Handheld Filming in Vehicles (Free Driving)

Members of the safety committee have been speaking with experts in the field of crash technology and would like to share the following information on handheld filming in vehicles:

What We Have Learned So Far 

  • While a crash is the most obvious concern in a free driving situation, airbag deployment is the greatest specific danger that we must consider. 
  • Airbags can deploy due to sudden deceleration in vehicles travelling as slow as 8 MPH or even if something gets lodged underneath the vehicle's frame.
  • Airbags can deploy at speeds comparable to 200 MPH within 1/20th of a second, leaving no time to react. 
  • The passenger side airbag is physically larger and deploys with more force than the driver side airbag which is situated farther away from the occupant. 
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) guidelines state that sitting within 10 inches of an airbag is dangerous. 
  • Most vehicles now have weight sensors in the seats that help determine how much force an airbag should use to deploy. Sitting with a camera on a shoulder will therefore result in a higher weight reading and cause the airbag to deploy with greater force than necessary. 
  • Anything unsecured in a vehicle, including a handheld camera, will act as a projectile when propelled by an exploding airbag. 
  • Acting while driving falls within the NHTSA criteria for distracted driving, so operators and assistants are not the only crew-members at risk. 
  • Dealing with driving shots on the day is the worst time to do so as it can hold up production and limit options, and as a result, may not yield safe alternatives. Discussing these shots as early as possible in prep is the time to communicate your concerns so that they can be addressed properly. 

What We Continue to Work On 

  • Communicating with federal regulators, engineers and lawyers as well as crash test experts to determine the safety of this practice and if there are any precedents we can cite to move forward. 
  • Connecting with the DGA, SAG, Stunts and Grip Locals to devise specific guidelines for shooting in moving vehicles that are being free driven by actors. 
  • Sourcing OOPS (Out of Position Simulation) crash test videos that will show the effects of projectiles (dash cams, etc.) in vehicle crashes that are more specific to our situation. 
  • Providing our BAs with guidelines to use when speaking to production about these types of shots, and how best to handle free driving situations when they are reported. 

What We Suggest at This Time 

  • Use the Safety App to report ANY driving shot THE MOMENT YOU SEE IT IN A SCRIPT OR LEARN ABOUT IT! Any and every Local 600 membershould report these shots so that nothing is missed.
  • As early as possible in your shoot or prep, discuss the issue of free driving with the AD, Key Grip, Stunt Coordinator or anyone else that may facilitate creating safe driving shots. If you feel that your concerns are not being considered, call one of your Business Agents (BAs) and ask that they contact production to speak about the dangers of this practice.
  • Always request that the camera be mounted and secured rather than handheld, as a handheld camera creates a much greater risk to everyone in the vehicle. 
  • If a free-driving situation is unavoidable due to circumstances beyond your control, the airbags need to be be de-activated by a trained technician prior to any rehearsal or shooting takes place (please note that pulling a fuse will not accomplish this as capacitors in the circuitry can still fire the airbags). If the airbags cannot be de-activated a tow rig or other method should be utilized. While federal regulators and vehicle manufacturers do not recommend de-activating airbags, experts have agreed that this is a safer practice at this time. This is new territory for them so these guidelines may change and we will update you should they do so. 
  • If free driving at highway speeds is necessary, the camera should be hard mounted and not handheld. When free driving at any speed, production should ideally close down the route in question, or, in the event you are shooting on a live street, should surround the shooting vehicle with cars driven by qualified drivers. 
  • If you have a driving shot in the schedule and production does not appear to be taking your concerns seriously, request that a Local 600 rep be present on set when the shot is being done and also report this to the studio safety hotline listed on the call sheet.

We would like nothing better than to share definitive rulings as to what is, or is not, acceptably safe concerning driving speeds, airbags, vehicle types and beyond, but unfortunately there are far too many variables that come into play with every scenario to consider. With that in mind, if something that you are being asked to do causes you concern for your safety or the safety of your fellow crew-members, please speak up with the knowledge that the Local will support you. 

While we continue to search for concrete solutions, please be aware that it takes a tremendous amount of time to deal with government institutions and the hierarchy within our own industry. Our absolute priority is the safety of our members and as such, we need to gather as much feedback as possible. Please help by alerting us about driving shots as far ahead of time as possible so that we may work with greater effectiveness towards protecting all of our members and all of your co-workers as well. Our belief is that all shots, given enough time and forethought, can be planned in a way that will allow our members to excel at their craft while keeping everyone safe, now and in the future. 

- The Members of the Local 600 Safety Committee  

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