The Artists Company's Owner/EP Sheds Light On Production During The Pandemic
Sally Antonacchio
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Sally Antonacchio, owner/executive producer of The Artists Company, is a production vet whose accomplishments span assorted major projects as well as being the recipient back in 2012 of the Jay B. Eisenstat Award, the AICP’s highest honor. But even for the most experienced and decorated pro, these are unprecedented times given the impact of the pandemic on filmmaking. The Artists Company, Antonacchio and director Gregory Maya, though, were up to the task, being among the first to navigate this brave new world on June 30 once NY State reopened to lensing--the project being a Dulcolax spot out of ad agency Middle Mile. The all-exterior location shoot was in Mamaroneck, NY, with a full union crew.

Originally slated to go into production in April, the spot was put on hold due to COVID-19 until the Tri-State area resumed issuing film permits.

SHOOT caught up with Antonacchio who shared some insights into her experience on the project.

SHOOT:  What precautions were taken to best ensure the safety of cast, crew and the agency team?              

Antonacchio: We had a great compliance assistant and a medic with us who answered everyone’s questions and that was really reassuring. Crew provided answers on a health questionnaire distributed along with the call sheet. Those were sent back to production daily. Temperatures were taken once at call and again at lunch. The compliance assistant recorded temps and handed out wrist bracelets at the after lunch check. We will be providing wrist bands for both morning and lunch checks so that everyone feels secure that everyone’s temperature has been checked. It’s a quick, but reassuring read on who’s been cleared.

PPE was provided as well as a hand washing station and hand sanitizer.

In addition, we hired a company to disinfect equipment, bathrooms on the Verde (production trailer), and other items. They used electro static foggers as well as disinfectant sprays on high touch areas. We followed AICP workplace guidelines and considerations for hair/makeup and stylist and access to the Verde was limited only to them. Production had their own room. Everyone who could was self drive--for the two crew (members) who did not have cars, we had them ride in a van, properly distanced apart and with masks, of course.

Agency, client and script were all remote. We used Zoom to communicate along with CORE TV to see an encrypted and clear picture.

SHOOT: Beyond the precautions, how did this job differ from a similar type of job you might have done prior to the pandemic relative to pre-production, the nature of your collaboration with agency creatives and clients, the director’s working relationship with his crew.

Antonacchio: The agency and client were not on the set.  We all tried to approve as much as possible in pre- production in terms of setting up specific product shots, plate shots, etc. by picking props and backups so we were able to react quickly if a glass suddenly wasn’t the right size once on camera. Overall, you miss that one-on-one collaboration, in person, but once we got used to the Zoom, things went smoothly. The agency creatives and producer and clients were really available and everyone walked away happy. They were really on board and we collaborated beautifully to make this happen.

SHOOT: How did the pandemic impact or perhaps alter the creative/concept/story? Was the concept and/or your approach to the job developed with an eye toward what would be feasible to accomplish in terms of production as we go through uncharted territory?

Antonacchio:  Yes. Agency and client made sure we were entirely exterior--but we got drenched in a couple of thunderstorm throughout the day.

SHOOT: What were the prime lessons learned/biggest takeaways from this experience?

Antonacchio:  Finding a location was tough--we were ready to go but townships were not open despite what the States said. This will open up.

Production and crew need to keep communication lines open.  We are learning together. Things haven’t settled in yet for television commercial production as they have for film and TV. We are a wonderful community and taking care of one another is critical so that we can work through this crisis in the safest and most efficient way possible.

SHOOT: What advice would you give to other prospective productions looking to come to fruition during the pandemic?

Antonacchio: Follow AICP workplace guidelines and considerations. Compliance assistant is your most important person, make your crew feel as safe as possible, it’s a learning curve, everyone has an opinion, hire a good company to disinfect, Don’t cut corners. SOCIAL DISTANCE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.

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