When the pandemic brought film production grinding to a halt in early 2020, many businesses like Polish production company Graffiti Film faced a potentially existential threat. They had to innovate drastically different working practices to adhere to social distancing regulations in order to stop the spread of coronavirus, but for many projects that standard of production that allowed for wasn't up to scratch. Understandably, Graffiti Film rushed to get back to pre-pandemic production as soon as it was permitted, like so many production companies.
Unfortunately, the company paid the price. It took several months, but eventually Covid hit the team there, infecting 10 people there. And it hit them much harder than CEO Szymon Gruszecki expected. Ever since, he’s been trying to drive home the importance of taking Covid-19 seriously within the advertising community.
LBB’s Alex Reeves spoke to him about his experiences and his message.
LBB> How did you respond to the pandemic as a company when it first hit in early 2020?
Szymon> Last May we decided that we were not going to work online. We tried to do that and we realised when you do film production or photo session production and there's immediate decisions to be taken, and group energy is a very powerful process, it does not work for us. We tried and we realised that we had problems dealing with even small projects, and we said as soon as the lockdown is over, we're back in office. Since the end of May last year, we were all here coming to the office every day working on set every day. Of course we were trying to obey all the rules, especially on set, everybody got tested, wore masks and practiced disinfection and all that. But here in the office it was a matter of time that we got sick. It was kind of our decision. And now, I'm really debating whether I should regret that decision because the sickness was so bad.
LBB> When did you catch Covid and how did it affect the team at Graffiti Film?
Szymon> We got sick in our office with Covid at the beginning of February. And we really took it badly. It didn't go down nice and easy. It was probably the worst thing I've ever been sick with. It took me 10 days of a really bad struggle alone, because I was isolated in an apartment. And when I got back to the office, I realised that we had 10 people sick, and two people went home and got their spouses sick. That sample of 10 people aged from 25 to 45, men and women.
Getting sick is a really bad thing - much worse than people say. There's this tendency to downplay the sickness. Everybody's saying it's flu-like symptoms and they're going to last for three days and you're going to be OK. Nobody out of 10 people sick at Graffiti felt like that. We came back two weeks later, and we were like, "Whoa, what the fuck just hit us? This was hardcore. Oh my God."
LBB> What concerned you the most what happened to your team as a result?
Szymon> We all started to feel repercussions. That was something very alarming. I've noticed that people reported feeling depressed. There were people who had breathing problems. One of us still fights an ongoing battle with coughing - she's coughed for three months already. I lost sleep. I slept like a baby in every possible environment; now I can’t sleep without pills.
LBB> What do you think has exacerbated the problem?
Szymon> In Warsaw, the majority of the workforce is made up of people who come from outside, so they don't have any family support. They come, rent an apartment to get a good job, good pay, but they don't have their mother or father or family around. So, there's a bunch of people who are struggling alone and they can't get any support.
They're not going to go to their boss and say they can't sleep because they're going to feel less useful to the company. When people are working online and they get sick, there's no way to connect to your employees in a way that you would feel that there's something wrong with them. There's a tendency that people, especially in hard times, are trying to be braver and tougher and stay useful. So people are not really saying what's going on with them. And if they're experiencing trouble or problems but not willing to share with anybody, that's a pretty dangerous situation. You're going to have people who are fighting depression or an ongoing heart problem or breathing problem, and they're not letting anybody know that they need help.
This is an international problem. People staying at home, getting sick and trying to pretend that everything is OK. It's hard to admit that there's something bad going on and take care of it.
LBB> You’re campaigning for people in the advertising community to take Covid more seriously. What steps are you encouraging them to take?
Szymon> We've started campaigning for awareness in our advertising community, telling people to be careful to watch out for each other and for business owners to feel responsible for their workers.
If you've not been sick, get vaccinated. Don't get sick. Take it easy. Take care of yourself, wear the mask, do all the things that will keep you safe.
If you’ve had Covid, go talk to a doctor, get your basic evaluation, get your blood tested, your heart, your lungs tested to begin with. And if you feel a little depressed, don't underestimate it. Don't say it's because you've been sitting at home in front of the computer for a year and a half. If you went through Covid, it might be much more physical than you might think.
For agency owners and production house owners, you are responsible for people who are sitting at home. Have a conversation with them, buy them a medical check-up, send them to a doctor, make sure they're OK, because the repercussions of Covid are there, and they're not obvious - they're sometimes from different regions of your body, whether it's brain, the breathing system or vascular system.