The Martini Shot: The non-negotiable importance of safety on set
by Bobby Amm. The recent and very tragic deaths on set of DOP Carlos Carvalho and actor Odwa Shweni serve as a stark reminder that safety on set and adequate preparation are not something to be taken lightly, and that the production community must do more to ensure that these types of incidents do not happen again.
Shweni died after been swept over a waterfall in the Drakensberg mountains while rehearsing a fight scene for local feature film, Outside, while Carvalho — who was an extremely well-known and popular DOP on commercials — was killed after being headbutted by a giraffe while filming an international feature film, Premium Nanny 2, at Glen Afric in Broederstroom. There will undoubtedly continue to be many questions in the coming months about why these two accidents occurred, how they could have been prevented and what lessons the industry might learn from them.
Important issues to consider
The reality is that film sets may be very dangerous places, and proper provisions must be made to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the making of a film or commercial, as well as the general public. Although it may seem obvious, it’s worth reiterating some of the important issues that all clients, agencies and production companies need to consider:
1. Work with reputable production companies that are experienced in making commercials
As tempting as it may be to save money by using a production company that has limited experiences or makes a habit of cutting corners to save costs, the consequences may be dire when it comes to safety. When one considers that filmsets often incorporate diverse and dangerous elements, such as stunts, pyrotechnics, action vehicles, weapons, wild animals and hazardous locations, knowledge and experience count. A lot.
2. Carry out a proper risk assessment
When planning anything that is remotely dangerous, it’s important to make sure a thorough risk assessment is done beforehand to identify any and everything that could possibly go wrong. To do this, it’s important to bring in an expert with credible qualifications who may advise you of the risks and draw up a plan of action, which everyone involved should be advised of in advance and should follow on the day.
3. Use the services of skilled professionals
Stuntmen, precision drivers, certified drone operators, special effects supervisors, armourers, pyro-technicians and a number of other professionals who are trained in safety in their area of expertise are an essential part of the film industry and should always be hired in. Under no circumstances should production companies try to take these responsibilities in-house as this could constitute negligence, should an accident occur.
It’s also important to ensure that all non-essential personnel remain clear of the action.
4. Communicate & do the paperwork
All matters relating to safety on set must be communicated properly to everyone involved and records must be kept detailing when and how this was done. Although this kind of recordkeeping may seem tedious and unnecessary, it’s vital to ensure legal compliance.
5. Appoint a qualified safety officer and medic to oversee safety on set and attend to any incidents that may occur
Where the producer identifies potential risk, a safety officer should be appointed to oversee on-set safety and a qualified medic should be in attendance to treat anyone who’s injured in an accident on set. When shooting particularly complex stunts or setups, production should consider increasing the number of medics and having a medical rescue vehicle on standby.
The safety officer and medics should always be in close proximity to the action and shouldn’t take on unnecessary additional functions or duties that could divert their attention away from potential risks.
6. If in doubt, say “no”
Part of the safety plan on any set should be to encourage anyone who is apprehensive about safety, or any activity they’re asked to undertake, to report their concerns to the safety officer or the producer without fear of recrimination.
All reports should be taken seriously, acted upon and properly documented.
7. Prioritise insurance
All production companies and agencies should carry insurance to cover any emergency, personal accident, disability or death on set and public liability. With rising medical costs, the amount of cover that’s been taken out in the past needs to be increased to cover all eventualities.
The CPA has recently launched a new Film Producers Group Insurance Scheme, in collaboration with partners in the UK and the South African insurance market, to substantially increase the benefits that are currently on offer and provide increased protection to members, clients and all personnel working on set.
Bobby Amm is chief executive of the Commercial Producers Association of South Africa (CPA), the trade association of production companies that produce television, cinema and internet commercials for the local and international market. After a brief stint in journalism, she began her career in the industry at the Consultative Committee for the Entertainment Industry in the early 1990s. She first joined the CPA in 1997 but left three years later to join a production company. After finding that she missed the big-picture perspective of the CPA and the interesting issues which continuously perplex the production industry, Bobby returned to the CPA in 2003. She contributes “The Martini Shot” column monthly, covering developments, trends and insights into the commercial production and film services industries in South Africa, to MarkLives.
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