Getting Back to Work

Balto (above) stands in bronze in New York’s Central Park. The plaque reads, “Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed [diptheria] antitoxin six hundred miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the Winter of 1925. Endurance · Fidelity · Intelligence.”

We need a Balto now.

You probably tried to read various guidelines on going back to work on set or location.

Your skepticism increased with each “it is highly recommended.”

And you plowed through additional palaverous proposals of precautions for picking up production. Now, I’m no more qualified to give advice on getting back to work or working safely than some of the “experts” and magical thinkers expounding on TV, despite my few years in pre-med studies and a healthy skepticism of sheltering in place in a stunt coordinator’s “designated safe zone.” That’s too often the place where debris unexpectedly lands from an exploding car in a movie stunt, despite assurances to the contrary.

In preparation for getting back to work, lengthy documents have been drafted by producers, unions and trade groups. Many of these white papers and guidelines are very long and vague. Dr. Roger Cicala, Medical Doctor and founder of Lensrentals says, “Too many of these guidelines read like a medical document written by attorneys, which is what they are. I would assume they were paid by the word, or at least by the hour, given the verbosity and the number of things that are uselessly repeated in every section.

“My new formula states: length of document is inversely proportional to useful information. L = 1/UI. Given the many pages of drivel some of these reports entail, I’d love to do a snarky Cliff notes, basically the common sense version.” Here it is:

Snarky Summary by Dr. Roger Cicala, MD

1. Keep your guys away from their guys. Separate into smaller teams as much as possible and minimize personnel swapping. If one person tests positive, that team is down for up to 10 days. If you mix people all day long, the entire crew could be quarantined.

2. If there isn’t a protocol for taking temperatures, who gets tested when and where, and a protocol for when someone gets sick, this might not be a good place to work.

3. Teams should stay separate not just on set, but at lunch, etc.

4. When your guys and their guys have to be in the same room, use PPE. (Personal Protective Equipment.)

5. Wear a mask. A mask that covers your nose and mouth.

6. Wash your hands. Then wash everything else with 70% alcohol or something similar. Then wash your hands again.

7. When possible, avoid using eyepiece viewfinders and other maneuvers that require “face near equipment.” When it is necessary for someone to put their face close to a camera, that’s their camera until it’s disinfected. No director or art department or non-camera operator DP taking a look and “see what they think.”

8. This is simple, but rarely done: an HVAC technician should map out air flow patterns in each indoor set or room: which ducts blow in (and in what direction) and which are returns. The (rather arbitrary) 6 foot distance rule assumes still air. If you’re downwind you aren’t distanced.

9. When in doubt, ethyl alcohol is usually safer on equipment than isopropyl. Dilute bleach is great for tables, doorknobs, and other touched surfaces.

10. Don’t get a false sense of security from UV light “disinfectant” wands that don’t have much power and might take 30 minutes to disinfect a little space. If you don’t have to wear eye protection around it, it’s probably not effective.

11. Be considerate. Your mask isn’t just to protect you. It’s to protect the other people from you. Wearing it around your chin basically is saying “I don’t give a damn about anyone I’m working with.”

12. In particular, HINAP—Hope Is Not A Plan. If the plan doesn’t include “what we will do when a person tests positive,” it’s not a plan.

Read Roger’s two pages of additional expert, concise advice on pages 30-31 of FDTimes August 2020 edition.

You are Requested and Required

I have a few more suggestions.

As the British Admiralty of Horatio Hornblower famously wrote in their orders, “You are requested and required to…”

1. Wear a good mask. At all times. Everyone on set, near set, to and from set.

2. Stay in your own department. DPs: Don’t prop the props or tweak the 10K.

3. ACs: Encourage the DP and Director to consider the 135mm lens for actors’ close-ups. A 40mm close-up at 18 inches is a breath away from danger. And you are certainly not re-shooting The Revenant or Birdman up close and personal with a 12mm prime.   

4. Crafty and Catering: Let them serve the food. No grazing or self service. Ideally what you eat has been sealed or wrapped.

5. Location Scouts: Look for large interiors. A crowded New York apartment is like a small Petri dish.

6. Locations: Get used to less travel to location and more virtual backgrounds. Super-sized LED walls like Sony Crystal Vision will become standard in more studios.

7. Studios: Make sure they are ventilated very well and very often. HEPA filters in the HVAC help. I think it was the LA Times that pointed out how filthy many studios have been in the past and we never really took notice. Mop often and clean everything and everywhere. Electrostatic disinfectant spraying like they do before each Delta Airline flight is a good idea.

8. Use common sense and listen to the scientists. Just because you read or heard something from a politician or committee doesn’t make it so.

9. Don’t believe everything they say about production having to be more expensive. It could be but doesn’t have to. It will be all about finding new and nimble ways to get the job done while still staying safe.

10. Claim your own applebox to sit on. Write your name on it. Do not share. Better yet, don’t sit.

Remember when this thing started? The CDC and WHO  scoffed at the need for masks, while all our Asian colleagues were jumping up and down telling us to do so? The CDC now writes “An N95 FFR (Filtering Facepiece Respirator) … filters out at least 95% of very small (0.3 micron) particles, including bacteria and viruses.” 

