Tim Tadder Makes Practice, Almost Perfect

“The stakes are high: Our studio has done the work to make people safe, to the best of our abilities.”

Tim Tadder

By Missy Hunter

As we slowly move out of sheltering in place, the notion of “business as usual” is being refined. This week, Heather hosted Photographer/Director, Tim Tadder, and Executive Producer, Dahlia Weidmann, on Dear Art Producer. Tim regularly tests lighting, effects, and ideas before moving into a “real” shoot. Producing during COVID is no exception. Tim and Dahlia shot and produced five various projects over the last three weeks, to test safety protocols, and see how the new theories would play out in real-life situations. 

Heather asked Tim and Dahlia to share their crucial learnings with these projects, of which there were several lessons. One theme kept rising to the top. Safety protocols are well and good, but the individuals in the room need to bring what is on paper to life — enforcing the rules is easier said than done.

Before stepping on set, Tim and Dahlia both did their homework. While shooting these past several weeks, Tim reports “what I learned, I learned about my business (without the usual support). I rewound the clock to when I started, and I was all of the departments again. It was quite empowering and unique. I needed to [play all roles] — to get it done and figure out how it was going to work.”

For Dahlia’s part, “During quarantine, I wore different hats than in the past. But at the same time, I had to keep up to date on productions. There was so much info, constantly changing; it was challenging to navigate.” Dahlia listened to podcasts, attended group webinars, read Hollywood white papers, as well as consulted ASMP and APA. She also found the time to obtain an OSHA safety and health certification. The culmination of Dahlia’s research and training is a PDF with safety protocols for all of the things that they should be doing in productions. 

Here are the shoots they conducted along with the learnings that came from them.

Politics Play a Role in Adhering to Safety Protocols
The first and second shoots’ crew consisted of Tim and a makeup artist. The first shoot, necessary at the time, was a concept/humor project about masks Tim undertook with his friends and their families. They went over PPE before the shoot, and the families arrived separately from one another.

The second shoot was of seniors in isolation. The difference in this shoot was that the talent on-set were professionals. Tim was shocked by the disparity he saw in how people take the safety protocols with both shoots — his friends included. “There’s a gamut of the people involved and how they are taking it. And, not a single one of them owns the business. There may be an individual who has a political stance in refusing to wear a mask. [Their refusal] brings in liability issues. They are violating social distancing, breaking down procedure. Doing shoots has shown me that it’s a little more tricky than having a PDF.”

Creative Flexibility Can Go A Long Way
The third shoot was of TikTok influencers, Scott Mathison and Demi Bagby, where they all decided to work together, on the spur of the moment. The TikTokers did their makeup and wardrobe, “[This was the] first time I ever shot, in 15 years, by myself. It felt so good to be able to create and have no one involved.” For Tim, this project was proof positive that with fewer restrictions, he is more easily able to collaborate with the talent and be effective at the same time. After this shoot, Tim has hopes to do future projects that operate in this way, giving creative flexibility and remote approvals. 

The Role of the Safety Officer is Crucial
The fourth shoot was a fashion/fitness test. So much of what Tim does is in-studio. Tim wanted to try out a real shoot, with more people on set, and try a real-world example. “Let’s put our protocols through an actual shoot and see how it holds up.” They had a safety compliance officer on-set and a set medic, taking everyone’s temperatures. They were handing out PPE and ensuring social distance — reminding everyone of the new normal. They addressed questions about safety protocols and PPE from those closest to the talent: hair, makeup, and wardrobe. “The safety officer’s role is essential that that person not only does their job but that they know their job isn’t going to be easy.” 

“The reality is that society is not following the protocol we’re asked to follow. Society seems to have moved on from safety protocols which makes this much more difficult to follow and get people to follow.”

Tim Tadder

Theory and Reality Are Two Different Things
The fifth shoot that Tim undertook was of healthcare workers on the front line. He wanted to ask questions and hear about safety straight from Doctors and Nurses. “I was shocked when the Dr went to shake my hand. Of all people.” Tim runs a tight ship on set. “Anyone who knows me knows I am focused on the creative.” People who work with Tim know how he doesn’t allow cell phones on set, no Instagram — he expects work. “It’s hard for people not to go talk to each other. On-set, they need to stay apart from their friends.” Dahlia reports they have zoned off each department with tape reminding people they cannot leave their department, as much as they are used to doing so. Tim doesn’t want to have to stop and remind people, “the only way these protocols work is for you to participate. On-set, other people’s opinions are not relevant. If we get pushback on adhering to safety protocols, we’ll have to make some decisions.”

At the same time, SAG wants everyone to be tested every single day before going on set. Tim feels that “some of the guidelines that are established by the industry are unrealistic. Doing our best is our goal. We can’t control what a person did the day before.” 

Educating and Communicating with the Clients is Paramount
The production side of the well-oiled advertising machine is ready and prepared. Clients are just now starting the conversations. The preparation of estimates is taking longer, with the new safety protocols being more expensive. Jobs require more pre-pro, a safety person, disinfecting areas, more separation, and results in a longer shoot. Clients aren’t seeing this happen in person because they aren’t on-set. “It is up to us to educate clients on what has been done and how things have worked.”

Tim and Dahlia have three upcoming jobs where they will be putting their learnings into practice. One of the lessons learned at the very beginning of the shelter-in-place was in establishing communication channels on-set. They have already had experience live streaming a shoot when the client was not able to travel from NYC to LA. Dahlia explains, “Clients will get to see the entire shoot and from multiple viewpoints. There will be a feed where they will see every image as it is captured, and there will be a live shot of the actual set. A camera will be mounted on a stand and will move from dept to dept to show clients what is happening, where and when they need approvals.”

All that needs to be done now is to accept that this is our new normal moving forward, and that life is moving on — including doing shoots. As Tim tells it, “On-set we are going to do the things that people aren’t doing in society. Clients need to know that even though society has moved on, we will still follow the protocols. It’s up to each individual to take them seriously and be vigilant.” 

Tune in to the Dear Art Producer episode where Heather hosts Tim and Dahlia, discussing the five test projects.

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