Not long ago, medical professor Adam Lund might have just watched Netflix programming. But now, in the midst of a pandemic, the University of British Columbia academic is advising the streaming giant on how to safely produce movies and TV series.
It began last summer when his sideline work in live events led to consulting on a few Netflix shows. Then, that expanded into work on productions in B.C., Alberta and Ontario – where Dr. Lund is licensed to practice medicine. His work has since gone beyond that to offer broader advice on production during the viral outbreak.
“If a complicated system like a film set is able to combine strategies that are coming from [global medical authorities] and apply them to real circumstances, it seems possible that other less complicated environments could apply similar strategies and continue to make a safe workplace,” the clinical professor of emergency medicine said in an interview.
“So maybe that’s a takeaway.”
A U.S. Netflix spokesperson confirmed that Dr. Lund has been advising the streaming service on health and safety issues.
With the onset of the pandemic last March, the global feature film and TV production sector went into a pause that left thousands of workers unemployed. In B.C. alone, about 70,000 people work in the industry. However, production has gradually resumed with new protocols and approaches to allow production while trying to ward off the risk of COVID-19 infection. It has been a challenge given the nature of close-quarters work on a film set.
Masks, physical distancing, temperature checks and testing are the new norm across the industry. Dr. Lund speaks of a Swiss Cheese model of layering various protections atop each other and reaching a point where workers can focus on the creative aspects of their jobs and less on safety worries.
Now on a sabbatical to focus on the Netflix assignment, Dr. Lund figures he has been involved in dozens of productions in Canada and around the world. He declined to name specific films or TV series, though Netflix work in B.C. has included The Adam Project, the latest feature film for Vancouver-born Ryan Reynolds.
Before the pandemic, Dr. Lund says his production experience was limited to work as an extra, when he was in high school. He had also done some on-set work providing medical assistance to performers and crew.
Of his work during the pandemic, Dr. Lund said, “You’re there as a resource to chat about scripts and scenes that have a higher risk where people are coming close together. Or there are stunts or dancing or intimacy where, creatively, you have performers without masks who, through the nature of what they are doing, would meet the definition of close contact.”
“Every single scene is broken down with a COVID lens applied and [it’s] ‘Do we have to?’ And if we have to, how do we do it with the least amount of time, the least amount of repetitions.”
He noted that safety teams have always been a part of productions, with infectious-disease experts now newcomers to the process. He says there’s too much work to allow one expert for each production.
“At a one-to-one basis, you run out of people very quickly so the structure has evolved to having groups of infection prevention-team members covering a number of shows whether that’s in a region or across a genre,” he said.
Much has to go right for a production to be successful. It’s one thing when work is under way in the relatively predictable environment of a soundstage or studio, but then comes the challenge of moving out to location.
“You have to replan and reimplement your strategies in that new location. You have to scout ahead for where you are going to do your next thing,” he said.
Dr. Lund noted that the PPE that works in a hospital may not work so well outdoors in winter temperatures. “It’s been fun and interesting to work with team members on the ground who keep us honest, and say, ‘Great advice. Here’s why it won’t work.’ ”
Asked about the number of pandemic cases on Netflix productions he has been involved in, Dr. Lund said he could not speak to individual cases, but there have been no spikes in on-set transmission. There has been little information reported on case counts in the B.C. production sector.
“I would [say] there have probably been COVID-related circumstances on every production and every type of work site in most industries because of what’s happening in the communities. I think the important question is whether or not there has been any trend or pattern of acquisition or spread in the context of the workplace,” he said.
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