The 52 Focus: Production in the time of Corona

As with most industries, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our work in significant ways. But a re-evaluation of how we plan and execute our projects may yield some unexpected benefits not just to our clients and our crew, but also the environment. In a hugely energy-intensive field, requiring lots of travel, power-heavy equipment and lighting, can we step back and use this time to analyse our work and make changes?

We believe that the pandemic has presented us with an opportunity to reassess how we do what we do, not just in the ‘new normal’ – whatever that is – but also in our relationship with our environment and the evolving social climate. So we wanted to look at some ways we are adjusting how we work, here at 52 Films, in the post-pandemic world, a world which is demanding an increasing emphasis on representation and tackling carbon emissions.

A question we now ask ourselves is should we be filming at all – what can be done remotely? And if we do need to film, can we do it safely, and is it sustainable? On the one hand we can follow government guidance and comply with local and international laws: so far, so easy. Boxes on a risk assessment can be ticked off, and current guidelines would indicate that we can go back to something that somewhat resembles business-as-usual with only minor impacts on our process.

Looking at safety protocols means that perhaps crews can, and should be, smaller. The trend towards multi-discipline crews (self-shooting directors, producer / editors for example) has been around for over a decade and technological advances in kit have risen so quickly. Ensuring that crew and contributors can do their jobs safely will cause us to re-evaluate who or what is absolutely necessary on location.

Following on from this, and a question for many at the moment (both inside and outside production), is should we be travelling at all, and if so, when and how? Historically, we have been blessed with a hugely varied client list at 52 Films, with businesses operating all over the world. This has led us from Patagonia to the Kamchatka peninsula: filming on location has been the very building block of what we do. Two, three, sometimes even four, people fly to far-flung places, adding to the world’s carbon emissions exponentially as the distances and crew size increases. So how can we re-evaluate this? How can we maintain quality control whilst reducing our air travel?

With crewing companies like needafixer.com and atlantictv.com, we have access to a personnel network of a high standard: people with local knowledge, and local language. This reduces our emissions greatly but it’s not about being puritanical: we still need to do a certain amount of travel to ensure we maintain our standards but a greater emphasis is placed on how and where we can lean on local expertise.

The cultural positives of working with local crew cannot be emphasised enough. Particularly for our larger documentary projects, an increased emphasis on local crews not only provides environmental gains, but also ethical, practical and creative ones too. Being able to communicate more effectively with our subjects results in a deeper awareness – breaking down language and cultural barriers quickly is a true blessing. Working with others to tell the stories of their own people benefits everyone, on both sides of the camera. The old way of parachuting in a full team from London to create films with a strong cultural core is simply at odds with the idea of telling stories with empathy and understanding.

So what all of this points to is both an opportunity to improve our industry, and an opportunity to make some real improvements. A little hyperbolic perhaps, but the world we live in right now represents the most fundamental shift in the production industry in our lifetimes.  Whether or not we have realised or acknowledged it in the past, we have always faced these sorts of ethical decisions: perhaps now is the time to change things for a better, safer, more sustainable future?

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