The COVID-19 “Get Back to Filmmaking” Checklist

The COVID-19 “Get Back to Filmmaking” Checklist

A 40-point checklist from development to post-production


by Danny Jiminian


In the modern age, this much is true for our cultural, artistic, and even spiritual sanity: we need movies, videos and TV shows. That is why we have to keep shooting films, videos and TV shows. But we must do it safely. To that end, productions around the world are using a variety of guidelines to ensure the safety and security of their cast and crew. Some of them are mandated by the host country’s government and some of them were designed by cast and crew using their creativity.


Only a working and readily available vaccine will resolve this problem. So until then, the ultimate goal is to control the spread of the virus by overhauling standard filmmaking workflows with effective yet efficient guidelines. The ideal pre-vaccine filmmaking environment is (1) a constantly sanitized set (2) circulating clean fresh air (3) for small numbers of non-infected people (4) who can  be tested regularly and receive results quickly.


The checklist below is a collection of best practices based on government guidelines and advice culled from filmmakers around the world. For ease of use and clarity, I have separated the checklist sections based on the different stages of filmmaking common to all productions.





1.    Assess whether it is worth shooting now or waiting until after the pandemic dies down and there is a vaccine.

a.    Plan for the smallest cast and crew possible. As of now, small cast and crew productions are more likely to be approved for shooting permits over productions that require large numbers of people working on them.

b.    Does your dream cast feel comfortable working at the moment? Your main cast may not feel comfortable working or traveling in this environment and may prefer to wait. However, waiting might also mean they are not available once things are safer due to prior commitments. Resolve this with negotiation and strategic planning.

c.     Your location is a major factor. Consider what location is safest (based on infection and transmission rates) and most affordable to shoot in. If it is a foreign territory, check if those borders are closed to noncitizens and if exemptions are available.

d.    If you are shooting abroad, review the guidelines of the host country and ensure your documents are in order. Try to see if the host country will allow you to enter and begin production immediately by serving your quarantine on set and in the hotel.

e.    An aesthetic solution to the use of masks, gloves and PPE is to shoot base your film on current events or an imaginary world where masks and gloves can be used onscreen.

2.    If you’re determined to shoot, come up with a plan that can create as close to an ideal pre-vaccine filmmaking environment, as much as possible.

a.    Your plan should also address what to do if a cast or crew member shows symptoms or becomes infected with COVID-19. This will likely mean immediate isolation for that person and anyone else they were around. Also identify local medical personnel in advance that could be called upon to help or treat cast and crew.

b.    Have backup cast and crew available to make up for any mid-production losses that occur.



3.    Conduct meetings via video teleconferencing or phone as much as possible.



4.    Review scripts to modify them and make them COVID-19 shoot-friendly.

5.    Adjust your budget to include the costs of creating a pre-vaccine filmmaking environment.

6.    Encourage and crew to report problems, ask questions and offer solutions.

7.    Prepare a list of mental health resources such as emotional support hotlines or meditation apps/tips to give to cast and crew in the event that stress and anxiety takes a toll.





8.    Review the logistics of your plan to create an ideal pre-vaccine filmmaking environment. Make adjustments, as needed.

9.    If shooting in the United States, review the government-mandated guidelines from CDC, OSHA, EPA and their state-level counterparts in the location you are shooting. Also research the tips and news put out by unions like IATSE and the DGA, associations like the AMPTP and the film commissions of where you are shooting.

10. Consider imposing a collective quarantine for the cast and crew before shooting begins. If so, add this time and cost to the budget and schedule.

11. The daily COVID-19 screening and health routine will add about 1-1.5 hour of time to the daily schedule. Line producers and production managers must factor that into their scheduling.



12.   Producers, writers, directors, etc. should conduct meetings via video conferencing or phone, as much as possible. If you must meet in person, do it outdoors, wear masks, and keep the meetings brief.

13.   Scout locations online as much as possible. Tour the set safely using masks and gloves.



14.   Aside from finding a set that meets your aesthetic and budgetary needs, look for a set that

a.    Allows for the circulation of fresh clean air;

b.    Contains clean bathrooms, preferably with swing doors you can push open;

c.     Has enough space for cast and crew to engage in social distancing; and

d.    Allows for hand washing stations to be added in multiple spots.

15.   As you schedule, aim to keep the crew as small as possible within your location’s government-mandated guidelines.

a.    For example, as of this writing, New York will not allow principal photography with more than 10 people.

16.   Conduct auditions online or have actors and actresses send taped submissions.

17.   Remind cast and crew that they have to get and show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before being allowed on the set for the first day of production.

18.   If you are traveling, arrange for or require the cast and crew to submit a COVID-19 test with proof of a negative test result before boarding the plane. Even with a negative test, anticipate that the host country or location you are entering will require 10 to 14 days of quarantine. Ideally, retest the cast and crew within 72 hours of arriving and while they are in quarantine.

19.   Look into whether or not rapid anti-gen tests for COVID-19 are available for use in your production. If you cannot obtain this test for daily use on the set, see if you can hire out a testing facility, where you can send cast and crew.

a.    Test results are considered useless if they’re not available in 48 hours or less. Unfortunately, if you are in a location where test results take longer than 2 days to arrive AND you’re still going to shoot, then you have to be even stricter with on-set safety and security guidelines because of the uncertainty and risk.

20.   Strike up a deal with a food service company, such as those that work with airlines, to prepare single-serve pre-wrapped meals during production. Or arrange for a food delivery service to bring individual meals for each cast and crew member.

