Oct 29, 2020

This month we sat down with alumna Virginia Millsap, who works in the Film industry. The film industry, like many other sectors, has faced challenges opening up because of COVID-19. The industry has established new protocols including the formation of Health and Safety teams. Virginia is part of a Health and Safety team and shares her experience with us.

Thanks for sitting with us Virginia.

Which program were you in when you were here at Langara?

I completed the Film Arts program in Acting, but while I was there, I also studied economics and sociology.

What’s your experience been like with the film industry?

Great. My first paid gig was on the series Backstrom, as a production assistant. Since then, I have worked in locations, as an Assistant Director and now in Health and Safety in television and big-budget movies and on independents as a producer, writer and production manager. Oh and of course as an actor.

How did you come to be part of the industry?

Strangely enough, I got my first job from a contact I made with someone I knew from the Langara Business Association (which I was Vice President of while at Langara). He gave me the number of someone he knew in film and I called him up and with a very minimal interview he hired me.

How have you been these last few months?

The last few months have been strange. I tried to do some more writing when I had time. I have been working 60+ hours a week since July so I have been lucky. But it’s strange that that is all I do now. Work and home.

You mentioned that you were part of the COVID-19 team in the film industry. Can you tell us more about it? What is role in the team?

Well, our TV show has an entire health and safety department now. We have a coordinator, Health and Safety Consultant, Health and Safety Compliance Officer, nurses, about eight civic monitors that monitor different zones, help with PPE, remind people to keep distance and wear their masks, help our nurses with wellness checks, making sure people are in the correct zones and then there is me. My job is a little more complex. I work on set with the cast and crew in many of the same aspects as the COVID-19 monitors, but I am also responsible for the “red zone,” the time when cast remove their masks for shooting. I supervise to make sure people who will be in the red zone with the unmasked cast are wearing proper PPE, no one goes in the red zone that shouldn’t, and that all red zone crew members properly drop off their PPE and sanitize after each set up. I also answer (or direct to the proper people) all questions and concerns on set that have to do with health and safety.

How has the film industry gotten back up and running?

Our show has been great. Most of the crew is happy to be working again and mostly compliant. And when they are not, it’s usually just forgetfulness as opposed to maliciousness. We are doing 10-11-hour camera days as opposed to 12-14 hours that this show use to do. We have to take things slower because when we are on a smaller set, less people can be in the space at a time, so only one or two departments can actually work at once.

I can’t speak for all shows though. I know a few people who are on shows that are running 15-hour camera days 6 days a week to try and get as much done before they potentially get shut down again.  And I am sure you have heard of some shows having COVID-19 outbreaks or the ones that were shut down because of the backlog of testing.

What kind of precautions has the industry taken against COVID-19?

Cleaning has increased significantly. We have three different cleaning teams in our studios and each department is responsible for cleaning all their gear. Hand sanitizer is everywhere. We also have portable sinks that were custom made for us. Eating is different. You can only eat in certain areas. The crew is broken up into different work areas to help prevent an outbreak and cross contamination from occurring if COVID-19 made its way onto the lot. And of course, COVID-19 testing.

Have you met any famous actors?

A few! Elijah wood is my favourite actor and was lucky enough to work with him on Dirk Gently a few years back. I also worked on both Deadpool movies. I’ve worked with Carrie Fisher, Luke Wilson, Rainne Wilson, Victor Garber, Wentworth Miller, Dennis Quaid and others I am sure….

Do you have a favourite memory of Langara as a student?

I used to organize the Langara Business Association’s annual holiday hangout, which was a fundraiser for the Langara hamper program. I forgot about all the volunteering I used to do while I was there! Organizing the hangout was always fun and the event itself was always a good time! 

What are some of the most practical things you learned in Film Arts?

Film Art was so much practical stuff. I had no idea how to make a movie before. Basic lighting concepts, blocking, and collaboration!

What has been your experience of being a Langara Film Arts grad out in the industry?

Langara film students are the best. My knowledge helped a lot, and the vast people I work with are LCFA grads.

What’s something you would tell someone considering film school and/or trying to decide if Film Arts at Langara is the right fit for them? 

Langara is awesome if you want to learn how to make films. It’s as simple as that. The people you work with will become your best friends and you creative partners and you’ll make great things after film school too.

What advice do you have to those who want to enter the film industry?

Join BCPAX Facebook page and be a Production Assistant. You’ll learn so much and find out where you want to go. And never volunteer as a PA. If you are a PA on an independent, you won’t learn anything. Let me rephrase that, only volunteer to PA on independent to be nice or so that person can owe you a favour. But PAing on an independent is so different than a real PA job that it’s not really a learning experience

How has the transition from Langara student to alumni been like for you?

I love being an alumna. I try to give my time back and I love working with other alumni. I produced a film in 2017 that had grads from 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 working on it.  I’ll sometimes ask Jonas for recommendations of people from the program for different jobs as well.

Do you have any tips for surviving and thriving in the age of COVID-19 (i.e. must watch TV, Netflix, or YouTube channels; interesting websites, blogs, or resources; personal care tips; etc.)

I have done a lot of reading, and a lot of crafts. I’ve also done hiking. The outdoors saved me.