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Restarting TV Production in the U.K.

As various countries around the world begin to cautiously reopen businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic, the TV industry is grappling with how to do so safely. Earlier this week, a group of U.K. media companies and trade organizations—ITV, BBC, Sky, Channel 4, Channel 5, STV, ITN, the Association for Commercial Broadcasters and On-Demand Services (COBA) and Pact—released some guidelines to help enable a return to production.

“Great British television is keeping us company throughout the crisis, and I’m keen to get cameras rolling as soon as it is safe,” said Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden in announcing the guidance. “Our creative industries are Britain’s global calling card and this is a significant step forward in getting our favorite shows back into production.”

For starters, producers will need to complete “suitable and sufficient” risk assessment for their activities and record how they intend to manage these in a COVID-19 risk-assessment document. They will be asked to engage with their workforce (and any trade union or employee representatives) in this process, giving information to employees about how they will keep people safe, before production kicks off.

Commissioning broadcasters will also need to coordinate with producers around how COVID-19 risks are assessed and can be managed, as certain measures and restrictions will no doubt impact both the cost of production and the content itself.

The guidance outlines six areas that producers, in tandem with the commissioning broadcaster, need to consider when planning to produce during the global health crisis: to specifically consider people at higher risk of harm, heighten precautions for everyone at work, reduce the number of people involved, consider editorial on-camera requirements, consider mental health and wellbeing and institute feedback loops.

Regarding the editorial on-camera requirements, the idea is to consider changing scripts and scenes to take into account social distancing, and same for the sets. Green screens and “down-the-line” filmmaking can be used to help minimize numbers on a production. Also, directors and other relevant roles may need to be brought on earlier in the planning and prep to determine what is required to deliver the production within the restrictions of managing the COVID-19 risk.

Some of the key areas to consider include travel, as in trying to minimize it and following social distancing principles within travel arrangements wherever possible. Suggestions are to try to use local crew and contributors, avoid using public transport, and use single-occupancy vehicles while being mindful to assess risk from tiredness and fatigue of those driving.

With regard to location, there’s a need to consider the physical capacity of the space given the requirements of social distancing along with the provision of hygiene facilities, risks that could be introduced to the other people who already occupy the space and cleaning of the premises both beforehand and during. The suggestion is that outdoor filming is preferable (although ideally not in a public space), but if indoors, to aim for a large open space with good ventilation and to avoid small rooms where possible.

There are guidances around work activities, considering the measures that people are going to need to undertake across roles on production and if these can be adapted or changed to reduce risk; work equipment, with good hygiene and managing potential issues with touchpoints—from cameras and headsets to edit suites; and work patterns, which may enable there to be small groups of people who don’t come into contact with other groups.

Further considerations should be taken for rest areas, which are important but may need some reconfiguration and planning around breaks to ensure that they are as safe as possible.

Emergency services are under pressure so may not be able to respond as quickly as possible, so the guidance is to have on-set medical provision increased to deal with an emergency.

Around personal protective equipment (PPE), the consensus is that masks, gloves and other PPE are very much a last resort and should only be considered when all other forms of control have been taken into account and implemented. The guidelines say it wouldn’t be appropriate to source medical-grade PPE, but a very limited exception to this might be when filming in higher COVID-19 risk settings such as hospitals (which would only be at the invitation of the relevant hospital authorities). In the U.K., current advice is if you can, wear a face covering in an enclosed space where social distancing isn’t possible and where you will come into contact with people you wouldn’t normally.

Alongside physical health, mental wellbeing should be taken into account. The COVID-19 risk and response could have a potential mental health impact for those working on productions, so the guidelines propose providing spaces for people to rest and have downtime during the working day as much as possible, as well as considering what access production teams have to mental health support and managing the overall level of fatigue in cast and crew by adapting scheduling patterns.

With all the new guidelines, “the number one priority remains the safety and wellbeing of production teams and those who work with them,” the group says.

About Kristin Brzoznowski

Kristin Brzoznowski is the executive editor of World Screen. She can be reached at [email protected]


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