When I received the request to write an article on safe sets across Canada, I was, admittedly, reluctant to take it on. I felt uninspired to write about a subject that has infiltrated every single aspect of our lives in every single way around the world. I struggled with the idea that anyone would even want to read, yet another f—king COVID-19 story and how it’s affecting our lives!!
Regardless, I reached out to some fellow actors across the country to hear about their experiences on set, comparing them with mine. Actors on series, big MGM productions, indie and Hallmark movies all unanimously agree that everyone seems to have adapted well to government health regulations, ACTRA Branches’ local Health & Safety guidelines, and other union enforcements. I was left with the distinct impression everyone is taking tremendous measures to protect each other, stepping up to the task because they want to work. Masks, eye protection, physically distancing, hand washing and disinfecting is where it’s at… until ACTION, when we remove our PPE and hope for the best.
For Intimacy Coordinators (IC), this has coincided quite well. Lindsay Somers, Founder of Intimacy Coordinators Canada, explained how necessity dictates that we be more inventive about intimate scenes involving physical contact of any kind during these uncertain times and ICs have risen to the challenge. Not comfortable kissing your partner in that scene? Need it to still be hot? No problem, an IC can readily and efficiently find all kinds of super sexy alternatives that leave the actors feeling secure and safe and the director content. And the added bonus is we are all quickly adjusting to the practice of consent. Because we have to. A relatively easy concept long to take hold, is now becoming the norm. Intimate scenes are no longer thrown at anyone in the last minute or thought up on the spur of the moment. Everything must be well planned out ahead of time.
Kudos to Hudson & Rex, shot out in Newfoundland, for running a very tight ship. Producer Paul Pope shared that they have established a safety bubble by having their own hotel where out-of-town performers stay during their shoot that excludes outside guests for additional security. Mr. Pope was enthusiastic about their production’s ongoing efforts to continually make the actors, crew and background feel safe and even more like a family than ever before. They have also mastered shots that divert crowds and won’t draw your attention to pre- and post-COVID-19 shooting. And the legacy of COVID-19 confinement that may live on… better quality food (no more buffet style) and regularly cleaned toilets! Hooray!!
So, what else could I possibly report on?! All the issues and challenges that encompass self-tapes and auditioning at home in today’s climate? What about the impact of COVID-19 on women, especially BIPOC women? Or the Black Lives Matter movement and our industry? Or the current state of politics and the economy at the moment? These all need completely separate and in-depth focus.
Oh yes, safe sets…
And that’s when it hit me. I thought about all the people who work in our industry. All the passion and drive and determination we each have in us. How being forced to stop working simply made us work even harder to sustain our industry. In fact, the very nature of our being is the compelling habit (be it good or bad) to automatically say YES to most things. YES, because of our creative drive. YES, because it’s the first word that comes to mind when we work. YES, because sometimes it’s too awkward to say no (bad!). YES, because we don’t want to risk tarnishing our reputations because we want to work forever.
It’s due to that extremely vulnerable side of ourselves that the very premise of a union exists for us. It exists to give us boundaries and rules to protect us from our YES’s and our propensity to please while perfecting someone else’s vision. And it’s no different during COVID-19 times.
ACTRA’s Best Practices for Scenes Involving Nudity, Intimacy, Simulated Sex and Sexual Violence is a resource to help guide workers in the entertainment industry to ask the right questions about scenes involving nudity, intimacy, simulated sex and sexual violence. It contains separate checklists for performers, intimacy coordinators, agents, casting directors and production companies.
To think there was some talk from opposition government parties being nervous that a bunch of artists would just want to stay home to take advantage of CERB! How little they understand us. How little they grasp the fact that all we really want to do is work. Pay attention, government! One of the first things the world turned to during confinement was entertainment. We are ‘essential’ workers providing an ‘essential’ need.
So let’s carry on, carrying on!! Let’s continue proving we work together because we want to work. Social distance when you can, when you can’t then physically distance, wear a mask, eye protection, gloves, and wash your hands… do whatever you need to do to help our industry stay open and alive, with all the resilience and drive we’re known for.
Here’s to 2021!!
Eleanor Noble is a full-time actor based in Montreal. She has been an ACTRA Council member since 2006. She is currently Vice President of ACTRA Montreal, and ACTRA National Councillor, and the Chair of the ACTRA National Women’s Committee. Eleanor is the creator of the Casting Standards Committee in Montreal working together with industry partners to improve the casting process. She also volunteers her time on numerous other committees in between studio and set time. Her lovebird Tony, two dogs, Walter & Scooter, and long-distance video chats with her partner in the US keep her company during these unprecedented times.