The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything – especially the way things go on a movie set.
In 2020 things quickly went downhill after January. With the life-changing COVID-19 pandemic as we know it, most industries took a heavy blow. Unfortunately, this meant that many productions in Hollywood had to suspend filming until further notice.
Adapting to the new CDC regulations was not easy (or error-free). After months of trying to figure out how the industry can continue to operate as usual, some productions have started filming again under new restrictions. With this new way of operating a set, there was a new position on the set in Hollywood known as the "COVID Compliance Officer".
This role has become crucial in the film world. Without them, production would stall. Tom Cruise's now famous COVID rant on set has shown how high the stakes of a film set is during this time.
The responsibilities of a COVID officer are strict. It's only a small part of what these unsung heroes do for the film industry, making sure everyone on the set is masked and socially distant, as well as renovating and cleaning every surface.
No film school was allowed to sit down with first-time COVID officer Maxwell Klaiber about his experiences on the set of a film that uniquely adapts to the time in which we live.
Discover a day in the life of a COVID Compliance Officer.
NFS: So you were recently a COVID officer in a production. What project was that?
Maxwell Klaiber: There were two productions where I helped with COVID material. But the main production that I was involved in as a COVID officer was a feature film that was directed and written by my friend Anna Matz Love you anyway It features Reign Edwards and Charlie Gillespie.
NFS: And how did you get the COVID officer job on this set?
Klaiber: I helped the COVID officer as a production assistant on another set about a month ago. I did a lot of cleaning chores along with my regular PA chores. I learned how to properly clean a set and do cleaning tasks. The last set was not just about cleaning the set and the locations we were in, but also coordinating for the tests. I didn't become an official COVID officer until the last set because you have to take a course. It's like school. You must take the course to become an Official COVID Officer so that you can accurately complete the tasks.
NFS: How exactly did you get the job for the feature film?
Klaiber: So I was in conversations with the producer who is a friend of mine and they asked me if I knew anything about being a COVID officer. And I told them that on the last movie I was in, I got into a lot of conflict with the COVID officer and the COVID coordinator on that set. They showed me what filming was like in the COVID era and they just taught me so much.
When they asked if you know anything about COVID, I told them I did. I have just been taught a handful of material how to best do COVID-related stuff on another movie set. When I completed the course, a lot of information was processed that I had learned from the previous sentence. There was just a lot of things to be had. I had to get the correct paperwork and official paperwork to be able to perform COVID-related tasks on a set.
NFS: No film school wanted to give our readers a glimpse into the day in the life of certain people on set. Can you give me an overview of your day from waking to bed? What was your day as a COVID officer like?
Klaiber: Let me try to streamline this as much as possible in a single day. Let's just say in a single day on set that I had to be in one place by 8 a.m. and technically everyone's call time for the cast and crew was 8 a.m. But for me my call time was around 7:30 am. I wanted to be there about 30 minutes before everyone got to that particular location that day because in those 30 minutes I would be disinfecting the set that I knew would be used for our actors.
During this half hour I also set up my check-in table. So I set up a table for check-in and created a document of COVID-related questions we were asked in our course to check in everyone on the set. And they had to fill out a form before they got to my table. When they arrived at my table, I asked if they had filled in the check-in information emailed to them by our first aid department the night before. Hopefully and usually they said they filled it in right away before coming to the set. My job at the table is to double-check that all the information is correct.
And then I gave them a color-coordinated bracelet to make sure I, like everyone else on set, knew they were checked in and safe. I checked their temperature to make sure they didn't have a fever. Before anyone enters the set, they have to confirm that their documents have been filled out and that they don't have a fever.
Throughout the day, I continued to check in people when they arrived, whether they were extras or people coming in later for a specific job. I also made sure to sanitize high point of contact areas like table rails or anything else that had a lot of hand contact. In addition, I made sure that everyone was safely socially distant and kept their masks on except for the actors. The performers were only allowed to remove their mask during the performance. Immediately after their scene was done, they would put their masks back on and we would continue the social distancing.
That was my daily life as a COVID officer besides testing, but testing is a very different process than just daily life on set to keep everyone safe from COVID.
NFS: How did the testing look in a few sentences? How did you get involved? How did you collect tests?
Klaiber: Each set is of course very different, depending on the budget. For the budget we worked on our feature with, the production company we worked for took care of the cost of the test. We were given PCR tests about three to four days before our first day of shooting so that our tests could be sent to the lab / provider that was working on our particular shoot. Our production company worked with a lab / supplier who helped run and run the tests for our cast and crew on set. Before production even started we received these tests and all of them tested negative. Therefore, all were released for the first day of shooting.
As a result, tests typically take 24 to 48 hours. So you have to keep in mind that you should get a test about 48 hours before a day of shooting or something for that person. Then the results are good for the next seven days.
However, with the CDC guidelines, the SAG is specifically following the guidelines for its union. If they're regulars on the set, they're tested three days a week. So we had six days of shooting in a row, two days off and then another six days of shooting in a row. During these six days of shooting, we had to be tested every other day. The lab called Inspire that we worked with came up to the set on the testing day I planned and ran PCR tests for everyone on the set, and they tested all of the cast and crew. The next day we would have results for those who tested negative and those who tested positive.
As a COVID officer, I was therefore not involved in the actual screening of people. However, I was responsible for determining the place, time, and location where our vendor and laboratory could run the tests and then working with them and our team to find the best time and way to get around test all.
NFS: That sounds stressful.
Klaiber: It is very stressful because you are concerned about the general health and wellbeing of the entire set. If someone tested on a Monday, we know that we won't get the test results back until late Tuesday evening. So the next day I was on set waiting for what the lab would say. Because if we got 4 p.m. Shot and at 5 p.m. our laboratory informed us that one of our handles had tested positive for COVID. I am obliged and moral to shut down the device for the rest of the day and reevaluate the shooting schedule based on the positive COVID test. It's a nail biter every day because you're waiting for the test results to come back, even while filming. So it's very stressful.
NFS: That brings me to my last question, which you raised throughout the interview. But what do you think is the hardest part of the job?
Caliber: The hardest part of the job is making sure, with the utmost certainty, that every extra, actor, person who visits the set, cast and crew has been tested efficiently and is negative for the virus.
It's a lot of bookkeeping in the sense of just making sure that everyone is testing at the right time and that they are testing within the right time frame so that their tests last as long as they need to be on set. Much more difficult than daily cleaning is keeping track of everyone's testing schedule and making sure tests are done correctly and get to the lab on time and come back on time.
Honestly, in my opinion, sets should be cleaned the way we cleaned them day in and day out specifically during the pandemic because they are very hygienic. It is healthier. It leaves a neat presence for the next person to come in to use it, whether it's a house, whether it's a set or even a park, no matter where set and rotation you use, we make sure that this place is clean for the next person. And I think this should be a new and welcoming activity that will continue to happen in the future even after the pandemic