VANCOUVER -- As 70,000 B.C. film and TV workers wait for word on when they can get back to work on live action productions, members of a working group are considering a slew of options including masks and shift work to accommodate anticipated long-term physical distancing requirements.

Directors, producers, special effects technicians, technical and support workers, actors and safety personnel took part in a virtual town hall on Facebook for workers to get the latest information from those weighing different options that could get them back on set.

Longtime Vancouver-based producer Justis Greene told Facebook Live viewers he’d ordered 10,000 masks and was considering the same measures producers and production co-ordinators throughout the industry are pondering.

“Might we be shooting shorter days?” he mused. “Just basically making sure people are healthy when they come in, testing them, providing them with the right equipment, etcetera, etcetera.”

Greene suggested that rather than 30 people working on a single shift, they may break it up into 15 people in order to be able to space them apart.

In an interview with CTV News, CreativeBC Executive director Prem Gill wouldn’t specify exactly which measures they’re recommending to the province, but says they’ll likely be able to talk more specifics after the premier outlines how and when he expects to relax pandemic restrictions that were brought in gradually and are expected to be eased just as slowly.

“We know that things will look different in every aspect of our lives and certainly for this industry as well,” said Gill. “There’s a lot of concerted effort across the sector and collaboration happening right now to really understand what the provincial guidelines will be around health and safety, how are they adapted to the sector and ensure that everybody feels safe when they’re back at work.”

IATSE 891 union boss Phil Klapwyk told the town hall that his technical and support members, who perform 140 different tasks and duties, that while the production shutdown is “terrible,” it provided an opportunity for them to rest and take time for optional online training before getting back to work.

“I’m confident that an industry that can handle the logistics of how to blow up a house, re-set it and blow it up again safely can definitely tackle the nightmare that social distancing, proper hygiene and a viral pandemic pose,” he said. “We are working on that together.”

Virtual wizards still busy and bracing for more work and virtual actors

With actors almost certainly required to work two metres apart for at least the first phase of live-action work, the digital effects industry is gearing up to be even busier than they already are.

“There’s so many people hiring (in B.C.) right now, particularly in the video game and animation sector because those sectors are already fully digital — they’re quite busy right now,” explained DigiBC director Brenda Bailey.

She says that not only are studios already planning to digitally “stitch together” scenes to make it look like actors that were shot apart from each other were much closer, she expects COVID-19 to spur the consideration of virtual actors like Will Smith’s “Junior” character in Gemini Man.

“Is COVID-19 an accelerant for moving towards using computer generated humans as actors in film?” said Bailey. “The technology is there now — we know it, it’s been proven — but it needs to be accelerated and it’s very expensive. But like all technology the more it’s used and the more it becomes viable, it becomes faster and cheaper.”

Outdoor shooting not an instant solution

While the province’s top doctor is encouraging physical activity and fresh air outdoors, that doesn’t mean it’s automatically a solution for the entertainment industry’s proximity dilemma.

“Physical distance will be one of the parameters when we reopen,” said ActSafe Safety Association executive director Manu Nellutla. “It’s always important to do a risk assessment for hazards, which are biological hazards right now.”

He says while each site has to be assessed individually, the working group will give the entire industry a set of ground rules.

“We want to make sure there is one guidance or reference point so we’ve formed a committee to ensure the industry gets one source of information.”

Creativity required

Greene’s decades in the industry have him taking the challenges in stride and he’s encouraging newbies to take a deep breath and think about how to change deadlines, expectations and scene structure to suit the anticipated restrictions they’ll be facing in the coming months — and possibly years.

“We shot a film once at 11,000 feet with a cast and crew on a mountaintop via helicopter every day and it was a challenge and we figured it out,” he recalled.

“We will come back and be stronger and more efficient and make even better product.”