If set safety measures fall short, will crew leave? They should.

Behind the scenes production photo with 4 large parabolic umbrellas

We all have a breaking point, that point in which we declare, “I’m out.”
Have you considered what your breaking point is in relation to set safety during a pandemic?

Things have gotten strange. Our production lives are no longer predictable, and we don’t know what to expect. Will we be safe on set? Will PPE be available, and will there be ample space to keep a safe distance? Who could have imagined set safety becoming so urgent?

I want my crew to know that I am doing everything possible to keep them safe. I’ve spent the last few weeks (months? What day is it?) on the phone, in zoom meetings, and attending webinars with producers, lawyers, accountants, and insurance agents. I’m creating policies and procedures for set safety to share that we all will follow.

Behind the scenes photo on a beach with pop up tents, strobe lighting, and a lot of light stands. Set safety during this shoot meant not getting sand in the gear.
Behind the scenes production for Country Music Television in St. Petersburg, Florida. See the final shot here!

We each need to define our line in the sand and then be prepared to enforce it. If you don’t feel like there are enough (or any) safety policies and procedures in place on your future productions, are you prepared to leave?

The decision to leave set is a struggle and leads to worries about the loss of income or the burning of bridges.

Avoid the dilemma altogether by asking what the Covid-19 policies and procedures are in advance of the shoot and request practical deal memos.

I issue deal memos for most jobs I produce. A deal memo establishes our working relationship, at what rate, for how many hours, overtime rates, kit fees, kill fees, etc. Effective deal memos protect us all by making our communications and intentions clear.

My deal memo now includes policies and procedures regarding Covid-19. If you are working on a production that doesn’t issue deal memos, consider creating one for yourself that outlines expected safety protocols. Start with the measures you are taking personally, to set a tone of collaboration. I’ve attached a sample deal memo at the bottom (below the resources), feel free to steal it.

Request a pdf of the production’s Covid-19 policies and procedures before accepting the assignment. If none are available, that is a red flag.

Plan an effective exit strategy now before you find yourself in an awkward spot. Discuss it with your head of production, and put it in writing. That way, if you see your line in the sand (and I hope you never do), you’ll know what steps to take. Stay safe out there and happy production!

Behind the scenes of a portrait studio with a white paper seamless background and lights on stands. Set safety back then mean not tripping on extension cords.
Waiting for improv genius Colin Mochrie to come to set. See the final shot here!

RESOURCES

Here’s a link to the best guide I’ve seen yet, created by ASMP lawyer Tom Maddrey. This page is the master article for links and materials related to ASMP’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic specifically focused on Health, Safety, and Legal matters.

Wondering what how to be prepared when assignments cancel? Read my last post, “Photo Assignments Postponed – Take These 6 Steps Now To Protect Yourself”.

Sample of a deal memo contract. Set safety information is missing.
Bio photo of Producer Therese wearing cowboy hat

Therese is the executive producer at Andy Batt Studio, and she is the founder and lead producer at Ask A Producer, a production company for photographers and directors. She also provides consultation, estimation, and negotiation services, and teaches workshops and seminars. When she’s not on set or at her desk, you’ll often find her surrounded by friends, laughing with a glass of champagne in her hand.

Photo Assignments Postponed – Take These 6 Steps Now To Protect Yourself

Two people connected by a tight rope practicing the limitations of social distance on the Hawthorne Bridge by Andy Batt

Hello, my dear friends and colleagues. As you know, things are getting crazy out there and our photo assignments are being postponed or canceled due to the Coronavirus. Are you prepared to answer the question “what will it cost to cancel”? Let’s talk about our terms and conditions (T&C). I’ve outlined 6 steps you can take right now to prepare yourself, and I’ve included an amendment you’ll definitely want to consider for future contracts.

Step 1: Understand your own T&C when your photo assignments postpone

If you are like me, your T&C are a version of the T&C from a trade organization. The last time I had my lawyer revise mine was 2016. So I dusted off my magnifying glass and reviewed my own cancellation policy. It’s not often that my photo assignments are postponed, so I need to refresh my memory!

Empty chairs restaurant dartboards coronavirus pandemic - what will you do when your photo assignment postpones?
Empty restaurant due to forced closure related to Coronavirus by Andy Batt

Step 2: Don’t have a T&C?

That’s ok, this is the perfect time to acquire a set of T&Cs! Trade groups like ASMP and APA are a fantastic resource! Not a member? It’s time to join because we are in unprecedented times and photo assignments are being postponed left and right. This is the time to band together and help each other. Join a trade group now and dig into those resources.

Step 3: Does your crew have a policy when photo assignments postpone?

If you have a crew booked, contact them and find out what their cancellation policy is. They may not have one, and this is a great time to develop deep loyalties by helping them determine what to do when photo assignments are postponed. Don’t leave your crew hanging. They are as worried as you are.

Your crew isn’t just assistants, vanities, stylists, etc. Also consider the rental studio, the caterer, the casting director…they’ll all have a cancelation policy that you should be aware of.

