Written by Shona Smith on Mar 20, 2020. Posted in General Interest

Coronavirus: Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

The coronavirus pandemic is now truly a global issue, with cases across the US and Europe spiking.

For the production industry, it’s led to a dramatic collapse in work. Shoots have been put on hold throughout the world, from big Hollywood projects such as Baz Luhrmann untitled “Elvis” movie through to ongoing series like Stranger Things. About 120,000 film industry workers have already lost their jobs in Hollywood alone, according to the US entertainment industry union IATSE.

Founder and president of Global Production Network, Harry Tracosas has seen the situation unfold across the globe and summarises that in recent weeks his partners “have lost 10 projects over the past 10 days internationally”. Now, the big question for many within the industry is how long business is going to be affected for.

The UK government says 'we can turn the tide in 12 weeks', but only if everyone, including the production community, adheres to the necessary measures which limit and prohibit shoots.

As Tracosas puts it, "the sooner we gain control of the situation the sooner we will all be able to get back to work".

Across Asia, production companies were “feeling the pinch, just by proximity to infected countries” since the start of the year. Tracosas pinpoints “when Adfest was cancelled, that was beginning of it affecting the Asian industry”. Since then, SXSW, MipTV, The Cannes Lions, NAB and many more international festivals have been cancelled, postponed or moved to virtual online forums.

Just yesterday, Cannes Film announced it would postpone. The festival says it will monitor the situation in France and internationally “in accordance with our ongoing consultation with the French Government and Cannes City Hall” but has set new prospective dates for late June or early July.

To many the news provides a sense that there is a light at the end of the tunnel in the midst of such upheaval.

Another glimmer of hope is that China has reported no new cases of coronavirus for the first time since the start of the outbreak.

In some of the regions first affected, producers have started to see a rebound, as brands and agencies are working to get projects off the ground.

Maria Laletina, founder and CEO of SHP, a rep agency working with major production houses and advertising agencies in China and the surrounding region is positive about China’s recovery and notes that studios are once again open and are projects beginning to be storyboarded. On location shoots are somewhat more restricted, but the industry are gearing up to produce content once again.

Peter Grasse, of Mr+Positive, who works in Japan, where the first case of coronavirus outside of China was found says spring is in the air. "The Cherry Blossoms are budding and will be in full bloom within a fortnight. The industry, the free-lancers, the crew; all want to get back to work, and I’m happy to say they can. Mr+ is prepping for a job to shoot next week and will do one hell of a wrap-party as soon as we’re able”.  

Nick Dodet of P.I.G agrees saying “clients are itching to produce content! They have new products coming out, and they need consumers to be aware of it. There is quite a bit of activity in China at the moment, which unfortunately can not always be met due to the situation on the ground. But I notice a much more horizontal way of working with clients and agencies. Everyone knows we are in this together, so everyone is trying to find solutions to make things work”.

The region is on the rebound, having already learnt from the issues that much of the screen industry around the world are just beginning to experience.

Just as the scientific community are learning from those countries that have effectively dealt Coronavirus, those in the film, TV and advertising industry can better anticipate and prepare for the next few months, as well as an eventual rebound in production activity.

Dodet recalls that in late January and early February the industry came to a standstill. "All businesses had to remain shut, so most advertisers went into hibernation mode. Little by little, companies started working remotely, thanks to communication tools such as Zoom, and we started seeing a bit more activity”. Recently, he explains, shoots have slowly resumed in mainland China. These are mostly in studios, under strict hygiene rules, and very few are taking place on location. “But things are definitely on the upswing”, says Dodet, although authorities are very careful about fully resuming public events and shoots.

One thing that facilities and companies can proactively develop during downtime are systems for hygiene and sanitation which go beyond usual protocol. Not only will these systems allow shoots to resume at a quicker pace, but they will also help to alleviate the concerns of individuals working in these environments.

Peter Grasse, was gearing up to produce content for the upcoming Olympics. “Mr+ began 2020 with a bang. We had been juggling multiple productions when the first case came to Japan. February was fully booked with many March plates still spinning. Then,  one by one, they, slowed, stopped, and fell. What differs from other markets is that these were the Olympic jobs. The ones we had been waiting a lifetime to produce. If they don’t restart or return, we will have lost millions resulting from something beyond our control”. 

It is certain that much will have changed in the next few months, but the message from those who have already experienced and adapted to the new reality is that the screen industries' fundamental creativity, purpose and community will return bolder than ever.

Instead of chasing the lost work, Grasse says “we put our positive energy into bettering the work that Mr+ was already engaged in producing”. Grasse adds: “Honestly, when you slow down just a little bit, you realise all the work that still needs to be done. You catch the little things that make productions really special, and that you might have missed at full steam. Mr+ added value to an underfunded music video that deserved our “love and attention. And, we edited stories of past-projects we’d been too busy to tell the world about”. 

Dodet has some advice too; “Keep positive! Communicate with your team at all times. Even if work is completely off have daily or weekly video-conferencing. Share experiences, support each other. It’s a great time to analyse what could be improved within the company. Make yourself as small as possible when it comes to expenses. And tell yourself that it is an attrition battle. It will pass, and the more everyone does his/her part in not spreading the virus, the faster things will come back to normal”.

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