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Life on Set with COVID-19: An Actor’s Perspective

Actors have always maintained a unique place on set that is integral to the production’s success. During the pandemic, each film department, including actors, are having to adjust to keep sets safe. We spoke with Charla Bocchicchio about her experience returning to set and how COVID-19 precautions have evolved her duties.

Charla Bocchicchio is an actress and acting coach with over 25 years of experience. After relocating from Los Angeles, she has been based and working in the Utah film industry for the past 6 years. She is represented by McCarty Talent Agency, and has worked on shows like; Blood & Oil, Yellowstone, Andi Mack, Hallmark’s Check Inn to Christmas, Good Joe Bell, and countless others. In between her bookings, she continues to teach on-camera auditioning classes, as well as private coaching for actors.

When did you start working in the Utah Film Industry and what is your current role?
I moved to Utah from Los Angeles in September of 2014, and I have been working in the Utah Film Industry now for 6 years. I am an actor and acting coach. I work in films, television, commercials, and voice-over.
 
What production(s) have you been working on since Utah reopened in May?
When COVID shut things down in March, I was working on three projects that had to stop production. There were two other projects on deck to shoot in the early summer that, obviously, had to postpone as well. Of those five productions, only one has resumed shooting since May, an indie film called, What I Should Have Said. That is not to say I haven’t been working since May, I’ve actually been quite busy. There’s been a lot of auditioning for national commercials, Hallmark holiday movies, and other projects that are shooting here, in addition to booking and shooting a variety of projects since the film industry opened back up for us in Utah.
 
My first post-COVID-19 project to shoot was Witnesses. Since then, I’ve worked on three commercials, one pilot, one industrial, three feature films, one episodic series, and I just wrapped shooting a very fun role for the film, Alien Country.
 
I had a one day shoot on Hallmark Channel‘s, Holly and Ivy, and that was the first post-COVID-19 union set for me. I’ve never felt safer! They followed the SAG Safe Way Forward set safety guidelines and even before stepping foot on set, I had to be tested in three different ways with negative results (obviously). They required masks of everyone (even actors) unless actively shooting a scene, which meant adding a step in calling the shot. “Masks off” and “masks on” were called before and after each take. The Hair & Makeup Department would do last looks and cross their fingers as the actor put the mask back on, hoping that lipstick didn’t get smudged before “masks off” and “action” were called again!
 
How have your job duties evolved/changed in response to the pandemic?
Things on set have definitely changed because of the pandemic, and every project I’ve worked on has been a slightly different experience. However, the work of an actor has remained consistent, for the most part. We audition, we book the role, we prepare, we show up and we do our work in front of the camera. The only differences now are a few added steps; getting a COVID-19 test, wearing a mask on set, and do not hug every old friend you see on set.
 
What day-to-day precautions are new normals on set?
The biggest change is the way we audition, everything has moved to an online platform. As an actor, I’ve had to adapt (and teach others) how to make the most of Zoom auditions and punch up my game in the self-taping arena. Gone are the days when we had the luxury of stepping into an actual room with the casting director, feeling that energy and connection in person. Now we must figure out how to bring our energy through the computer screen while sitting or standing in the comfort of our own living room. But I have found it’s not all difficult, as actors we bring connection through a screen to a viewer in a different location. It’s just a matter of getting used to this new normal of auditioning. I’m actually loving it!
 
For actors, you’ll be tested often and in a variety of methods (I’ve been tested now in five different manners, on seven different occasions), wear your masks on set, sit 6 feet away from colleagues, and wash your hands often. Upon arrival, you check in with the set medic for a screening before you do anything else. We’re no longer grazing veggie and fruit trays at crafty, now all meals are individually packaged for quick pickup, rather than buffet style.
 
I have noticed a big difference in precautions on the union sets as opposed to indie projects. SAG has provided guidelines that not only help everyone feel safer, but also ensure that productions can go on without interruption. By testing cast and crew consistently they don’t have to worry so much about outbreaks that could shut down production.
 
What advice would you give to those who aren’t sure what to expect returning to set?
Don’t be afraid, but still be cautious. Most productions are doing everything they can to provide a safe work environment. If you feel like they aren’t taking it seriously, then speak up, say no to the project, or voice your concern to your agent. It is ultimately up to each individual on set to take measures to help protect each other. I have seen many get lax in wearing masks and it’s easy to get into a false sense of safety and fall back into the way we used to do things (especially on non-union sets). But my experience as a whole since May has been a positive one. Most crew members are vigilant about keeping masks on and the actors appreciate it more than you know. After all, we actors are the only ones on set that are required to take off their mask and get extremely close to another person as part of fulfilling our work responsibilities. If everyone else around us is masked, it makes us feel that much safer. So thank you to the crew members that take it seriously.
 
Do you have any upcoming premieres of filmed-in-Utah projects we can tell our audience to keep an eye out for?
Holly & Ivy is a holiday film that just premiered on Hallmark Channel. I had small speaking roles in two major motion pictures both shot in Utah last year, Echo Boomers is releasing into select theatres and VOD on Friday, November 13th, and Good Joe Bell, which premiered at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. Permitted is a feature film written and directed by Utah’s Lori Lyle, it’s slated to release sometime in 2021.
 
Stay tuned for Alien Country, you can follow the behind the scenes stories on social media. I have a major role in this sci-fi comedy and I have a feeling the film is going to be epic. I’m so excited to see where this one goes next year! I just wrapped shooting The Chosen, the cast and crew on this one are really amazing, and my goodness, the [Goshen] set couldn’t be more perfect for them. It’s a very special series with a beautifully told story.
 
Other than that, folks might see me pop up in various commercials on their TV or online.
Charla Bocchicchio on set for season 2 of The Chosen.
To learn more about Charla, you can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and information about her acting courses on her website.
 

Allie Russell is the Marketing Coordinator at the Utah Film Commission.
For any press and media inquiries, contact the Utah Film Commission at film@utah.gov.
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