Production can create unusual working conditions. A day on set could easily include fist fights, explosives, crashing automobiles, or someone purposefully setting themselves on fire.
And that’s just Tuesday.
Because movie magic requires so many risks, on-set safety should be the highest priority for any production. That’s why this post will provide a road map for keeping your cast and crew as safe as possible. We’ll show you how to establish best safety practices, hire the right safety professionals, and mitigate safety risks.
In most industries, safety certifications are a critical component of safety infrastructure. They indicate a standardized level of training and experience. They essentially certify that a given employee can perform their job safely or supervise the safe performance of others.
Safety certifications also help to set standards for workplace conditions. By requiring that workers be familiar with certain regulations, industries can reduce the prevalence of common workplace hazards or accidents.
For example, safety certifications on a film set might help reduce common issues. Including, but not limited to:
However, safety certification requirements are sparse in the production industry. Some unions require crew training for members on their roster, but certifications are rarely a requirement within the industry itself. In fact, they’re only mandatory under specific circumstances.
Additionally, there are currently no requirements in the U.S. for a dedicated safety officer or any OSHA regulations for a working set.
Safety in the production industry boils down to a mix of personal responsibility and guidelines from different unions and guilds. As a result, the best way to ensure the safest set possible is to devise an overall safety strategy before production ever starts.
Production safety is a huge topic. From planning high-flying stunts to building the day-to-day schedule every choice hides a safety factor.
Fortunately, Hollywood has been making movies for a little while now, and best practices have developed over time. Below, we’ll outline seven specific steps that you can take to maintain a safe set environment on your next production.
Because set safety relies so much on personal responsibility, one of the most effective safety steps you can take is to hire crew members that consistently prioritize on-set safety.
This process starts with the 1st Assistant Director and Key Grip.
The 1st AD is often the de facto safety officer because they run the set. They’re in the best position to organize and communicate with the crew to efficiently minimize safety risks.
The Key Grip, however, has the last word on safety. Because the grip department is in charge of stands, flags, and other rigging materials, it has the most control of a set’s physical environment. As the head of the department, the Key Grip’s most important responsibility. Key Grips have the authority to veto any production decision that they feel endangers the cast or crew.
A safety-conscious 1st AD and Key Grip form a solid foundation for a smooth production, but safety should not stop there. All crew members must prioritize safety when performing their jobs.
To that end, the best strategy is to hire department heads who themselves prioritize safety. That includes everyone, from the Gaffer to the Production Designer, from HMU to catering. If all your department heads value safety, then it’s more likely that the rest of your crew will too.
If any type of license, certification, or specialized training is required of a crew member, make sure it’s facilitated by a reputable organization. A certification only matters if it guarantees an adequate level of professional ability.
Reputable organizations ensure that an individual meets a standardized set of criteria before awarding any recognition.
For example, if you needed to hire a driver for a semi-truck, you wouldn’t hire someone through a civilian driving school. Instead, you would hire someone certified with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) through the state Department of Motor Vehicles. In film production, you would likely also work with registered Teamsters.
If you’re not sure about appropriate certifications, the major film unions and guilds are a good place to start. They can provide up-to-date information and will be able to tell you if their members are in full compliance with certification requirements.
Additionally, Contract Services provides resources for carrying out a wide variety of regulatory and legal obligations, including safety certifications. Their Safety Pass training program creates a common standard of safety for the production industry’s freelance workforce.
Risk assessment is a fundamental component of protecting your production company. It requires you to explore vulnerabilities before a problem occurs.
For an individual shoot, you should practice risk assessment by thoroughly considering the requirements and conditions of your production. Do you need to film dangerous stunts? Will you be using heavy machinery? Does your schedule feature an extended period of overnights?
By considering your shoot’s potential risks, you can better prepare for those risks.
To mitigate the dangers of stunt work, you might provide more time for your stunt team to train.
To mitigate the risks of heavy machinery, you might hire extra crew to compensate on the days that equipment will be used.
