Tips for Writing During a Pandemic

As we develop scripts, it’s going to be important anticipate all the things that might elevate safety concerns during production. At the very least, any element in a script that gets flagged as a potential safety concern will require additional work during pre-production and production, in order for there to be a robust plan in place for the safety of the cast and crew. It’s therefore a good idea to be: (a) thinking about how you’ll address potential safety concerns as you develop a script; and (b) imagining alternative versions of scenes with a lot of red flags, so that you have a viable Plan B in your back pocket that mitigates more of the safety concerns. Below is a guide to some of the more common factors that of which to be mindful when you’re writing a scene.

LOCATIONS

QUANTITY OF LOCATIONS

Be mindful of how many locations you are writing into your script. The more locations you need, the more time you’ll need to spend on safely scouting and prepping each location. More locations will also raise the likelihood of needing to do company moves during a production day, which will raise additional safety concerns.

INTERIOR vs. EXTERIOR

Interior locations are generally going to have more safety concerns than exterior locations. As you write, it’s worth asking yourself whether an interior scene really needs to be an interior scene, and what might it look like if it were conceived instead as an exterior scene.

CRAMPED vs. SPACIOUS

Small, tight, cramped locations where social distancing is difficult are generally going to have more safety concerns than large, open, spacious locations. As you write, it’s good to ask yourself if a scene necessitates shooting in a cramped location, or if there are ways to cheat it or change it. Bathroom scenes are a good example, which are usually too cramped for production, even under normal circumstances. Therefore, you’ll either need to: (a) have a rigorous plan for how you could shoot the scene safely in a small bathroom; (b) find a really large bathroom that you can cheat to look smaller, which will likely be hard to find; or (c) rewrite the scene so that it doesn’t take place in a small bathroom.

PUBLIC vs. PRIVATE

Public locations are generally going to have more safety concerns than private locations. If a scene needs to be shot in public location, it will likely take a lot of additional work during production to sanitize the location. It will also take a lot of additional work to control the space, so that you can have a closed set that’s not compromised by the presence outside community members. It’s also best to assume that certain kinds of public spaces are going to be a lot harder to secure, as people are going to be more hesitant about letting film crews invade their space.

DISTANT vs. LOCAL

On thesis films, we do allow shows to make requests to shoot at distant locations. There’s already an approval process for this, in which the show needs to argue why it is vital to shoot out of town and what the practical plan is. There will be an additional burden of responsibility during the pandemic to outline a robust safety plan too. And wanting to shoot in a COVID hotspot is certainly going to be less viable than, say, shooting in a remote location in the mountains.

CHARACTERS

QUANTITY OF CHARACTERS

Scenes with large quantities of characters (or extras) are generally going to have more safety concerns than scenes with small numbers of characters. As you write, it’s good to ask yourself whether you need that big party scene, or whether you can scale down the scope of it. If you do really need it, how will you shoot it safely?

AGE OF CHARACTERS

We need to be vigilant about protecting the health of all of the performers, but we also know that fatality rates for COVID-19 are higher among older demographics. Scenes involving older characters, therefore, are generally going to raise additional safety concerns. Be mindful of other COVID-19 risk-factors too as you write, especially if your choices about yours characters require actors who might fall in other groups with elevated risk (e.g., weakened immune systems, pulmonary disease, cancer, diabetes, sickle cell disease, obesity, pregnancy, etc.)

PROXIMITY OF CHARACTERS

Scenes with physical intimacy between actors will need special care and preparation. If it’s essential to the story, how much can you minimize it or cheat it, in order to best protect your actors on set? Would the scene still play well if the action was staged without the need for physical proximity?

ACTIONS IN THE SCENE

Certain types of actions in a scene are going raise more safety concerns than other types of actions. If the actions require actors to shout, cough, spit, or breathe heavily (e.g., due to stunts or other acts of physical exertion), those moments will require a robust plan for how to shoot it safely.

PRODUCTION SCOPE

It’s also a good idea to be mindful of overall production scope as you write, because there will inevitably be some slow down during production in order to observe safety protocols. The more out-of-scope a production is, the more likelihood there will be of either: (a) not making your day; or (b) compromising safety by rushing too much. You’ll all be less nimble if you have to adapt to any surprises. To anticipate this, a few good questions to ask yourself as you write are:

  • Will the scene require extensive art department work?
  • Will the scene require extensive grip/gaff work?
  • Will the scene require extensive coverage/set-ups?