Step 4: Contact your client before they contact you

Your clients will appreciate your proactive stance. Send a quick note like ‘during these uncertain times, I wanted to be upfront with my cancellation policy. Based on our approved estimate and the agreed-to terms and conditions, if we cancel within 48 hours of the shoot, it will cost $_______. If the notice of cancellation is given two business days or less before the shoot date, Client will be charged ____% of the shoot fee in addition to all expenses incurred, $_____________

Step 5: Did you sign their paperwork?

If you signed your client’s paperwork, it may include a ‘force majeure’. Force majeure refers to a clause that is included in contracts to remove liability for natural and unavoidable catastrophes (like a pandemic) that interrupt the expected course of events and restrict participants from fulfilling obligations. If you have signed your client’s contract, be sure to read it thoroughly and see if you agreed to a force majeure.

Step 6: Are you currently being asked to bid a project that may postpone?

We know our terms if the photo assignment postpones. But what if you get sick and have to cancel? Are you liable to pay the cancellation fees of your crew? In a pre-pandemic time, we might power through the illness and get the shoot done, but that is no longer viable or responsible.

Reach out to your insurance provider and understand what your policy will cover. Pandemic insurance is likely not in your policy, it certainly is not in mine.

Faulty Coronavirus mask and hazmat suit worn by a man in an emergency fallout bunker. What will you do if your photo assignment postpones?
Jed Arkley plays Zeb in the cinematic series “Bad Choices” by Andy Batt – Who knew our dystopian series was going to become a strange reality?

I AM NOT A LAWYER, NOR AM I GIVING YOU LEGAL ADVICE

I’m closely following posts from the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP). They published an amendment for producers. I’ll post that below. Reach out to your trade organization and ask them to issue a similar amendment to help cover you.

Let’s all take steps first to protect ourselves, before assisting others. Know your own T&C, help your crew with their T&C, and then help your clients. You will always be remembered for your calm and professional demeanor during a remarkable and stressful time. And that will lead to more work down the line, I am certain of that!

Corona Virus Contract Amendment
Bio photo of Producer Therese wearing cowboy hat

Therese is the executive producer at Andy Batt Studio, and she is the founder and lead producer at Ask A Producer, a production company for photographers and directors. She also provides consultation, estimation and negotiation services, and teaches workshops and seminars. When she’s not on set or at her desk, you’ll often find her surrounded by friends, laughing with a glass of champagne in her hand.

What to do when it all goes wrong, and how will you fix it?

The late June morning was perfect weather for a sunrise shoot on Elk Lake. It was idyllic, we wrapped by 10, and were back at our accommodations at Black Butte Ranch by 1pm.

The Hall family are on a glassy Elk Lake at dawn to soak up the incredible view.

The perfect place to shoot kayaking from is a party boat!

Our next call time at Black Butte Ranch wasn’t until 4pm, so we all took a much needed 2 hour nap.

We woke up to thunder. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It’s not supposed to rain in the summer in the Central Oregon high desert. This will quickly pass, right? I started to wonder if we had spent all our ‘good luck weather’ in one place.

Agency, talent and crew met at 4pm and looked at each other with bewilderment. But mostly, they just looked to me. Now what? Fix it, Therese.

Cancelling a shoot due to weather is a hard decision for me to make. Can we power through? Will the weather suddenly break? The next scene was of a family playing corn hole—that game is played in the rain, right? That’s normal, right?

We were also scheduled to shoot a scene of a family making s’mores around a fire. Could we at least get that shot? It’s a twilight shoot, we can still do that, right?

The lightning struck. The thunder cracked. Then the rain fell. In buckets.

I set out all my note cards and looked at my options.

  • Ignore the rain, and shoot it anyways. We’ve done that plenty of times. The CD said  “Sure, you could take a bunch of bad pictures. But why bother?” Good point, I can’t argue with that.
  • Shoot corn hole in the morning (during scheduled time off for cast and crew) and shoot s’mores tonight (fuck the rain).
  • Shoot corn hole in the morning and shoot s’mores tomorrow evening, after shooting all the other late day/early evening scenes we have to shoot. This would involve asking crew and talent to be flexible too.

At that point, I called it. Not gonna happen. None of it would look good with wet talent. UGH. Instead, we ordered a round of beers, and watched the lightning storm.

Luckily, we had clear skies again by morning. The agency account director asked  “why was it so hard to call the shoot, knowing that the weather was so bad?” Great question.

We were on day 1 of a 3 day shoot. It’s my responsibility to review every single option before the obvious one, to do my due diligence. I have to think about my talent, my location, my crew – would they all be available for an alternate plan? And what would it cost? I had to quickly estimate the price tag for a cancellation vs.  a rescheduling, and present these numbers to the agency/client. Get all the options on the table, so that we can all make intelligent decisions. I have to go through this difficult process, otherwise, I lose sleep at night because I feel like I left an option on the table.

For this shoot, we had some fairly simple solutions, with a relatively inexpensive work-change order. But the difficulty in making this decision, even with simple solutions at hand, is knowing that I, alone, am responsible if it’s not the right decision. If you’ve ever wondered what a producer does, this is it, right here. A producer makes the hard decisions, under pressure, while everyone is looking at her silently, wondering “how is she going to fix it?”.

Cornhole the next morning turned out perfectly— Huge sigh of relief! See the rest of the shoot here.