‘Children of the Corn’ crew.
Horror film Children of the Corn was one of the few productions in the world that continued to shoot safely throughout lockdown.
Australian safety consultant Jon Heaney worked tirelessly with the film’s producers to develop stringent protocols and a risk management plan for the Sydney-based production.
Together with producers Lucas Foster and Mathieu Bonzon and first assistant director Sean Harner, he is now set to use the experience to further help the industry, launching new venture FiRM (Film Industry Risk Management).
To be headquartered across Sydney and LA, the company will be dedicated to managing the risks associated with filming while implementing ever-evolving safety requirements and protocols. It will offer both producers and financiers risk assessments, safety reports, on-set safety management, staffing and training.
Heaney, who will serve as president of the company, tells IF that when it comes to COVID-19 safety, their team hasn’t just “read the book”, but “wrote the book”. At the stage when they put their plans in place, there were no industry standards or guidelines.
Procedures were rigorous, and had to be constantly updated with the dynamism of the pandemic and government guideline. Underlining their success was a strong safety management system and risk assessment plan, as well as the now standard practices of wearing of masks, santising, sectioning off of areas and crew, isolation ‘pods’, and social distancing.
“I really focused on what the health department was saying, what the government was saying, what the World Health Organisation was saying. Then we started modelling off other businesses that didn’t close; we asked the question ‘why’? Why didn’t they close? Why could they stay open? Why can they operate and how can they operate?”
For the safety consultant, who has more than 30 years of stunts and safety experience spanning productions like Mad Max: Fury Road and The Great Gatsby, his drive to keep the film safe wasn’t just professional, but personal: he was just six weeks out of chemotherapy when he took the job, and his kids are in the film.
“I was… doing everything to keep myself safe, my family safe and the production safe,” he says. “It was an incentive every day to get it right. And it was relentless. It was the toughest job I’ve ever done.”
Every production’s COVID safety and risk assessment plan will be unique, Heaney explains.
“Each element, each location, each group of people, each situation, needs to be risk assessed on its own merits. Are they young, are they old? How many are they? Where are they?”
However, FiRM will not just be focused solely on COVID-19; it will offer producers a holistic approach to all aspects of on-set safety and medical, including the mental health and wellbeing of cast and crew. Heaney has been at the forefront of Australia’s emphasis on having stand-alone safety department, and he is keen to see the practice become standard on US productions.
Foster said: “Thanks to Jon Heaney and his team, we were able to keep going when most others had to stop their productions. He gave us the confidence and the tools to make the critical decisions that led us to complete our main mission – shooting the film. He made it possible to be able to continue to make our movie and keep everyone physically safe and emotionally strong, while doing our jobs.
“Jon helped us navigate the ever-changing regulations, abnormal stresses, the psychology of fear and panic, and of course, a total re-engineering of how to make a movie (during a crisis). And with Jon’s calm guidance and skillset, we carried on during what became a huge, worldwide work stoppage. Now, we want to help other producers and enterprises to get their productions back on track, safely and confidently.”