Health and Safety
Professional film crews take health and safety issues very seriously. The line of responsibility runs from the Producer to the Production Manager and 1st Assistant Director and finally on to all crew members who have a duty of care which is recognised by law. If someone can see the potential for an accident and does nothing to try to prevent it, they can be held responsible in some way, probably along with their senior colleagues.
When filming, people have many things on their minds, things can get rushed, and risks can increase. Even simple things can become dangerous because this is not an ordinary situation. Of course, all of life presents hazards, but if someone is asked to run down a hill repeatedly to get the scene right, for example, the risk of them tripping and falling on their face is increased with each time they do this. If the hill is pavement rather than grass the risk of serious injury is increased.
The way to stay safe is to look at each shooting set up or location individually and think of what exactly could go wrong. This is called a risk assessment, and can be an excellent exercise to do with your students. (if you don't work with the young people on it you will need to cover it yourself)
It's a three step process
- Identify all the hazards
- Evaluate the risks
- Identify measures to control the risks
Then put in place safeguards to eliminate or minimise risk. You should make a record of any risk assessment to ensure the students are clear on how to stay safe. This can save time during your shoot. Rules about listening to each other, respecting a chain of command, looking after equipment properly, and not rushing, will all help to keep people safe and happy.
'Hazard' refers to the potential for harm. while 'Risk' is the chance of that harm actually happening. Though some hazards might seem very obvious, people might still need to have them pointed out.
We have a risk assessment template (in Excel spreadsheet format to see the process you go through.
Extremes of weather are one commonly overlooked hazard. If you are filming outside all day, it is essential to make sure the crew are dressed appropriately. A lot of the time you may be standing around and people will get cold very quickly even in what seems quite mild weather. Layers of clothes are best, and get everyone to bring a waterproof and a woolly hat - they keep out wind as well as rain and are invaluable.
Sunburn and heatstroke are other outdoor hazards. Always have high protection sunscreen on hand and make the students put it on. Try to get students to wear some kind of sun hat or stay in the shade when possible and make sure lots of water is available to drink. The other reason for sunscreen is to stop the actors' appearance changing drastically and messing up the continuity of the film!
Rushing to finish in time is when hazards get missed, or people start taking risks. If this starts to happen, take a moment to calm everyone down and remind them: this is only a film. If you feel really pressured try to think of how to lighten the work-load: can you cut out some shots or set ups to give you the time to get the most essential stuff for the film without a panic? Or can you come back tomorrow to finish?
Other common hazards
Move or gaffa tape down cables and objects that could be tripped over.
Go carefully when moving or lifting heavy or dangerous things, ask someone to help you.
When a camera operator or cast member is walking during a shot, make sure they are comfortable with their route and there is nothing that could cause problems (a camera operator who needs to walk backwards for a shot should have an assistant to guide them and/or check their route).
Shots that involve water.
Shots from high up or near the edge of something.
Shots that look illegal
Shots might look illegal if you didn't know a camera was there. This could cause distress to members of the public &/or cause a police call out.
Film & illusion
Remember filmmaking is about illusion. You can act, shoot and edit in a way that suggests all sorts of scary things without having to put people at risk.
Someone at height can be faked by lying on the ground with the camera looking up at someone with only sky behind them, acting as if they are on the edge of a great height.
Young people often want to depict violence, with or without weapons. This can get out of hand and lead to real injury. The safest way to deal with violent scenes is to suggest the violence, or show the aftermath but leave the detail to the viewer's imagination.
Example: a scene about bullying. The victim stands alone, the bullies advance. We see a shot of the victim's face, scared. We see the victim's point of view as the bullies crowd round. We see a shot from a distance as the victim is finally surrounded, the camera tilts up to the sky, a lovely sunny day, birds sing, we hear the SOUND of the bullies thumping our victim. Cut or Fade to the aftermath, victim sitting crying in a heap on ground, or in hospital bed, headmaster's office - wherever you wish to take your story next...
The point is: your viewer will probably imagine something far worse than you could ever safely show. Get your students to think about examples from films where violence has been suggested rather than graphically shown. One of the most famous scenes is the shower scene in Hitchcock's Psycho: very little is shown, but audiences were horrified and that was in black and white! (Obviously this exercise depends on the age of your students).
Young people will take extra risks when filming, usually because they are caught up in the moment and want to make their film look like the ones they've seen on TV or cinema. It is your job to be vigilant, listen to what they are trying to achieve and help them find a way to do this safely. The key to this success is right back at the start - PLANNING & PREPARATION - careful planning and prep will save time, money and heartache.
Don't let health & safety be a barrier. Look for solutions to problems, there is nearly always a safe way of creating the same shot.
Before commencing film making with young people you should obtain signed release forms from parents/guardians for everyone involved; this should also release them for photographs (and get it for animation films too, in case you use faces in the credits or the like). And remember you might want clearance to go on a school website (or vimeo - think festivals) so these should be covered too.
A letter with the release form, detailing the benefits of the project will encourage parents to say yes to their child being involved
Disclosure Scotland should be contacted if you are enlisting the help and practical support of others on the film project to work alongside young people. Enhanced Disclosure forms will certainly be held by most professional filmmakers and project facilitators. To get your form visit www.crb.gov.uk.
Feeding your crew, and keeping everyone hydrated makes everyone work better. If you organise food at a set time (aka catering), it is a good break for everyone. Food doesn't have to be fancy, a simple pizza delivery can boost flagging energy levels and raise morale.