To mitigate the hazards of prolonged overnight shooting, you might adjust your schedule to give your crew more time to recuperate.
Of course, there are thousands of potential risks in film production. Give yourself a head start by downloading Wrapbook’s risk assessment template. It’ll walk you step-by-step through the critical questions you’ll want to ask when planning your next shoot.
It’s important to make key safety information and procedures accessible for all cast and crew. That might include maps that note fire exits, the location of the nearest hospital, and other useful emergency information. This information should be available on set and sent digitally with your call sheet.
When dealing with unique shooting conditions- like pyrotechnics or water hazards, for example - you should also consider sending relevant AMPTP Safety Bulletins.
Sponsored by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the Safety Bulletins are cheat sheets for best safety practices under specific circumstances. If you’re shooting with a venomous snake or a high-speed motorcycle, for example, the corresponding AMPTP Safety Bulletin offers recommendations for doing so as safely as possible.
For union crew members, you should also provide safety hotline numbers for their respective organizations.
More often than anything else, awareness is the key to safety. If an individual is paying attention to their environment, they’re less likely to experience an accident.
And there’s no better way to make sure someone is aware of a hazard than to speak to them about it in person.
A daily safety meeting gives the production a chance to talk to all cast and crew about the day’s safety concerns and procedures. It’s an easy way to ensure that everyone is in the loop and that all major concerns are addressed.
Verbal advisory notices can be given about equipment, location hazards, and any other topic that necessitates precaution.
Safety meetings only take a few minutes. This brief pause at the top of each shoot day can dramatically reduce your production’s overall risk exposure.
When dealing with an unusual shoot requirement, you should always have an expert on hand. Their advice and experience almost always outline the best way to stay safe. In many situations, the presence of a qualified expert is also a legal requirement.
For example, if you want to shut down a road to film a car chase, you’ll have to hire a police supervisor for the day. If you want to work with significant pyrotechnics (translation: explosions), you’ll need to hire a fire marshal.
But the same goes for less obvious circumstances. If you need to shoot a fight scene, a fight coordinator will help you to do so safely. If you want to shoot with animals, an animal wrangler is essential. If you’re shooting a sensitive physical scene, an intimacy coordinator can help you navigate the encounter. If you’re planning to shoot a car crash, it’s best to let a professional stunt driver take the wheel.
Experts can help you shoot safer, faster. They may look costly when building a budget, but they contribute confidence and peace of mind that are invaluable to a safe production.
Accidents happen, even when all reasonable precautions have been taken. That’s why a production must be prepared for the event that something goes wrong.
First, make sure that your production has the right insurance mix. Adequate insurance coverage protects both your crew and your production company by providing financial support to handle the unexpected. If the worst happens, insurance helps you cover related costs.
You always need equipment insurance and workers’ compensation insurance. However, the exact mix of required coverages will vary from shoot to shoot. For instance, you’ll only need drone insurance if you’re planning on using a drone.
Second, collect all necessary releases and paperwork before production begins. This ensures that your production company has done due diligence. This minimizes legal risk exposures.
Having the right paperwork also aids cast and crew if an accident occurs by streamlining the insurance payout process.
Of course, there are a ton of forms and releases to consider when wrangling a production. To make the process a little easier, download Wrapbook’s collection of essential forms for film. The collection includes all the templates, forms, and contracts you need to get your next shoot on its feet as fast as possible.
Sometimes, safety doesn’t feel convenient. Nevertheless, it should always be a production’s top priority. Remember that a few simple best practices can mean the difference between a successful shoot and a severe injury.
In that way, you can think of safety as a long-term investment. It protects you from unnecessary costs over time. With a lot of caution and a little luck, you’ll never have to use your production insurance.
Scouting production locations? We’re breaking down 10 states with considerable film tax breaks so you can get the most bang for your budget buck.
Wrapbook's newest resource is our podcast, "On Production," which features experts in the field and tips on how to navigate the production world. Check it out!