First performer on an in-person commercial shoot

As the province moves into Stage Three and our COVID fatigue hits a saturation point, the first in-person Ontario commercial was shot on June 30th. Luckily, the performer was Councillor Paul De La Rosa and we have his report of how it went.

Filmed on location at a farm in Alliston, Ontario, the RBC commercial was cast by self-tape through Steven Mann Casting. I had a chance to ask Paul a few questions about his experience.

He felt the production team was exemplary, but the experience was, “surreal.”

“I was in communication with Judy Barefoot, (ACTRA Toronto’s Director of Commercial Production), to address general concerns and in regards to the Section 21 protocols and how to handle any potential waivers they may ask me to sign.” (If you are asked to sign a waiver, please contact ACTRA Toronto.) As well, he talked to his agent about the need for some sort of shot list to give him an idea of what he would be asked to do. His agent contacted production to get more specific details about location and the number of people in the shot, etc. “I wanted to know if I would be in studio, or filming with other actors. When I found out I was going to be shooting in a barn on my own, I accepted.”

Much was different, including the wardrobe call. Paul was contacted by the wardrobe department asking for a number of wardrobe choices that he was to take selfies of and send off to the team. Not accustomed to taking selfies and having no help to shoot him, he found this challenging. The things we don’t think about! The wardrobe designer then came to his house in a mask and gloves, dropping off three new options — all sanitized and sealed. More selfies were taken, a Zoom conference call ensued, and a decision was made.

Then, prior to shoot day, production contacted Paul, asking him to arrive on set with his own PPE. He was instructed to meet the on-set medic, who would take his temperature. “I was then given a field PPE kit, which included a mask, hand sanitizer and gloves. I was also offered a face shield. Then I met the second A.D. who took me to my own tent, which was separate from the action and only for me. Everything was sanitized, including a wardrobe rack, a table and a chair. I brought the wardrobe as well as a tablet and my phone. I had hand sanitizer with me at all times.”

There was no hair and makeup to worry about, although they paid him a fee to do his own hair and makeup. His role needed a haggard look, so there was no processing needed. Nevertheless, Production gave him a sealed kit including powder, hand wipes and a lint brush. Again, no hair and makeup team and no on-set wardrobe team. Paul had to be responsible for these things himself.

“The atmosphere was eerie and unnatural for what we as actors are used to — the connection, closeness and laughter. It was very quiet, but it did pick up. The director Max Rosenstein and I talked at length about the shots he wanted, and then we talked as people for a good half hour, so we were both more comfortable. He was very conscious of all our fears. And he was very good about asking me about my comfort. I had my mask on during rehearsals and during camera set up. And then they asked me if I felt comfortable to take my mask off to shoot.”

There was no “Video Village.” The clients were on Zoom, in contact with the first A.D., who used her phone. “It was the director, D.O.P, cameraman (who was in full PPE gear) and two grips. Once the camera was set up, everyone cleared, except of course the first A.D., director (who was at the end of the barn), and the cameraman.” Based on Paul’s account, it feels like the industry may also find a way to be more efficient as a result of COVID procedures. Paul’s call was for 9:30 a.m., filming started at 11:00 a.m. and he was done by 1:00 p.m.

I asked Paul if he would feel comfortable shooting again. “I was really lucky, with ideal conditions. First one out, solo, outside location and a small crew.” He turned down an audition for a shoot in Montreal shortly after filming the RBC spot. “I was asked if I’d be comfortable taking the train or flying, which was a red flag for me. It was a three-hander and differing protocol.” Different provinces have different COVID protocols. “All it takes is one person in a studio to pull off their mask. It’s not just a cold; it’s your life.” Going back to the RBC shoot, “Everyone was on their A-Game, because we all knew we were the first and we couldn’t mess up. People have families; they don’t want to bring anything home. Everyone was mindful and conscious. I felt that energy.”

What is apparent is that the gravitas of returning to our line of work will include a sense of responsibility that goes beyond ourselves, but to the film community at large. We can’t take this for granted. Too much rides on getting it right.

Joy Tanner, Councillor and Editor

More Details from Paul’s Report:

“Having been isolated for so long, it was strange to be around and interact with a group of people again. But it felt good to be out of the city and in the country.

It went well. All safety protocols were in place when I arrived. Everyone on set was wearing face masks and gloves; some people were also wearing face shields along with the masks. There was lots of social distancing in play and a handwash station in plain view.

The director and crew were respectful of distance during blocking and they allowed me to keep my mask on up until the actual shooting. The only person who was remotely close during shooting was the camera operator, who was in full PPE. I didn’t have to handle any props or touch anything.

My actual shoot time was short, so I wasn’t even there for lunch, so I can’t comment on how that was conducted.

Paul’s Suggestions and Tips

Come prepared with your own PPE that you feel comfortable with and are used to wearing. Bring your own water, snacks, pen, etc. Be in contact with your agent during that day and immediately let them know if you are unsure of anything.

Communicate with the director about how you are feeling about safety. Don’t do anything you are not comfortable with!

You will probably be in charge of your own hair and makeup, so bring your own, if possible. I mention this because of the issue of touching your face (eyes, mouth, nose). Be vigilant about washing or sanitizing your hands before you apply makeup.

A final thing I would add is: keep your guard up. I found that, because of the high level of safety practices on set, I started to feel more comfortable and was at times tempted to drop my guard. I had to remind myself to keep the mask on during non-shooting moments. I had to be mindful that this was not just about my safety, but the safety of others as well.

Having been in my own little bubble for so long, I was used to my daily habits of how and what I was in physical contact with. I noticed on set that there were many new things that were now in play that I would be in contact with, so staying conscious of handwashing and using hand sanitizer is paramount. You might take the simple act of sitting in a chair for granted, but you are probably unconsciously touching the arms of that chair. A bit of hypervigilance will be needed until this new way of functioning becomes a habit.”

Paul De La Rosa, Councillor

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