COVID, and the related social distancing measures, caused the world to shift overnight. Amidst this brand new reality, we’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to produce a safe, responsible photoshoot that runs smoothly, puts everyone’s health first and ultimately still allows us to deliver the same quality of assets we were capable of in yesteryear.
Since social distancing is sticking around for the foreseeable future, we figured there were a ton of you who are facing the same challenges and we wanted to share what we’ve learned with you. From building your pre-production checklist to location scouting to day-of considerations, here’s how we’re making safe, socially-distanced photoshoots happen.
From a producer’s standpoint, social distancing guidelines and protocols dramatically shift your planning process. Here’s what to keep in mind:
- Create a set of COVID protocols: Consult with your local organizations to see the latest recommendations. If you’re in Vancouver, check out BCCDC and Worksafe BC.
- Build a robust communication plan: Minimize the number of people on set to make social distancing as easy as possible. That means arranging ways you can keep the lines of communication open between the crew on-set and the team members who would have been on the set in pre-Covid times. This could be phone calls, video calls, sending photos, etc. Work with the remote team members ahead of time to learn what their needs are and come up with a plan that feels feasible.
- Transportation: Since carpooling is out the window in many cases, that means arranging transportation that keeps everyone safe. If team members are comfortable carpooling with reduced numbers (a maximum of three to a car) ensure that proper protocols (e.g., masks, hand sanitizer) are available. Otherwise, consider renting vehicles or using rideshare options like Uber or Lyft.
- Equipment and supplies: Make sure you plan to bring the appropriate materials to create disinfectant stations for those onset (e.g., disposable masks, disinfectant). Consider asking individuals to wear their own masks and bring their own water bottles on shoot day, to encourage low touch areas and minimize waste.
- Create a responsible clean-up plan: Decide who is in charge of cleaning up, what surfaces will need disinfecting, and a plan to remove trash if you’re planning to shoot in a remote outdoor location.
- Break your shoot into shifts: It’s a simple fact—the fewer people on set at a given time, the easier social distancing gets. Consider breaking down the production day into shifts to keep your maximum numbers low. This includes pacing out when models arrive to set vs. having all models arrive at once and wait around for their turn.
- Hold a production kick-off meeting: Make sure everyone, from the talent agency to art director to client to catering, is on the same page. With so many more factors to juggle, it’s important to have a phone or video call ahead of time to make sure everyone understands the game plan and protocols for production day.
Choosing a location
When building your creative vision for a shoot, choose locations that align to how individuals are currently living their lives. These days, shooting in studios, coffee shops or restaurants might not ring true for your audience. We’ve seen more and more lifestyle brands opt for home shoots or going out into wide open outdoor spaces.
Once you’ve nailed down your art direction, it’s time to kick off location scouting. Your job is made a bit more difficult, since you’ve got to balance two competing sets of standards: finding a place both (a) that fits the needs of the art direction, and (b) that allows you to follow safety protocols on the day.
Here are the questions we recommend asking yourself to make sure your COVID-friendly protocols go off without a hitch:
- What is the maximum number of people I could safely have on set at a given time? Will that be feasible, based on my production plan?
- Are there enough breakout areas (spaces for talent changes, outfit changes, hair and makeup) that keep everyone at enough distance from one another?
- If we’re shooting outside, are there washroom facilities nearby?
With air travel out of the question, using local talent is key. Whether you’re working with an agency or finding talent yourself, make sure models are asked COVID screening questions a week out, and again 24–48 hours before shoot day, to make sure everyone is feeling healthy before coming to set.
It’s also more important than ever to make sure you have a backup plan. Crew and talent will have to stay home if there’s even a chance they’re feeling cold or flu-like symptoms to keep your set safe. If you’re working with an agency, check what their policies are and if you have the ability to arrange your backup preferences. If you’re managing talent directly, arrange an alternate who can be available on-call the day of in case there’s a last-minute change.
With the typical buffet-style catering out, consider individually packaged items or lunch boxes. If you’re shooting outside or in a remote location keep in mind you’ll be hauling any packaging out with you (unless you’ve organized otherwise). It’s also worth considering that you might not have access to elements to keep food warm, so opting for food that will work better at room temperature is a good call.
- Kick things off right. There’s no way around it—times are strange. You don’t want that energy bleeding onto set. Make sure you start off production day with positive energy: schedule a team huddle to kick the day off together, press ‘play’ on your playlist, bring snacks, whatever you can do to start the day off on a positive note.
- Enact a no-touch/low-touch policy. This means asking stylists, spotters, and art directors to give their cues verbally and then allowing models to adjust things accordingly.
- Appoint one or more “bad cops.” Designating someone to make sure people are keeping six feet of distance, everyone is wearing a mask whenever possible, and everyone is regularly disinfecting is the way to go. We recommend one enforcer for every six people on set.
- Sanitize in between shots. If models are sharing environments and/or equipment, make sure you’re sanitizing in between talent changes and any time someone new enters the shot (e.g., photographer, stylist).