are seen as just part of the measures needed to help get the production sector back to work and sit alongside the other proposals being presented to government by the various bodies and individuals comprising the Screen Sector Task Force.”