It continues, “The CDC does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirators (masks) to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including Coronavirus (COVID-19). Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.”

Doesn’t that suggest that what you really, really want is a mask like those doctors and healthcare workers are using, not a cloth or surgical mask that the CDC at first ridiculed and later recommended? But there is a big problem with our supply chain. The USA sadly gave away manufacturing of N95 masks quite some time ago. Healthcare workers definitely need those masks before any of us. And yet, supply chain is something our industry is very good at. So, let’s hope that some enterprising companies will supply the supply chain of proper PPE and safety equipment.

Innovative Companies

Some of these enterprising companies are already at work. They appear in FDTimes August 2020. Nicol Verheem of Creative Solutions and Teradek talks about masks, hooks and working remotely. Andy Bellamy of AJA discusses distancing (pages 38-42).  Inovativ, known for equipping ACs, DITs and Video Villages with equipment carts and monitor stands, now makes on-set health  accessories (pages 56-57). Cartoni is building a UV-C light box, called BOXER, to disinfect equipment (pg. 55). It is awaiting Italian Health certification.

Meanwhile, how is all of this affecting the equipment we rent, buy and use? Fritz Heinzle and Otto Nemenz report that zooms are going out on their most current shows because crews don’t want to handle lenses too often and zooms don’t have to be changed.

Michel Suissa, General Manager, The Studio – B&H, discusses the dynamic between choosing zooms or primes in this new production paradigm. “Zooms are still prevalent. If you want to be more nimble and have a small crew, rather than changing your prime lenses all the time, a zoom lens is valid. But a zoom might be inherently larger, heavier and slower. We see two parameters that play into the selection of prime lenses. One is the look. Users are often very attached to what a lens is going to look like. Number two is price.” See pages 52-54.

Place Your Bets

Yevgeny Subbotin, Account Director at CVP, writes, “We definitely sell more zooms than we used to in the last couple of years but primes are still very much top sellers. All the action at the moment is in pre-owned glass. We do sell few new Supremes and Signatures. Hopefully big changes are coming up in September and October.

Aaron George, Account Manager at CVP, comments, “Very interesting times and for the first time in my life I have to agree with Yev. Primes are still the go-to! You would think that zooms would be key at this time,  but perhaps due to lack of Full Frame zooms available in the market and the abundance of Super35 zooms, this hasn’t been reflected in sales.

I certainly know that Tribe7 lenses have been requested left, right and centre, but due to demand, they seem to be the unicorn that everyone wants to ride but only few can. I think the next few months will divulge the details about the current market as bigger productions start to head back into principal photography. On a side note, remote wheels have come out of the woodwork.”

Jon Fry, Sales Director at CVP says, “I think the rationale for zooms makes a lot of sense. As you pointed out, I predicted that there would be a resurgence for zooms this year and COVID-19 only made that seem more likely. But, it is fair to say that sales haven’t recognized that yet.

“Maybe the requirement for zooms hasn’t yet rippled through to  sales and there is enough existing glass in the hire facilities to meet demand today. But, as more and more production returns, it is possible that will result in increased sales of zooms in the coming months. It is taking a while for higher-end production to return in anger and I think this is why we’re still not recognising significant sales of new primes or zooms yet.

“As Yev has already indicated, we are getting a feeling that is going to be short lived as kit is now in reasonable demand again. It is fair to say that a lot of companies and individuals who had no intention of purchasing any new kit this year are already placing orders for new gear to meet increasing demand.

“I agree with Yev: this is now the time for pre-owned lenses. As with any market (not just the film industry), used assets always become popular during difficult times as money is moved around. Some customers want to reduce their overhead. By removing an asset finance agreement, it reduces monthly outgoings. Others may see it as a time to invest, so we have put a few little schemes in place to facilitate this requirement (through selling on consignment or trading in equipment and reselling with warranties and  finance where required). I would imagine there will be plenty more of this to come and our hope is that CVP can be a “safe pair of hands” for these transactions.

“Let’s take some bets and predictions now for next year, Jon.”

The other JF on the line, Jon Fauer, takes the bait to bet, “OK, bets are on. And what better place to bet than with you CVP characters rather than going broke at Ladbrokes.”

FDTimes wagers with CVP:

Full Frame zooms will prevail (when more appear.)

Primes will remain a holy unicorn. (I’d like to ride a unicorn, Aaron.)

You will sell more long prime lenses than wide.

Remote heads and wheels will fly off your shelves. DJI, ARRI, Servicevision, Loumasystems, A&C and others should ramp up and make many more affordable systems to remote control the camera not only on set but also from far away.

I guess winner buys and drinks drinks. Cheers.

Jon Fry answers, “That’s a strong betting list, Jon. I’m struggling to find an argument. You might have to get that credit card out.

Speaking of CVP, the next edition of FDTimes will publish a history of the company and a looks at the business of their  business.

New Equipment Keeps Coming

Meanwhile, new cameras, lenses and things arrived at an amazing pace. Many were planned in product cycles five or more years ago. If there’s a common theme, it’s higher resolution, improved image quality, lighter, smaller, faster, and sometimes cheaper. Some of those products are presented here along with lots of good discussion of how to work safely in the coming days. Stay safe.

(This is a “reprint” from August 2020 FDTimes issue 104.)

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