In our current and insatiably digital era, the task of keeping your production company secure is no longer a simple matter. Producers are now responsible for protecting themselves, their casts, and their crews against threats that stretch far beyond the flesh and blood concerns of set safety into the intangible vulnerabilities of data and personal information.
And for every new danger, demands a new defense. That’s why this post reviews best practices of production company security. We’ll walk you through some of the modern concerns within each phase of the filmmaking process and point out a few resources to give you an edge along the way.
So, buckle your seatbelts and randomize your passwords. It is time to discover how to protect your production company from the inside out.
While safety and security measures must often extend beyond any individual phase of the filmmaking process, the life cycle of a production can be a useful framework for organizing these measures and understanding how they might affect a production company.
In pre-production, for example, precaution rules the day. Pre-production safety and security concerns demonstrate the need for producers to practice forward-thinking in their protection strategies, whether for just one project or their company’s well being in general.
Let’s take a look at a few security best practices that you might want to implement during your next pre-production period.
Risk assessment is the most fundamental step in protecting any production company. It requires that producers and their teams take stock of any vulnerabilities or threats that they may face in the foreseeable future.
Think of it like troubleshooting, except you do it way before a problem ever happens.
For a production company, risk assessment might center around long-term financial vulnerabilities.
For an individual production, on the other hand, a risk assessment will likely center around unique production circumstances---like needing to shoot underwater or for an extended period of overnights.
In any case, assessing their company or production’s risks should be one of the first things a producer does. More than that, however, it should also be one of the first things a producer does again. Risks and our abilities to defend against them are evolving all the time. Safety procedures must be likewise regularly reviewed and updated in preparation for any new challenge that might emerge.
Whether it’s a client’s top-secret product specs or your employees’ social security numbers, securing sensitive materials is an increasingly critical component of film production security, so much so that the Motion Picture Association has established a detailed set of best practices for exactly that.
Achieving MPA compliance requires a complex dance of procedures, policies, and digital security measures. Items like secured servers, restricted internet access, and asset management systems play an important role in this disco, but so too does the organization of human engagement.
Human malfeasance and error are both constant threats when it comes to sensitive information. And, unless your name is Hal, there’s no desirable way to remove these threats entirely.
But you can limit them.
The easiest way to limit your production company’s vulnerability to human meddling is to limit the access that pesky human meddlers have. A crew member can’t accidentally disseminate your intellectual property if they don’t have access to the intellectual property in the first place.
In an ideal situation, sensitive material should only be accessible by employees who need such access to perform their jobs.
Software like Wrapbook can help limit access by reducing physical paperwork and creating a clear chain of command in handling documents, but software shouldn’t be your only line of defense.
Producers should always vet their essential crew members and prepare them in advance for any security procedures they must follow. If a crew member is likely to utilize sensitive materials for any reason, you may want to consider having them sign a non-disclosure agreement.
(By the way, you can download our free NDA template here.)
Once a producer understands their risk levels and has taken steps to reduce or mitigate them, it’s time to prepare for worst case scenarios. Purchasing the right insurance mix can mean the difference between a minor hiccup and an absolute catastrophe.
Plus, in the film industry, you often need insurance to do business at all.
To get started, feel free to check out any item from Wrapbook’s growing list of production insurance resources:
Once production begins, safety and security become all about implementation and execution.
Now’s the time to follow through on procedures already put in place and to turn increased attention towards physical safety concerns.
Let’s check out a few specific measures that should be put in place during production.
Physical hazards on set are perhaps the most critical concern to address throughout the entirety of a production’s lifecycle, and you’ll have to do more than hire a film set security firm to make sure that happens.
Ensuring your crew is up to date on their safety certifications will be vastly important.
But fortunately, producers are not alone in their efforts to ensure the safety of all personnel on set as many resources exist to help them do exactly that. The top priority of most producers and entertainment unions and guilds is to protect their members’ physical well-being.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, for example, has designed a set of Safety Bulletins that clarify the best safety practices for producing film and television under a wide variety of specific shooting conditions. The current collection of AMPTP Safety Bulletins covers everything from shooting with moving cars to shooting with hot air balloons, and the list is always being updated to meet the emerging circumstances of modern filmmaking.
To learn more, be sure to check out our in-depth rundown of how to use AMPTP Safety Bulletins.
The pandemic of 2020 impacted safety protocols in a massive way, creating a new layer of responsibility that all producers must rise to meet. The CDC maintains a comprehensive best practices guide for general use, but legal requirements still vary from state to state.
For commercial producers, the threat of intellectual property theft during the production process is a real danger. If a careless production assistant were to post the wrong picture or even tweet the wrong sentence, a commercial client could have grounds to throw your production company into some seriously hot legal and financial water.
There are many partial measures that could be taken to prevent IP leaks on your next production. Cast and crew-signed NDAs are a typical precaution, as is limiting access to the intellectual property in question, but some clients may request even more intense film set security than that.
Producers should be prepared to restrict cell phone usage or, under certain circumstances, to (politely) collect phones for the duration of a shoot day.
Film security and safety don’t end when the cameras start rolling.
In fact, it’s often just the beginning.
Let’s see how protecting your production company continues through post-production and beyond.
Once production wraps, digital security takes on a whole new meaning. With your footage in the literal or metaphorical can, your project is more vulnerable than ever to digital theft or tampering.
While much of the digital security responsibility for the actual footage will likely fall to the post-production supervisor or someone in a similar role, care must be taken to shore up other data access or transfer points within your production company as a whole.
Firewalls, anti-virus, encryption services, and other securities must be up to date. Information exchange procedures and policies must be enforced.
And limiting access to key personnel is, once more, an important consideration. You should even make sure to provide guest-only internet access at your office to keep any outside users separate from your main network.
Again, the MPA’s list of content security best practices is an excellent resource for reviewing or troubleshooting your own security procedures.
Whether physical or digital, security systems are only as strong as their users are disciplined. It’s crucial that producers monitor the status of their digital infrastructure, maintain records of sensitive information exchanges, and keep an eye out for potential red flags.
Hiring a qualified IT professional to manage your systems on a full-time basis is often a tremendous advantage in film production security. Depending on the size of your production company, you may want to consider investing in this particular human resource as soon as possible.
Responsible producers know that things inevitably go wrong. Problems will always exist. People will always make mistakes. Accidents will always happen. You can’t avoid it.
You can, however, be prepared.
When it comes to digital security, having a backup plan means exactly that: backing up your data. Keeping copies of critical records and other assets is as much a part of film security as protecting them in the first place. To quote Joni Mitchell (perhaps by way of Counting Crows), “You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”
But having a backup plan is also much more than intelligent data organization. It’s a producer’s basic responsibility to their company and those who depend on it. Putting contingency plans into place to compensate for risk represents a last defense effort to contain any damage that a failure, mishap, or act of malfeasance might incur.
Sometimes, the old advice is the best advice:
Hope for the best. Plan for the worst.
Of course, keeping a production company safe doesn’t start in pre-production or end in post. It’s a continuous job that must be regularly challenged, reconsidered, and evolved.
Protecting yourself can come in many forms---having proper NDAs in place or determining if you need errors & omissions added to your policy. But ultimately, more diligence upfront will be the safeguard against trouble later.
At Wrapbook, we're all about providing the very best free resources to producers and their crews. However, this post is not a substitute for professional legal advice. Answers do not create a company-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice. Seek the advice of a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction before taking any action that may affect your decisions or rights.
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