Choose safety, choose isolation, choose to be diligent, and choose to prioritize your colleagues over your needs. It takes a decent amount of effort and a whole truck load of patience to do it right.
I just wrapped a SAG-AFTRA feature film and found myself keeping tabs on situations where COVID compliance was easier or harder to follow successfully. A really big issue is the very nature of filmmaking – if PPE is ineffective, then we cannot be on set together at all. Distancing and testing could never be enough, that PPE is the key. But as an actor, where were the PPE fails really taking place?
I am trying to be as transparent as possible about MY OWN failings, not pointing fingers at any other colleague or position. If I had known this stuff prior to filming, I might have felt more comfortable those first few days. Our set was 100% clear with no COVID issues, but that’s not enough to rest on our laurels, getting better is always the goal. Here are the key areas where I found myself unsure of how to keep myself and my fellow colleagues the safest:
Getting hair and make-up done. In such close proximity in the chair and last looks on set, where and how are ‘we’ supposed to feel protected? Testing. Testing is most vital for trust to be established. PPE is not enough because one person in the duo of HMU will be unprotected during application. Required testing frequency gave me the extra confidence I needed to just carry on (and not talk too much to keep those droplet counts low).
Rehearsal. Let’s be real, I’m not putting a mask over my hair and make-up in a way that really touches my face tightly. We’re kidding ourselves to pretend that lipstick has that kind of staying power. I relied on my protective plastic shield as much as possible, but… scene partner sound, sight, and understanding is drastically cut off with a full face shield (just try it). I felt ‘safe’ in a full face shield, but my rehearsal suffered more because of it. I would venture to say that we required more rolling ‘takes’ to establish some specifics that would normally have been covered in a rehearsal. So, it’s not perfect, but it doesn’t need to be fixed. Staying safe does require more off-the-set individual prep and leaning on general actor training confidence. That’s not a bad thing in general.
Dressing. How am I supposed to get dressed with help (yes, I needed help in several garments) while masked/shielded? I cannot. Truly, I failed my first few days. I will get better at it, but it’s almost easier to go get dressed outside in open air if I need a dresser so that I do not need to balance hair/make-up/shield… while getting dressed (over the head stuff in particular). Don’t even get me started on the “since my clothes are in flux, I need to pee” reflex that requires a shield and a robe and an additional 10 minutes to maneuver.
Sound. My sound person asked me to check my levels a few times more than usual and I have a feeling that my shield and/or masked rehearsal check was insufficient. It’s a time suck to re-check while rolling, … so that’s something to prepare for mentally. Noting to my sound person to remind them that I’m shielded during any level checks helped clear up confusion. It was tempting to take off my shield to test. Just don’t. Trust that your sound person and you can find that perfect rhythm just before rolling.
Tight locations. Some scenes are tighter than others. Full transparency: Pre-filming isolation, frequent testing, and prayer is the only way I felt comfortable in small rooms with closed windows and lack of air-flow. It will happen sometimes. Don’t attempt to sit in for yourself unless it’s necessary. I tend to sit in for myself for comfort in the room and quickly realized that I couldn’t. Safety comes before my preferences and that’s totally ok.
Last looks. The whole team on the hot set should be shielded and masked to work around actors just before rolling. Buuuuuuut, have you ever tried to adjust a lip liner with a shield on? It’s damn near impossible. Last looks arguably took longer than necessary because of shielding. I don’t want to complain that the protocol isn’t worth it, I want to help clear up that asking last looks to go faster will result in unnecessary tension. Everyone is doing the best they can, so relax about timing. Also, my plastic shield was COVERED in hair spray every other set-up, so kindly prepare a PA to be able to wipe down your shield whenever possible.
Kissing (as written into the scene). Yep, testing is necessary, it’s the last line of defense since some of us are taking off our shields just to kiss a colleague moments later.
When in doubt, step outside and re-assess. If you’re ever feeling like you are seemingly unsafe, could be feeling trapped, or unsure of protocol – step outside. You’re an actor, someone will come check in with you and assist you if that’s what you need. Anything you think could be outside of your safety comfort zone can be done even safer outside. We are all doing our best, be patient with yourself and each other.
If you have any other tips or advice on how to mentally prepare to be your safest actor self, send me tips on IG @JennicaRenee and I’ll be sure to share.