As I’ve been writing about crews returning to work and productions restarting under conditions necessitated by the COVID pandemic, many questions have come up in my mind, mostly about the testing and tracing on sets, and how a place like Tyler Perry Studios is able to get their hands on enough tests and the right medical people to administrate them.
As luck would have it, a company called Saniset saw what I was writing in these “Back to Work” pieces and reached out to me. Co-founders Steve Yandrich and Kuldeep Singh have known each other since childhood, and their different skill sets ended up being a perfect match when the COVID outbreak began last December.
Yandrich happened to be in Beijing with his wife at the time and on returning to the States, he began talking with Singh about trying to get some PPE for himself. With his own production background, Yandrich realized right away that productions would need PPE and testing in order to resume. “I reached out to Kuldeep who has some relationships in China and asked, ‘Is there anything we can do here to make sure that film industry is covered?’,’’
Yandrich told Below the Line last week: “Kuldeep’s family was involved with the import of masks and thermometers to the hospitals in New York during the initial outbreak. Once the inventory got settled, his family had excess inventory, so his uncle was nice enough to consign us some stuff on a net 60, which really helped us get going.”
The next step was reaching out to the production supply companies and filling them with PPE. At one point, Yandrich himself was driving around and delivering PPE by car. “Things got a little bit busier, and I reached out to my production staff from the previous film that I was on, but everyone was out of work. I brought them in and that gave us more time to streamline some relationships with manufacturers within the States as well as overseas.” Yandrich started reaching out to production friends across the country offering PPE, but then they wanted to know if they offered testing or knew how to find a health and safety supervisor.
That’s when Singh came in with his expertise in start-up, forming partnerships with testing labs like Fulgent and disinfecting company Micron, who were already being used to service no less than LAX. “What we pride ourselves on is we’re able to ramp up quickly and actually make sure that people are well informed,” Singh says. “Obviously, this is all very new to people, but in regards to testing and PPE and the services we offer, we’ve been able to get out to customers, whether they’re from the big studios to small indies and people that are doing a commercial. We’re just trying to make sure we get people back to work.”
“All of our PPE has FDA certificates and our cleaning products are on the EPA list,” Yandrich adds. “Our goal is to make sure everyone’s safe, and we’re trying to operate best in class.”
Born, bred and based in Los Angeles, the two have found themselves dealing with productions all across the country, from Los Angeles to New York, New Orleans, Atlanta, Austin to Houston and even Pittsburgh. Their clients include Paramount, Viacom, Apple and Netflix, but they also work with indie productions and commercial shoots, providing a sliding scale depending on the size and needs of each respective situation. In my mind, everyone needs to be covered, especially with the lower budget productions. They’re not going to have the bandwidth to be able to do that, so our pricing is essentially based on a sliding scale.”
The duo had the company up and running and providing supplies and services to entertainment and production by May. “A lot of our clients in the beginning were commercial production companies because they were the ones who were kind of going back to work first,” Yandrich told us. From there, they began working with features that were doing pick-ups, and network TV strike crews that were breaking down sets to put in storage. “We haven’t come across anyone that is in straight-up production quite yet. For network TV and feature, I don’t think we’ve come across anyone that’s actually shooting. There’s been some indies that were maybe 14 or 15-day shoots that we definitely work with, but that’s been the workflow, at least for clients we’ve had” he adds.
Yandrich stressed the fact that productions that want to resume with COVID safety protocols and testing place need to prepare further in advance for Saniset’s services. “They need to start looking at this a lot further in advance than you think. The client generally doesn’t know when their talent is available. They find out the talent is available on that Wednesday to get them there by Thursday, and they’re not anticipating the testing schedule. Our PPE is all readily available. We have a 10,000 square foot warehouse in LA, so we ship things out as fast as you want. On the testing side, lining up the labor, making sure that the health and safety supervisor has some prep time to really look at your production plan to get them dialed in with the test results, go on your tech scout, it does have some prep time. My guidance to the producers would be make sure you get on this early.”
There have been a lot of questions recently about rapid testing, and the importance of getting the quickest results, which is certainly paramount on the production side of things but also for the most accurate tracing.
“On the PCR test side, we have a couple lab partnerships where we’re able to turn the tests around in six to 12 hours in the Los Angeles area, which has been a great benefit,” Singh told us. “As far as rapid tests, we are doing some testing in Los Angeles in New York, and we’ve had inquiries in other cities, but it’s just tough due to the availability of the machines. One thing we always tell people when they book our rapid test is that the accuracy isn’t like the RT-PCR. It’s almost a trade-off. It’s really tough to make a call, because I think both have merits, but in reality, we don’t have the necessary rapid testing available or the volume that’s necessary in the country yet.”
Singh also spoke to us about how Saniset deals with contact tracing if someone on a production does test positive for COVID. “We would normally work with the health departments in whatever place we’re filming. The production will have protocol in their safety plan in terms of how they go about that for the individual that might be infected, and obviously, reaching out to the city or the county in that jurisdiction. Also, in our labs, if there’s a positive result, we’ll be doing the outreach to the other individuals that might be in that sphere or that circle on the contact tracing side of things.”
“I think for our company we’re really lucky to be this dialed in,” Yandrich said about Saniset’s role in getting people back to work. “Testing is a medical science, and there’s definitely a gap between what production expects and what the medical field expects. What our company is doing is providing the service of that buffer. We’re making sure to call the lab right away. There can be cases which come back inconclusive, or there’s an issue with the sample because the crew member being tested didn’t follow the instructions and was chewing gum or ate. We’re dealing with the medical industry, we’re dealing with the film production companies, and we’re creating that bridge to make sure everyone’s cool.”
The big question many have right now is, “What happens if or when there’s a vaccine?” Would that mean companies like Saniset would no longer be necessary? Yandrich and Singh don’t think so, since they imagine the nurses that are now handling the testing on set could turn around and be giving the vaccines.
“We look at projections, and we look at drug companies and pharmaceutical companies that are producing these vaccines, and we look at revenue through 2021,” Singh explained. “This is going to last a while. We just want to make sure people are safe.”
Yandrich agrees. “What my heart feels is that we were able to come in and help everyone in the beginning, and ideally, we want to help everyone ramp it down, so that once everyone goes to work post vaccine, everything’s safe as well.”
For more about Saniset, check out their website, Saniset.org.
Tyler Perry Studios continues to be super-busy under Perry’s “Camp Quarantine” protocols, announcing last week that production has wrapped on the first season of the BET+ drama series, Ruthless, which spins off from the BET White House drama, The Oval. Next up at the Atlanta-based studio will be more episodes of the BET+ comedy series, Bruh.
Email me at [email protected] if you want to add to this conversation, and I’ll be back on Thursday with the next “Back to Work” installment.