Hollywood Issues Plans For Resuming TV/Film Production, But Remains Silent on Voice Over
Last week, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers released a 22-page document with their suggestions for changes the film and TV industry could make when production resumes. This was followed by a much more in-depth joint report from the Director’s Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA, the Teamsters, and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. These documents could be used as a road map for keeping cast and crew safe from Covid-19 as production resumes.
For the voice over world, this collaboration by the unions represents a first step toward re-opening recording studios, most of which have been closed since mid-March.
Voice over is largely a home-based business, where talent record auditions and jobs in home studios. Yet there’s no shortage of bookings which require VO talent to travel to outside studios, either because the client prefers to record that way, or the job is a group session where multiple voice talent will be recording at the same time. Outside sessions are popular in the animation, ADR/looping, gaming and commercial VO genres.
For at least three months, the VO industry has been adopting new ways of connecting with voice talent in their homes. Many auditions, especially those at the higher levels of the business, now come with the caveat that talent must have the full paid version of Source Connect, ipDTL or other connecting tech to transmit audio from their home setup to a recording studio. But some clients and producers feel this isn’t an ideal long term solution, so the industry has been grappling with how to bring voice actors back into recording studios safely.
Many were hoping the white papers released by the unions would address the needs of the VO community. Unfortunately, while plenty of guidelines and suggestions were given to protect on-camera actors, there was no discussion of how to protect their off-camera counterparts while on the job.
The industry recommends creating a safe, virus-free bubble around on-camera actors, recognizing that they are the most vulnerable individuals on a set since they can’t wear protective equipment or practice social distancing unless scripted. They put forth an elaborate collection of protocols to make TV and film sets as impenetrable to the virus as possible.
Yet the voice over community faces special challenges in bringing talent back to work. The voice talent’s workplace is a small, contained space with generally poor airflow: a recording booth. Throughout the day, many different people might occupy that space, talking, shouting or singing as they do their jobs. We know the virus spreads through aerosolized respiratory particles, and we know the louder someone talks, the more particles they expel. Voice actors cannot wear masks or face shields as they work. So how can a recording studio keep every unmasked occupant of that booth safe from germs previous occupants may have left behind?
Simple changes can be made easily. Studios can provide hand sanitizer, eliminate paper scripts and require talent to bring their own water and pencils. Pop filters and mics can be swapped out for every new voice actor, and headphones can be sanitized between sessions, which can be spaced apart.
But these kind of interventions only address surface contact. The real challenge is how to filter air through recording booths. Science tells us that most Covid-19 patients become infected after spending time in enclosed spaces where virus particles are present. A recording booth is as enclosed a space can get, making it an ideal place for the virus to be transmitted. Removing the air and filtering it between sessions, in addition to sanitizing surfaces, might be an effective way of preventing spread.
There are hospital-grade HVAC systems available which use high quality HEPA filters to cleanse the air as it circulates. But they’re not cheap or easy to install. Large studios with high-paying clients may have the ability to install them, but will mom-and-pop studios? Other solutions involve electrostatic treatments, or foggers designed to sanitize contaminated surfaces, similar to those the hotel industry is using to sanitize rooms. Voice talent are wondering if those treatments might have harmful side effects when applied in small spaces.
Some talent are reporting being contacted by clients who are eager to return to studios. A handful of auditions have gone out saying that the session will record in a studio, and talent should only submit if they are willing to record in person.
Of all the participants in the VO process (the casting person, producer, engineer and studio support staff), the voice actor is the one taking the most risk by going to a recording studio. We have no control of the health or habits of anyone we come into contact with at work, or anyone who came before us, and we can’t wear PPE.
Ultimately, it’s up to the voice actor to decide whether to take a studio job or not, and in any case, the vast majority of VO work can be recorded at home so long as actors have the right software. For now, keep your version of Zoom updated and consider investing in Source Connect if you find yourself being asked to connect to an outside studio.