Over one year into the global pandemic, film and video production are finally moving forward. While many Hollywood studios and commercial sets are back at work, every week we hear of another shutdown or “pause” due to a positive COVID-19 test from someone on set.
If you are looking for ways to continue producing content, while keeping your attorney and insurance company happy—and protecting yourself, your talent, and crew—remote filming, sometimes called “remote production”, may be the right choice for you.
Below I share my tips on how to successfully produce a remote production. But first, what is a remote filming?
Remote filming is a type of remote work. It allows you to produce digital content anywhere in the world, and view what the camera sees from anywhere in the world.
Some companies have created proprietary technology or platforms to shoot, encrypt, and stream your picture to a link only available for the remote stakeholders (director, producers, etc). If you have the budget to cover this added security, or you need to keep your data confidential, definitely consider this.
Other lower cost options popular among documentary filmmakers and news journalists include Zoom or Skype, but they have their limitations. Shop around before you commit.
Regardless of the platform you choose, there are several steps a producer can take to have a smooth remote filming experience. Here are 5 tips I’ve learned from producing and directing remote shoots in the COVID era.
5 Tips for a Successful Remote Production:
1. Know The Risks
This includes health, insurance, and legal risks. While we are not medical providers and therefore cannot give you medical advice, it is important to remember that anytime people gather in a small, indoor space, without good ventilation, we increase the risk of transmitting disease. Wearing masks, socially distancing, using hand sanitizer, and enforcing a testing and/or vaccination policy on set can help decrease our risks; however these are not 100% foolproof. Especially since you cannot control what people do off set in their downtime.
With the health risks in mind, it is important speak to your insurance company and your attorney about what you need to protect yourself and your company. Currently, most insurance and legal requirements vary state by state. Know the liability risks and requirements for waivers and insurance before you start filming, and have someone enforce the COVID protocols on set.
2. Amend, But Don’t Slash, Your Budget
Remote filming is not always cheaper. Sure, you may save on flights and hotels, but those savings can be applied to buying new equipment, subscribing to new technology, renting extra locations, hiring crew in multiple locations, hiring a COVID-19 Compliance Officer and paying for the necessary COVID-safety protocols (like providing PPE and on-site testing), and adding extra time to the schedule for safe filming or tech rehearsals. Amend your budget as necessary.
3. Adjust Your Creative Needs
Remote filming is a different beast, so adjust your script, interview questions, shot list, set design, and actor blocking accordingly. Creative adjustments can include putting clear protective barriers between all the speakers, reducing the number of actors in a scene (especially if not all are speaking), changing the blocking or cutting intimate scenes from the script, or cutting Establishing Shots of crowded environments because places are not at full capacity yet, and adding this to the CG list for Post-Production.
Filming unscripted, documentary, and news productions will also need some creative adjustments. If a remote interview is part of the story, ask the local crew to get B-roll shots of the crew and talent behind-the-scenes, so you have coverage shots to use during the voice over about how this was filmed in the COVID era. You may also need to change the locations or activities to comply with local guidelines and protocols.
4. Hire Crew Who Understand the “New Normal”
A lot has changed between March 2020 and today, and you need crew who understand how it works. Pre-Production COVID testing, wearing masks and social distancing from the talent (who may or may not wear a mask depending on the creative needs), working in “bubbles” or “pods” to contain outbreaks, utilizing technology to achieve the results you need, and showing the director/producers/stakeholders what they are capturing in the camera in real time, are all part of the “New Normal” on set. Hire people who understand all the moving parts and are willing to play by the rules to keep everyone safe.
5. Test Your Technology in Advance
Schedule rehearsal time well in advance of your “go” time, especially if you are using a new platform or piece equipment. Technology can and will misfire. Avoid the last-minute panic by checking everything works before people unmask on camera thinking you are ready to roll.
I hope these tips help you on your upcoming remote production.
Happy remote filming!