A Day in the Life of a CCO
“What is a CCO?” I’d be asked that questions countless times while I worked on various television sets throughout the pandemic (and to this day). Most of the production staff just referred to us as “the COVID guys” or “the mask police,” but the correct term is COVID Compliance Officer. This role didn’t exist until the beginning of the pandemic, but now seems to be inseparable from both big and small productions alike. In a nutshell, the CCO is the bridge between written health guidelines and the people they’re meant to protect, much like a health inspector or a fire marshal. In the case of a CCO, it is specifically about COVID-19. When the pandemic started, the film industry was hit pretty hard, and production after production was being shut down due to COVID outbreaks. In order to keep productions open and ensure safety for the staff, they had to work out an agreement that would allow everyone to return to work in a safe manner. However, even if everyone in all the unions agreed to this, there was no real way of getting them to abide by those rules, hence why they brought in CCOs to fulfill this role. And I have to say, they were right to do so. Because when the pandemic was at its worst point, we didn’t have protection in the form of vaccines and people failed to follow the rules.
“So, what is it you guys do?” This is another question I would be asked while walking around with my mask, face shield, and earpiece, patrolling the set/lot. On the surface, our job looks pretty simple: we’re there to enforce mask wearing and social distancing policies. However, there are a variety of other tasks that CCOs take on, depending on the production.
Here is an example. When I start my day, the first thing I do is open my Google Maps app and punch in whatever location I’ve been provided. As a CCO, before you can do your job, you have to find where you’re supposed to be. In many ways, it feels like an adventure, because the productions often give us the bare minimum information when it comes to locations. You’re given an address, a production name, and the rest is up to you. I’ve been sent out to the mountains on unmarked roads, to quarries out in the desert, and to factories on the not-so-great side of town, before the sun had even come up. But no matter how confusing, I always managed to find where I needed to be, through a mixture of common sense and intuition. After I arrive at the location, my next goal is simple: find the film crew. If a CCO was a shepherd, then your crew is your flock, and you have to find them if you’re to do your job. In many cases, you might be somewhere that has multiple productions going on simultaneously, all very close to one another. So, what do you do then? Well, you have to go around and find your production and stick with them. After that, I like to start my day off by saying hi to everyone, introducing myself, and asking them what they’re doing for the day. Information gathering is probably one of the most important things when it comes to being a CCO. If there’s filming, you need to know where filming is taking place, what scenes are being shot, and who will be involved. Much of this comes by keeping your ears sharp and listening to the communication on the walkie talkie. If working a prep or strike, you need to know when and where everything is taking place. I’ve worked jobs where the crew worked in 3 different places, all in the same day and I had to follow them around to each new site. Once all that is out of the way, you can focus on monitoring your crew and making sure everyone’s following the safety guidelines set in place. Many productions will also have the CCO handle masks or face shields for members of the main cast. In between scenes, you’ll swoop in, collect their masks, and hand it back to them when they’re done. The CCO may also need to keep an eye on background actors and make sure they put their masks on in between takes, all the while, still keeping an eye on the crew. The first hour of a shift is the most important, because that is where you set the tone for the rest of the day. And that couldn’t be more correct. No matter what your task for the day is, it’s important to start off strong and let everyone know you take it seriously, that way they will too.
With these things taken into consideration, being a CCO can seem a bit overwhelming, especially for someone who’s never worked in the film industry before. There are a multitude of other tasks that can vary from show to show. Our responsibilities shrink and expand, depending on production, but at the core, they’re all meant to keep everyone safe. There’s a lot of information to take in, and a great deal of self-reliance required, but as long as one brings a good attitude and work ethic with them, they’ll be well-received by any production they work with. Through all the chaos that comes naturally with the entertainment industry, there’s still a lot of fun to be had. As a CCO, you’ll meet a lot of interesting people, travel to unique locations, and of course enjoy gourmet meals provided by production. Many productions even go so far as to give us gifts when they finish filming for the year. For me personally, it’s been the perfect job for someone who loves being close to anything film-related. But for those who aren’t film buffs, they may find themselves enthralled by a new and exciting environment.