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COVID-19 update for film and TV producers

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Thankfully, Ireland is gradually emerging from quarantine. As of 29 June, the overwhelming majority of businesses in the state have returned to some approximation of normal work.

Usefully, Screen Producers Ireland have prepared Guidance Notes for both film and TV drama and factual/entertainment programme–making. While various stakeholders, including government agencies, have already published a number of documents addressing return to work generally, these are the first Guidelines produced specifically for the film and TV sectors.

Existing documents understandably place great emphasis upon health and safety and tend to focus on three key areas:–

a) Hygiene and related safety measures to keep employees safe;

b) The same measures in respect of customers/clients; and

c) Guidance for emergencies – how to proceed in the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a workplace.

Obviously film and TV industries face particular challenges in dealing with the Coronavirus. Apart from anything else, both industries require individuals, be they actors or crew, to be in close proximity very often.

Turning to each of the new Guidance Notes.

1. Live-action – film and television

Response plans

Productions must prepare response plans which are essentially a form of risk assessment tailored to the individual production.

This response plan/risk assessment involves considering all aspects of the production with reference to obvious risk factors (crowd scenes, to take a single example). It is also necessary to take into account individual risk factors (where members of the cast or crew are particularly vulnerable, for example) and deal with contingencies – including a suspected case of COVID–19.

The response plan is probably best thought of as a “master list” blueprint that considers the risks from all angles and sets out practical steps to address them.

Employee representatives

As in the case of all other businesses, film/TV production companies must appoint at least one lead worker representative who works with the employer to assist in the implementation of measures and monitors adherence to measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Return to work forms and contact logs

Also identically to other industries, film/TV productions must make use of Return to Work Forms. This is a straightforward questionnaire that an employee must complete in advance of returning to the workplace – it sets out basic questions about the employee’s health and is in reality a form of triage to reduce the risks of an infected employee coming into contact with others.

Another measure included in the Guidance Note that duplicates measures for other industries is the COVID-19 contact log. This log is to assist in contact tracing and allows an employer to quickly identify who has been in proximity with another employee or employees, and for how long.

Social distancing

Unsurprisingly, the Guidance reiterates that a distance of 2 metres should be maintained to minimise risk of transmission.

However, the Guidance contemplates closer proximity in certain circumstances – but it is very much couched in terms of avoidability.

For example, in the case of cast members, the Guidance makes it clear that working protocols
should be communicated to them, and agreed with them, at the earliest possibility. These may include:-

• Quarantine requirements;
• Travel restrictions;
• Limited physical working collaboration.

There must be an agreement on “close contact procedures”.

Where the 2m separation cannot be maintained, the Guidance states that “an appropriate work structure and specific measures must be outlined, and discussed with the Artist in advance and protocols designed”.

Naturally and unsurprisingly, any time spent in close contact must be kept as short as possible. It is clear from the Guidance that closer than 2m proximity should only be permitted where it can be done safely.

Other practical measures

The Guidance Notes emphasise very practical issues and there are a number of sections dealing with discrete aspects of a production – issues that may arise on location, on-set teams, equipment, catering and costumes and make-up.

Unsurprisingly, regular cleaning and “enhanced hygiene” is stressed.

2. Factual and entertainment programming

This Guidance Note takes a similar approach to the live-action Guidance. Again, a risk assessment is critical – and virtually all of the precautions required in the case of live-action programming apply equally here. All of the same measures around contact logs, return to work forms and maintaining hygiene are the same, by way of example.

Once again, emphasis is placed upon risk reduction – remote working should be implemented where possible, for example, and any other steps that can be taken to minimise direct contact between individuals is desirable.

Where physical distancing is not possible, additional protective measures should be put in place – such as the use of PPE and/or physical barriers. Meticulous hygiene is required during a shoot, most equipment cannot be shared and distance should be maintained as far as possible.

Again, a number of specific points are addressed in the Guidance – including catering facilities, local and overseas travel, use of vehicles and audience members.

The Factual and Entertainment Guidance note closely mirrors the Live Action Guidance when it comes to social distancing. Again, the importance of 2m separation is referred to and, also, reference is made to identifying and agreeing protocols where this is not possible.

3. Summary

Film and television producers should find the Guidance very helpful. Given the long hiatus, no doubt productions will be keen to return to work.

Naturally, given the risks (and, in particular, potential exposure for employers) huge care needs to be taken – but the SPI Guidance ought to assist individual companies to return to work safely.


For further information on this article, please contact Patrick Walshe or Jonathan Kelly.


Jonathan Kelly


Patrick Walshe