How Television Crews Are Getting Back to Work
Productions around the world have bee halted due to COVID-19, and while the industry is starting to rebound, one thing is on everyone's mind: what is the new normal going to look like? In a recent interview, Melissa Lintinger, Senior Vice President of Production Finance from NBCU sat down with Mark Goldstein, President and CEO of Entertainment Partners to discuss the challenges and silver linings of getting back to work safely during these uncertain times, and how life on set may look in the months to come.
Currently, NBCU has 30+ projects in production and “surviving the pandemic is #1 priority” so they are taking every precaution, “but also optimistic to work through it" Lintinger said.
In this interview, Lintinger conveys the seriousness of ensuring everyone’s safety on set and the challenges of rising budgets due to COVID-19, but also leaves viewers with hope as the entertainment industry works together to innovate new solutions for a more efficient approach to meet the ever-increasing demand for new content.
What does the new normal of production look like?
Backup crew are an important part of keeping a project moving forward: “Here at NBCU, just because you have someone with a positive COVID test, doesn’t mean you have to necessarily shut down. It’s about who has it. [We] can switch out crews because we have backup crew.”
Social distancing means limited socializing: “Because of social distancing, production is not as fun in some respects, so you might work faster. The days are shorter now.”
Craft service has changed: “Eat beforehand...and now you can only have a boxed lunch.”
NBCU has the strictest safety measures: “From the beginning, even before we had the ‘Return to Work’ protocols that the Guilds put together, NBCU had their own protocols... and they were stricter than what is required because safety is always a number one concern.” After the shutdowns, NBCU was able to keep productions going throughout 2020 with their Late Night and Reality shows. This due diligence paid off, and now they currently have 30+ projects in production by exceeding protocols early on and honoring consistent testing, extra sanitation, and limiting overtime for employees.
Expect budget increases at 10% or more: “Costs are going up [due to] PPE (personal protective equipment), more tents for social distancing, and testing.”
Work life balance is getting better: “The days are shorter, so people get home earlier. We don’t have the long days, but we have built in extra days in the schedule.”
Location scouting, casting, and writer’s rooms are not bound by geography: “We have a global writer’s room...a writer in London, a writer in LA... all these different writers together from around the world. You can’t all be in the same room, but you can be all in the same zoom.”
The production office is going digital: Production offices are downsizing and working virtual thanks to slick new technology tools to streamline processes and onboard crew remotely. This digitizing of the production office is reducing copious amounts of paperwork, errors, and unnecessary back and forth communication. All NBCU crews now use EP’s SmartStart, allowing them to spend more time working and less time filling out paperwork. Melissa stresses the importance of this breakthrough in digitizing the production office as the future of more efficient filmmaking, and it’s her number one priority moving forward. She advises productions to provide continued training to crew members using this technology as a reminder that digitizing the production office is now the new normal, “Give a lot of support, communication, and emphasize that it works since over eighty thousand [NBCU] crew members are already using it.”
Writers are working to write for COVID-safe stages and locations: Not all projects can be in a stage, so it adds another challenging layer for writers. Mark recalls of a recent viewing experience “You can see that the camera angles were angled in a way that looked like the characters were close, but were actually 6-9 feet away.” As Melissa points out, “Some shows are more complicated [to write for COVID social distancing], such as Chicago Fire...you’ve got to have that [location].
Expect new types of stories and approaches to producing: While filmmaking is changing with new protocols in place to ensure the safety of actors and crew alike, Melissa assures viewers, “this is a time of innovation that can drive some really interesting ideas and storytelling.” She further emphasizes how the industry is shifting to focus on producing more non-linear content for an ever growing online streaming audience
For more insights into how to continue physical production with confidence and to see the full conversation, visit the Production Community!