The Return to Entertainment Travel: Take 2

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It’s official, “The Return to Travel” is green-lit.

Over the last 9 months, the Tripgrid team have kept an ear to the ground with our customers and colleagues in the entertainment travel industry - listening, learning, adapting. As we move into 2021, we have seen a mix of productions already back on the road and those planning their strategic return.

What we haven’t seen (yet) is a public forum for that return where best practice, learnings and advice are shared.

Behind closed doors? Of course. Shared as a resource for all? Not quite. Desired? DEFINITELY - at least that’s what our ears tell us.

With that, Tripgrid is pleased to share BTS: Entertainment’s Return to Travel - the series that takes an anonymous look behind those closed doors at how a variety of productions are making their way into 2021.

Thank you to our clients and colleagues for their participation - and the idea…! ;)

Produced with support from Solutions & Strategy Consulting.

Take 2

A view into the world of a Production Manager at an independent documentary production specializing in unscripted long-form and short-form content for television and film distribution.

Type of company: Documentary Production

Crew size: 5-15

Average annual travel spend: Under $150k

Top Tips

  • Spend time sourcing and building lists of local crew/talent to cut back on travel risk for your freelancers and crew
  • Make a cost/benefit analysis for each production to evaluate what is lost from interviews conducted remotely
  • Develop a process for contact tracing, even if it’s just a spreadsheet
  • Minimize risk where possible (shared accommodation and ground transport)
  • Utilize reputable hotels and ground transport that follow CDC guidelines
  • If you are a small production working for a larger company… ask for help and resources!
  • Employ other trusted resources like the unions and larger studios for Covid-19 guidance and strategies

Full Interview

Entertainment travel is on its way back across the world, largely before corporate travel for most companies. How has The Return to Travel looked inside your organization?

Our travel has definitely changed with Covid-19. We’ve adjusted our productions to limit how much travel, exposure and risk our staff and freelancers are exposed to while working on our productions. Primarily, we are trying to set up remote productions where possible, only flying out necessary crew and hiring as many locals as possible.

Our international travel has scaled back 100%, our domestic has scaled back 75%. But that’s really just what we’re looking at in this world right now. Where we do travel, we’re paying attention to local guidance and reports about the number of cases. And then it comes down to making determinations about whether risk to travel is worth the benefit. It’s about answering the questions of “what is lost in the quality and connection to our subjects vs. the risk of safety for our production?”, “How can we mitigate that risk?”, “Are we going to get an amazing scene by sending these two crew members there or is it not really worth it?” It almost becomes a Risk-Benefit analysis.

We’re really not traveling international BUT we do have a project that is a global story and in that case, we have set up remote productions in all of our international locations. (Our locations) are all sort of hot spots for the virus, so we’ve not been able travel to them.

When (or DO) you see entertainment travel returning to its “normal” volume for your organization?

I think for the next 12 months, it’s going to be a shifting back and forth depending on where outbreaks are happening and where the story is happening.

I think having a vaccine available and having people actually get the vaccine is what’s going to bring us back to normal. But really, next summer or next fall is when I’m seeing a true ‘return to normal’. For the moment, we’re trying to do production remotely as much as possible but there’s definitely something lost doing things virtually or on video conferencing calls.

The practical matter is though, even if there’s a vaccine, until education and childcare is sorted out, we still won’t be able fully return to work and travel our crews. It’s more than just herd immunity. It’s also a bigger question of when will our society go back to functioning as normal? A big part of it comes down to childcare, at least from what I’m hearing from my colleagues. Until that issue is solved, travel is going to be impacted.

Personally, how have you had to shift your priorities as a production manager during this time?

For us, testing is the cornerstone of our safety protocols. We want to make sure that anyone we’re traveling is healthy before they get on that flight - that they’re not exposing our subjects, that our subjects aren’t exposing them. Is it worth traveling someone to a hotspot state if they have to quarantine for 2 weeks when they get back? PPE is of course part of the plan too.

In terms of accommodations, we’re having to switch. No more AirBnBs. Our crews are now only staying in hotels that are following all of the CDC guidance. We’re taking extra precaution.

How are you getting information about travel and best practice during the pandemic?

DGA, SAG and a number of other organizations have released comprehensive COVID plans and protocols and we’re following their guidance where it applies to our smaller-scale productions. We’re also following all local protocols in the specific states we are traveling to. We have been planning for international travel in the, hopefully, near future and in those cases, looking at their local outbreaks.

It’s a daily practice of checking what is happening on any given day.

How are you communicating with and supporting travelers differently as they return to travel despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and future uncertainty?

Because we’re a small company, when we are traveling, we’re only traveling 2 people for a production shoot. It keeps it simple and it’s mostly a conversation to say, “Hey guys, this is what’s going on in this state and this is what you need to do when you get home” and a follow-up email with our protocols as we’ve adapted them from the union guidance for that particular travel plan and location. We have only had to adjust our plans on a small level, it’s not something that needs to be disseminated widely.

Do you have new resources in your toolkit that you would like to share with others who are starting to travel again?

One of the best resources we have is our parent production company. They have been helping us by sending weekly updates and vetting our protocols. The larger studios are really supporting the smaller ones and providing a lot of information and legal guidance.

What is the single biggest piece of advice you wish that you had been able to give yourself or other travel managers back in March?

Ha! Invest in 3M - buy some stock! Invest in the companies that makes those outdoor heaters. Sorry, that’s more of a personal piece of advice.

As a production manager, I would say, try to find as much local talent you can and really spend time early to build out the lists of local talent because you will be relying on them more than you think.

Is there an opportunity you have found during this time for your program? Do you have any recommendations on how other managers and coordinators can best use their downtime if their program hasn’t picked back up yet?

It’s been a lot of figuring it out as we go along. We have had to put certain systems in place, like VPNs for remote editing and spreadsheets to do contact tracing. If that doesn’t exist in your company right now, make it. Get those spreadsheets, get those documents in place now while you have the time to really think about them.

In the past it’s been putting out fires, now it’s looking at what you’re doing, putting together processes and streamlining it. During this time we’ve had a chance to play around with Tripgrid.

Downtime can be a time to explore not doing it the old way just because that’s how we know how but looking at a new tool and figuring out how it can best work for you.

More Tripgrid Resources & Tools: