Sun 7th Mar 2021
In celebration of International Women's Day, we spoke to PGGB board member Samantha Perahia MBE, Head of Production UK at BFC about crucial work that was undertaken to keep production up and running during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Samantha's work is also featured in Variety's Women’s Impact Report 2021.
"As soon as the pandemic struck, BFI created a COVID-19 taskforce, pulling together every sector of the screen industries from production to post to exhibition. As the BFI’s lead partner responsible for major film and TV production, BFC’s CEO Adrian Wootton OBE proposed the formation of a BFC-led Recovery Group to focus on how our sector of the industry could restart production safely. The group was made up of senior film and TV industry representatives from all four nations of the UK. Three sub-groups were created focusing on physical production, post-production and VFX as well as legal and business affairs. The groups were made up of, and chaired by, experts in their fields and were all overseen by the BFC.
The physical production group, chaired by Warner Bros EVP of physical production, Kevin Trehy, included cross-industry representation from PGGB, ScreenSkills, Federation of Entertainment Unions, industry safety consultants and film and TV producers, including BFC Chairman and producer, Iain Smith.
When the physical production group met for the first time, I don’t think any of us realised that it was going to end up creating this extraordinary piece of work (British Film Commission's Working Safely During COVID-19 in Film and High-end TV Drama Production guidance). It started as a list with 14 points on it. It was just a list of headings I pulled together with Iain Smith. We called them ‘Return to Work’ considerations. The list included things like social distancing, COVID-19 specific Health and Safety training, on-set crew numbers, transport and catering.
We were extremely fortunate that, due to the make-up of the group and the BFC’s established relationships with production clients, we were able to get hold of pretty much every set of draft COVID-protocols available publicly, but also those generously provided by commercial clients in the UK, the US and internationally. With that, we started to develop and expand on those 14 points, using the best of the protocols and with the input of the working group, until we had created the bones of what was to become the guidance. There followed the biggest cross-industry consultation ever undertaken. We considered every single submission and, with the input of the BFC Recovery Group and the tireless work of the BFC team, we turned it into the BFC’s COVID-19 guidance. The Government sign off process, as you can imagine, was comprehensive, to say the least. With the constant support and advocacy of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the guidance was scrutinised and signed off at the very highest levels of government, including by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Public Health England and, finally, by No.10.
On the 1st June 2020, BFC’s Working Safely During COVID-19 in Film and High-end TV Drama Production guidance was published. We were the first industry to publish Government-endorsed safety Guidance and from the moment it was published, the industry started moving again.
The creation of this guidance and the support we’ve been able to provide to the industry since then in the face of this unprecedented challenge, has undoubtedly been the most important work the BFC has ever undertaken. The fact that it’s been managed with the entire team working remotely, against the backdrop of the uncertainty created for our industry by our exit from the EU, and with the BFC’s new responsibilities announced in the Spring Budget 2020 to support the expansion of stage space capacity UK-wide, makes it all the more remarkable. It’s an accomplishment to which every member of the BFC team, from our Chair and Chief Executive to our team assistant, has contributed and is rightly immensely proud of - including me! But we cannot get complacent. COVID-19 policies keep evolving, so we have to ensure that the guidance - and the industry – keep evolving too."
- Samantha Perahia MBE, Head of Production UK at BFC