Leadership In Action
ProSight’s Media Loss Control Director Talks Risk and COVID in 5+ Questions
Mike Kelly is part engineer, chemist, fire marshal, and soothsayer when it comes to advising film and live events professionals about risk. Now, he can layer in a brand-new designation he’s earned specifically for the times: COVID Compliance Officer. It’s all part of the varied skill set Mike brings to the table with the sole purpose of helping ProSight’s media clients manage production safety.
As more and more live events open up amid COVID, we caught up with Mike to get his pulse check on the entertainment industry—and to find out how he’s navigating this new risk landscape for his clients.
1. Thanks for chatting, Mike. First thing’s first: What does it mean to be Director of Media Loss Control?
It’s a position that requires a pretty unique skill set. I was a marine biologist for quite a long time, with minors in chemical and mechanical engineering. And over the many years since then, I’ve managed to acquire a variety of additional skills that directly relate to assessing risk in live and film entertainment.
My job is to try and foresee the things that could happen during a movie shoot or concert, let’s say, and use my experience to figure out how to prevent those things from happening and keep people safe. I can look over the shoulders of the engineers who design a stage and also understand the chemistry behind some of the pyrotechnic effects. And then, frankly, my ability to collaborate with all the different people I lean on in this job is essential. I work with stunt coordinators, pyrotechnicians, directors. These are very, very busy people, so not understanding the way they work—they would just look at it as a waste of time.
2. COVID is everyone’s top concern these days. How has this impacted your job as a risk control professional?
My goal has always been to provide collaborative guidance to our clients to minimize the potential of injury—which is especially true during COVID. We all want to get back to work safely. Our lives and livelihoods hang in the balance. It’s important to think critically and to rely on recognized experts with published, peer-reviewed opinions based on science. My job is to be the voice of reason, so it’s important for me to think critically.
“We all want to get back to work. Our lives and livelihoods hang in the balance.”
One of the important elements I advise my clients is to be acutely aware of what the mandatory standards might be. And those mandatory standards, whether they’re codes or ordinances or laws or health department requirements, those are required. That’s certainly the first step, but it’s also critical for clients to be aware of state of the art—what other people in the industry are doing because that’s the level to which they can be held accountable. The defense of “we did everything we were supposed to do” is a little weak compared to “we did everything the top leaders in our industry are doing.” That’s the pulse check.
When I collaborate with clients, we look at it all. Is the event feasible? Are you aware of the consequences? Let’s make sure we’re employing all the precautions because at the end of the day, we have two principal objectives: 1. To help keep people safe. We’re ethical, moral people, and we want everyone to be happy and healthy. 2. As a risk control professional, it’s also my job to keep our clients out of litigation. Consequently, I try to be very diligent to make sure we have our ‘I’s dotted and ‘T’s crossed.
3. Is anyone setting the stage (no pun intended) for how COVID protocols are handled throughout the entertainment industry?
The film industry is leading the charge. There are hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars at stake and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake if the film industry doesn’t get up on its wheels sooner rather than later. So they’ve taken it upon themselves to make a requirement for very strict, standardized, enforceable requirements as it relates to COVID, which is all based around the establishment of a new job: COVID Compliance Officer. All film-related projects today are required to have one.
The COVID Compliance Officer will have no other job responsibilities on the TV or movie set beyond overseeing the very stringent implementation of COVID-related requirements. They must be on set first. They’re required to either personally or have had a contractor clean the set prior to the arrival or after the departure the night before. They need to make sure every handheld device is cleaned—the walkie talkies, the batteries, any props that are used, the sets, the chairs, the tables. And this is all with documentation. They must oversee attendance and allow only essential personnel. There needs to be a questionnaire and temperature check for every person who comes on set and a log with their names; in the event there is any sort of infection, they’ll know who’s been there. Certainly, social distancing is critical. Basically, they must monitor every aspect of a film project to make sure all these criteria are implemented. The worst thing to do is assign this responsibility to more than one person. If something happens, you have two people pointing to the other and saying: “I thought it was his job.” With a COVID Compliance Officer, there’s one person with sole responsibility so everyone knows where the buck stops.
4. Why was it important for you to become an official COVID Compliance Officer?
I’m in a position to advise clients who trust ProSight, so I always want to be a knowledgeable, dependable, credible source for them. Instead of sitting on the sidelines and telling them what I think they should do based on a Google search, I thought it was prudent for me to get the credentials from true medical professionals so that when I give advice, people will know that I know what I’m talking about. But equally important, I can look over the shoulders of those who are performing this function and say, “I’m one of you guys,” and make sure they’re doing their job well. I need to be fluent in that language.
5. You said the film industry is following rigorous COVID protocols. What about live events?
All the venues, the big ones, the little ones, the clubs, everyone’s hurting. There really isn’t a unified effort to establish formal criteria to which all those places should conform. The film industry has SAG and AFTRA. You don’t make a movie or a documentary or a music video without SAG or AFTRA giving their blessing. But live entertainment doesn’t have that. Many venues are taking it upon themselves to implement similar processes, but there’s no collective industry-wide organization they can belong to.
However, there is a sort of clearinghouse called the Event Safety Alliance. This is an organization comprised of many live event professionals who’ve created a synergistic environment in which cutting-edge information is very unselfishly shared. In fact, they’ve created a reopening guide that’s available for free on their website. Their intent is to raise the standard of the entire industry and not be proprietary in their trade secrets. Members are top-level decision makers. When they get together (either via phone or virtually), there’s an amazing sharing of best ideas and best practices. While there are no standardized industry procedures, this is the place where venue operators can get a clear understanding of what state of the art is.
“We need to look at what’s mandatory, state of the art, and where that liability line is.”
Clients might call and ask: “What does ProSight want us to do to enable us to open our doors and sell some tickets and feed our families?” First of all, look around you closely. What is your local county health department saying? Find out the local requirements, then go broader, then call Mike at ProSight, and we’ll find out what’s required on an even broader scale. I might say: “You know, we’ve got four other venues with 2000-seat capacity. This is what they’re doing. And even though that’s a little more stringent than your local requirements, why don’t you consider this: Consider temperature controls at the door, social distancing, mandatory masks with repercussions for not wearing the mask properly.” I continue to emphasize to our clients that we need to factor everything in. What would defense costs be in the event there’s a COVID-related lawsuit? And what’s the value of that bad PR? We need to be diligent and do what’s in our power. That means looking at what’s mandatory, state of the art, and where that liability line is.
Do you think COVID has permanently changed the concept of risk control in the entertainment industry?
Definitely for the foreseeable future. And I absolutely guarantee that the wisdom we get from this will not be lost. Certainly, the precautions, the protocols, those will always be one more element I evaluate when talking to clients to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. It’s also reasonable to think there might be legislation at some point to establish some sort of general protocols to minimize this from happening again. We’d be idiots if we didn’t create some sort of measures going forward.
Mike is always at the ready to talk about COVID safety and overall risk management for film and live events. Feel free to reach out to him directly here.