Cameras soon set to roll on Alberta film sets after productions paused

With productions halted during the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s film industry was put on temporary pause. It was a devastating work stoppage to an industry that was already struggling.

Damian Petti, a vice president for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSA), said a collaborative process is already underway to develop an industry-wide standard for film and television sets.

“People will work in groups — this is necessary to work around the actors and camera — and there will be testing so there will be constant monitoring of the health of the crew, and the way people do their jobs will be different,” Petti said.

Because of physical distancing restrictions, larger groups won’t be allowed on set and there will be shorter days to limit exposure. According to Petti, main actors may be subjected to testing multiple times a week. There will also be alterations to certain aspects of a production set.

“Departments like makeup and costumes and props will all have totally different protocols around disinfecting things,” Petti said.

“Costumes will all be separate in bags — and makeup, you have to be absolutely sure all your stuff is clean and properly sterilized.”

As things behind the scenes will change, Petti said he foresees so too will the finished product on the big screen.

“We will see scripts with less romantic scenes in them and leave more to your imagination.

“We will have smaller groups of background performers. I am aware of scripts that are being rewritten,” Petti said.

Robert Hilton with the Directors Guild of Canada, said crews are anxious to get back to work, but safety standards have to be solid before allowing their return.

“Safety is the utmost so we have to protect our crew but we also need to create an environment where they can still do the productions,” Hilton said.

He’s optimistic the industry will rebound even beyond expectations, thanks to binge watching during isolation.

“Netflix, Google and Disney are in a situation where people absorbed everything they could, so they’re now in a position of having very little content that hasn’t been watched,” Hilton said. “They need to make this up so it’s a great opportunity for us to go after as much as we can handle.”

But there is concern over budgets as filming resumes.

“Will the production be able to afford it? Suddenly you’ve added upwards of a half million to a million plus to a production, because now we are going to add a whole new bunch of guidelines and concerns,” Hilton said.

Luke Azevedo, commissioner for film, television and the creative industries for Calgary Economic Development, said there is an appetite for Canadian productions.

“We’ve seen some commercials and small music videos start up already and we anticipate based on the amount of attention and conversations across the country, it’s going to be very busy for Canada and in Alberta,” Azevedo said.

“We want to ensure we are seen globally as a location that’s safe and can produce.

“It’s a new world and we have to address and find ways to collectively implement these protocols in safe manner and in a way that allows capacity to produce product at a high quality level, giving audience the stories we want to see on the screens,” Azevedo said.

Smaller independent filmmakers see the opportunity for their stories to be told. Barb Briggs runs Calgary-based Asvoria Media and said her crew is about to start filming again later this week.

“I’ve had to rework our budgets: It is tighter, there are extra costs associated,” Briggs said. “We have to have expense lines for all the face masks and sanitizers. Food costs are changing because we can’t have buffet style or communal eating.

Briggs added it is an entirely different mindset but believes filmmakers will lean into the challenges.

“Alberta filmmakers are used to doing more with less, but there’s a resilience and passion that goes with it,” Briggs said.

“This will open up opportunities for people whose voices may not have been heard before, because they are much more able to adapt to changes than some of the bigger machines that come with larger productions.”

Larger productions could resume as early as late July or early August.

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