Filming during COVID-19

Last updated 5th April 2021

Thanks for being interested in how I’m filming on-location safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am definitely not taking this lightly, and neither should anyone else.

As the situation changes from week to week and month to month, I’m continuing to minimise risk, and to err on the side of caution. I’m taking a lot of precautions — full details are below. Thanks to everyone who’s sticking with my channel during this!

What safety precautions are you taking?

I’m minimising the chance of spreading COVID-19 by:

  • following all government law and guidelines
  • taking regular lateral flow tests
  • travelling solo, by car where possible, and only to locations that are either within the UK or that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office exempts from restrictions
  • minimising contact and interviewing remotely where possible
  • maintaining social distancing
  • wearing masks when interaction is necessary
  • washing my hands regularly, and using hand sanitiser when soap and water aren’t available

Can you work from home?

I did for months! Unfortunately, I can’t any more.

Anyone who can’t work from home … should be actively encouraged to go to work.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 10th May 2020

I live in a 2m × 5m flat — that’s about 90 square feet — and before 2020, I didn’t think it was possible to film anything there. However, it turns out that in extremis, with a lot of compromises, I can film against a small green screen and hire animators for some videos. It’s not sustainable economically, but it can work as a stopgap.

However, I ran out of budget and out of ideas. With the help of co‑authors, researchers, animators and sound technicians, I burned through a year’s worth of ideas for language and computer science videos in two months.

Could I film some on-location videos against a green-screen and comp in relevant backgrounds? In theory, maybe. But that’s unsustainably expensive given the cost of animating anything more interesting than a basic key, and let’s be honest: “unqualified man explains things in front of a green-screen” isn’t an acceptable substitute for normal production.

Are you encouraging people to travel?

I don’t believe so. My channel isn’t ‘aspirational’: I’m not reviewing hotels, or showing off fancy tourist destinations. Mostly, I’m standing somewhere windblown and talking about infrastructure.

Is there an alternative?

“Make half-arsed videos” is not an option: that’s the death of a channel. The only alternative I can see is to pause production entirely, to furlough myself, to stop sending work to any of the freelance folks that I work with, and for my company to apply to the UK government’s schemes to try to cover the income gap.

Of course, given the unknowable effects of audience reactions and the YouTube algorithm, that would be an extremely risky move to make. When I return, there’d be no guarantee of reaching anyone.

Basically, I’ve got two options:

  1. film safely, in line with all restrictions and government advice, or
  2. pause my channel, furlough myself, and perhaps end my career.

So given all that: I'm choosing option A, with a lot of precautions in place, and with a lot of care.

I hope that puts folks’ minds at ease. Thanks very much for sticking with me. Stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll see you on the internet!

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