With productions taking place across the UK, the need for accurate on location testing for COVID is now part of any production. We sat down (virtually) with Richard Owers who setup a rapid testing company for productions and events and discussed how testing works and what systems are available.
Who are you?
I am Richard Owers, I’m 44 and a Freelance Production Manager.
Where are you based?
I am based in Colchester, Essex, happy to work anywhere in the world and have been very lucky to work on a lot of international projects in my freelance career.
What’s your company and how did it come about?
My company is named after me, as I couldn’t come up with anything clever like the advert agencies. Richard Owers Ltd sells me and a network of production specialists I work with.
I began work in 1993 with a local Sound company In Colchester, while on a day release to the City of Westminster College.
After two years with them, I moved to a local production company and worked with them for 6 years, learning all about the corporate production world, moving my way up the company. From a YTS scheme trainee, through all of the different production disciplines to Senior Production Manager.
I left the production company in September 2001 to become freelance and soon found out that this was the life for me.
I loved working through a number of different disciplines in my early freelance life and I have found my knowledge of the various production disciplines very helpful in being a Production Manager, I have a deep understanding of where everyone is coming from when there is a problem.
I love the challenge of a new project, fixing it and then moving on to the next one.
What do you do?
I am a production manager, so I manage any form of production, this could be as a production fixer, production scheduler, production budgeter, technical coordinator, supplier collaborator, staff manager, project manager, ego massager.
I have been working in Live Events, Society Parties, Sporting Events, TV, DVD Captures, Films, Concerts and Corporate Events since 1993.
That was going great till the Covid-19 set in and the brakes to events was applied, work projects were very few a far between.
I got asked to production manage Katherine Jenkins – Christmas at the Albert Hall in October and as this was to be filmed during a lock down, the artists team asked us to find a company to cover the testing side for the crew and their team.
We found TAC Healthcare, who’s main business is the offshore industry, to come to London and look after testing. Following this project I partnered up with TAC Healthcare, they are a full private medical company based in Aberdeen with a huge resource all over the UK.
I have been introducing TAC to the entertainment industry to help try and get our us all back to work.
How does it work?
TAC Healthcare can provide all types of tests available, they are UKAS stage two registered and have private medical practices and a laboratory in Aberdeen.
Richard Owers Ltd is the booking service for the entertainment industry side of their business, as TAC’s core source of work is looking after the offshore industry.
For the offshore projects, TAC have to provide a network of test machines and testing staff all over the UK and so we saw that this network could be valuable to productions.
Once you book a test team, we send you documents and permission forms for your crew in advance of the testing.
On the day of testing we will set up three spaces, a holding area pre-test, a testing space and a post-test waiting area for your results. This can be in a number of different formats, agreed in advance with the production team.
Once test results are returned and ok, your crew can continue to the production location or studio, we like to set up testing, so no one has access to site till they have been through the process.
What are the different sorts of testing?
There is a range of tests available in the market place and each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
It’s an ever changing thing, which is wonderful, as science is working out how to get us out of this mess, but also very confusing.
It’s always best to chat about the production and run through best options available at the current time.
Types of test:
PCR tests – 99% accurate and can detect Covid earlier than Lateral flow testing.
This test is currently the only one you get a fit to fly certificate and the gold standard of tests.
PCR is available as a self-swab postal test, Postal PCR (Lab based PCR) is a 12 -24 hour return test, once received at the lab. (sometime quicker depending on work flow) Postal PCR is not available as Fit to Fly as you and not a medical professional are administering the swab.
TAC can provide mobile Vita PCR Machines, these are called point of care PCR Testing (bringing it to your site) they are a 20 minute return test and each machine can produce 8 tests an hour.
Mobile PCR Machines need a Lab technician to run them, as well as the Nurse for Swabbing, so costs can mount up.
Lumira DX – an antigen test that is 98% Accurate
Test results return in 12 minutes – Lots of TV and film people using this when A list stars are on location. Schedule is adjusted for arrival as two machines test 8 people and hour.
A TAC nurse comes with two machines that will test up to 8 people and hour. Production schedule is adjusted for arrival and load in to accommodate this.
Lateral flow test – also an antigen test but only 50% – 75% accurate, this is a cassette test like a pregnancy test.
Test results in 10 – 15 minutes depending on cassette used.
This is the cheapest test on the market, the accuracy is much lower than PCR and Lumira DX, so is reflected in the cost.
This test can only detect the virus when high viral loading is reached on around day four onwards.
These tests are appearing everywhere and the media are calling the rapid tests.
The big thing is the supply company should be UKAS registered and reporting to DHSC and UKAS all test results.
I have had all sorts of companies trying to sell me these, a few not even medical companies .
Triple Anti Body tests – This is also cassette test, like a pregnancy test.
Completely the wrong test for what a production will need.
This test may tell you if someone has or has had an infection, however it doesn’t tell you if you have the virus at the moment and more importantly whether you are infective.
These cheap tests have serious limitations:
Only 4-6% of population have antibodies.
Having antibodies doesn’t guarantee immunity – a number of reports of second infections
Many people who have had infection don’t develop antibodies (up to 40%)
It’s about a week after you have been infected before you develop antibodies and you are probably most infective at 4-5 days
Antibody tests are no good for screening for your production.
A technical and clinical evaluation has confirmed OptiGene RT-LAMP tests to be accurate and sensitive enough to be used for COVID-19 testing.
The OptiGene RT-LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) test was found to have good sensitivity and unlike PCR tests, LAMP tests do not require sequential changes of temperature and so can turnaround test results more rapidly.
OptiGene RT-LAMP tests have been used to test some NHS staff and in asymptomatic testing pilots in Southampton, including at the University of Southampton which has seen 55,000 people tested.
This technology is a few weeks away yet, as supply chain is still in its infancy, but looks super promising.
For film production we have a brand new machine that can be 96 well PCR or if we change the head, can be 384 Well PCR. This produces test results in 30 minutes.
A saliva sample is taken, so no need for nurses and is non-invasive to your team.
These PCR Rapid test rigs are available now and will be used on a feature film in docklands in the next few weeks.
This test will bring the cost of PCR down, speed up PCR testing and raise the standards of onsite testing in the UK, no other company has this technology.
What’s the benefit of using your company?
TAC Healthcare have a huge resource of testing machines and staff all over the UK, under the guidance of production staff from Richard Owers Ltd, our team act as the conduit between medical and production, ensuring a smooth process throughout.
TAC are already supplying six studios, various adverts and corporate meetings. For Studios we have trained the internal staff to assist, monitor and report the Lateral flow testing, so a nurse doesn’t have to be present every time and this is proving a popular option for more permanent set ups.
Bringing the testing closer to the production and increasing speed of results means it does adds up, but if it saves the production from a shut down, then maybe it’s not that expensive?
Anything else you’d like to add?
I am trying to help get the whole industry to return to full working order, so I am looking to find new ways to help with this, it changes every week.
Hopefully we can get bigger amounts of people testing by finding new technology, that can produce high volume, low cost, high accuracy testing and get everything back from cinema to big events.