Reopening Production: How We Got Back to Work

And why we're sharing our Covid production playbook with the industry

Like virtually every production company in the world, all of our work came to a screeching halt in mid-March when lockdown orders were announced in our city. As part of our work directly with brands like Hollister Co. and Pixar, we were used to navigating unique global and local production challenges, but this was different. The immediate questions we asked ourselves were: What can we do? How can we pivot to adjust to the new restrictions and resume production safely?

Our L.A.-based creative production agency, Summerjax, was one of the first in the industry to return to full-service on-location shoots. With six weeks of backed-up shot lists and content launch dates approaching, we knew our brands couldn’t hold out any longer. We started to navigate the roadblocks by creating additional safety standards and procedures onset. We also delivered our Covid-19 plan to our insurance carrier, who supported our mission to execute a safe, happy and productive set. 

Our first shoot back was set to commence on May 1. Because we wanted to avoid air travel for the safety of our team, the destination had to be close enough for our small crew of 25 to reach by car. We established a set that was essentially a quarantine of its own by securing private locations in Utah and Colorado with plenty of space for the crew to work comfortably with a variety of backdrops, textures and colors. We then brought in or built whatever else was needed creatively to enhance the shoot.  

Instead of planning multiple shoots to capture the March, April and May assets as was originally planned, we extended the duration of that one shoot so that the same “QuaranTEAM” could work together to deliver it all the assets. Summerjax production crew members and talent drove across the state and paired with local Utah and Colorado teams to get the job done. 

Accommodations were individual rooms in a hotel that was occupied solely by our crew, and no one was granted access to the rooms, including housekeeping. Deliveries were left at the doorstep. During the shoot, we employed social distancing standards of six feet or more and required that everyone keep their masks on. The usual gathering place around the DigiTech station was managed tightly, with those who needed to review work, and even then they were only able to come up one by one. We set up multiple sanitation stations around set for the crew to access easily, and the equipment went through deep cleaning early morning and each evening. We provided an onsite medic who was available at all times and assisted in the creation of our production-specific best practices, such as eye protection for hair and makeup artists.

One of the biggest changes for us was around catering. We are proud of our nickname “Summer-Snax” for the quality of our craft services on set, and we wanted to maintain our reputation. We individually prepared meals so the crew and talent could eat while distancing, and our craft services table was replaced by personal grab-and-go bags. Crew members could carry these bags with them throughout the day. We joked that it felt a little bit like sending the kids off to summer camp.

Going into this crisis, there was no playbook to follow, so we had to make our own. From our collective experiences back on set, from that inaugural shoot to today, we put together our Covid-19 Production Playbook to share our best practices. Because our goal first and foremost is to provide a safe place where our crews could feel confident to work their best, the methods came from a lot of conversations we had with the crew and talent in advance of the shoot. We wanted to hear what each person specifically needed to do their job safely and well. We are sharing this playbook because we believe that the best way to be a service to our industry is to contribute our knowledge and experience so that others can also return safely to set. 

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