21.   Draft or revise contracts to address issues of shooting during COVID-19.

a.    With insurers unwilling to cover COVID-19 cases because they are now an “identified risk,” producers will have to add disclaimers to their cast and crew agreements. Furthermore, producers will want cast and crew to acknowledge the risk of working on their project, comply with set guidelines and protocols and indemnify the production company and producers.

b.    To control the number of people on set at a given time, consider adding clauses that only allow for “essential” personnel to be on-set for scenes.

c.     Address “privacy” concerns to the extent that producers and employers have to ask personal questions about their health, symptoms or behavior, as well as, screen them with antigen tests and temperature checks. Check with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and its state-equivalent in the location you are shooting for any advice on how to ask and test properly.





22.   Review the logistics of your plan on a weekly, or even daily, basis to create an ideal pre-vaccine filmmaking environment. Make adjustments, as needed.

23.   If it is within budget, house the entire cast and crew in one hotel for the duration of production. It is recommended, and mandated in some places, to quarantine for 10-14 days before beginning the shoot.

24.   Unless you’re doing a documentary or shooting news, avoid locations that may interfere with COVID-19 response services, such as hospitals, mobile testing centers, fire houses, police stations, etc.

25.   Consider these aesthetic adjustments:

a.    Safely use drones for certain scenes with your cast.

b.    Keep actors as far apart as possible during shoots. Cheat depth with on-set visual illusions, telephoto lens, blur effects and camera placement. You can also shoot actors in shots by themselves and bring them in together in post.

c.     If you must have multiple actors in a shot, employ no more than 3 actors in front of the camera.

d.    Consider cutting intimate scenes out, like kissing and love-making, until there is a vaccine.



26.   Producers, writers, directors, etc. should conduct meetings via video conferencing or phone, as much as possible. If you must meet in person, do it outdoors and keep the meetings brief.



27.   Designate at least one crew member on the set to ensure compliance; some of their tasks should include recording all the actions carried out during filming and managing the list of people who access and disinfect the set. You may also have to include a health professional in the crew to conduct tests and screen or treat people during the shoot.

28.   Tighten security around exits and entrances to prevent non-cast or crewmembers from wandering in and contaminating the set.

29.   Adopt a daily routine, wherein cast and crew members will:

a.    Have their temperature checked before stepping on to the set and then again after lunch;

b.    Complete a health questionnaire within the parameters of privacy concerns;

c.     Take a rapid anti-gen test, if available;

d.    Watch a short demo on how to social distance, wear equipment, work on the set and maintain hygiene similar to the boarding instructions people have to sit through on a plane before flying.

30.   Sanitize and disinfect the set must be routinely and daily.

a.    This means equipment that gets touched regularly, like cameras, wardrobe, props, lights, etc., must pass through disinfecting checkpoints on its way to the set.

b.    Place hand washing stations throughout the set and give each cast and crew member their own personal hand sanitizer they carry on their person.

c.     If possible, use a set that has a swinging bathroom door to minimize transmission via the door knob.

d.    Individually wrap every personal item on the set that each cast member is expected to use. This can range from makeup to props.

31.   Enforce personal cleanliness and discipline.

a.    No sharing of tools, walkie-talkies or cell phones.

b.    Require masks/face shields and gloves on the set for all cast and crew unless they are in front of the camera.

32.   Change the lunch time routine in the following ways:

a.    No communal craft services use a food delivery service or provide meals in single-serve pre-wrapped meals.

b.    No shared utensils.

c.     Schedule staggered lunch times.

33.   For transportation, if necessary, arrange for private vehicles, taxis or rental cars to take cast and crew to and from the set.

34.   Keep the crew as small as possible within your location’s government-mandated guidelines and reduce access to only those necessary for the day. In addition:

a.    When shooting scenes, only have the most essential crew on set (as if you’re shooting a nude scene).

b.    Restrict visitors to the set.

c.     Stagger call times as much as possible to avoid crowding.

d.    Launder costumes more than usual.

e.    Have performers do their own makeup with kits provided by the production and guidance from a make-up artist via video teleconferencing.

f.      Consider using a 6.5 foot square plexiglass shield between crew members, like the camera operator and the sound techs.

35.   Ensure social distancing in the following ways:

a.    Use a yardstick or some other kind of visual measurement aid to ensure 6-foot distancing compliance.

b.    Have cast and crew working in small clusters in designated areas that only they can enter.

c.     Color-code the areas where only specific crew and cast can cluster.

d.    Designate outdoor rest areas for cast and crew to wait until it is their turn to work. Color-coding by department can be useful here too.

36.   Go paperless as much as possible and use electronic signature software for anything that needs to be signed.





37.   Update any plans made during development and pre-production in regards to things like crowd scenes to match the reality of what was actually shot in production.



38.   Producers, writers, directors, etc. should conduct meetings via video conferencing or phone, as much as possible. If you must meet in person, do it outdoors and keep the meetings brief.



39.   Use VFX for crowd scenes.

40.   Employ creative editing tricks to depict intimacy or make it seem like the actors are close together.




For more up-to-date information, news and guidelines, check your country’s government health websites and their related film commission offices. 

o   IATSE Coronavirus resources:

o   Directors Guild of America Coronavirus resources and updates:

o   Producers Guild of America Coronavirus information and resources:

o   Teamsters COVID-19 Outbreak Resources:

o   SAG/AFTRA Safety First (joint report with DGA, IATSE and Teamsters):

o   SAG/AFTRA Job Search Fundamentals Amid COVID-19:

o   CDC Guidance for Businesses and Employers on COVID-19:

o   OSHA Safety and Health Topics for COVID-19:

o   EPA Information on Coronavirus:

o   AMPTP white paper on proposed health and safety guidelines for motion picture, television and streaming productions during COVID-19:

o   EEOC guidelines on COVID-19:

If you’re shooting in New York or California, check out these sources:

o   Reopening New York” – Media Production Guidelines for Employers and Employees:

o   California Film Commission’s Coronavirus 2019:


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