Double Up: Shooting Ads in the COVID-19 Era

March 10, 2021

By Matt Williams, Senior Producer

This is not Bruce Willis.

Movie stars often use stunt doubles when they film. They share the same physical characteristics, take on risky stunts, stand in, help with blocking shots, and generally take scenes that the actor – or the agent or studio – doesn’t want. The use of doubles can also save money in the production budget. Less time with the actor, less money paid out.

There are all kinds of doubles. Stunt doubles. Photo doubles. Body doubles. Even butt doubles. Huge stars often have several double options at their disposal. This was the case for the DieHard is Back campaign. Willis had a small army of them.

It was way back in August of 2020 and we were slated to shoot the campaign in Simi Valley, which is located just inside the L.A. Zone. (It’s a production thing.) At the time, L.A. was in peak Covid response mode, with the constant threat of Mayor Garcetti completely shutting the city down at any moment. It was heavy.

In the period leading up to the shoot date, we were working closely with our production company to build – invent is actually a better word – a process by which we could safely film our spots while keeping SAG, Disney, and a slew of lawyers happy.

Testing before setting foot on location was, of course, a key part of the plan. And as Covid would have it, one of Willis’ doubles tested positive a few days before the shoot. This meant that a single double had to take all scenes which required a double for Willis.

That dude, a professional stunt double, ended up saving the day.

So why all this double talk?

Shooting in the Covid era requires us to have good backups in place. Doubles, if you will, play a variety of roles. Planning for Covid used to mean having a strict Covid plan in place to keep everyone safe. Now, in addition to the plan itself, I compare it to coaching a basketball game. You’ve got your starters and your bench. And the bench is going to have to play. Someone is quite likely going to test positive, and you’ve got to be prepared.

We had a backup location in L.A. Not a double, but close. We had backups for our director and director of photography. Not doubles, but close. We had a double for our double. And it was a key piece to making the work.

Until this vaccine fully kicks in, stay vigilant, work the plan, and double up. Some keys for safe Covid-era production are listed below. Safe shooting!

Quick note: my favorite Nipsey Hussle song is Double Up. Sick, hazy, thick production. Check it.

Keys to Covid-19 Compliant Production

Pre-Shoot: Train and Test

  • Risk reduction and training before shoot
  • “Remote everything” whenever possible
  • Pre-shoot testing required for everyone (everyone!) on set
  • Prepare backup plans for key personnel

On Set: Maintain Strict Protocols

  • Require formal check-in including negative test verification and temperature reading
  • Hire and/or designate a dedicated Health Safety Team
  • Require, and make readily available, PPE + proper sanitation stations
  • Social distance and wear masks
  • Kill the buffet – distribute individually prepared snacks, beverages, and meals