Written by Shona Smith on Mar 12, 2020. Posted in General Interest

Coronavirus pandemic affects productions

The spread of coronavirus is affecting every facet of the creative industries.

A rapidly evolving situation is seeing new measures put in place daily by global governments, such as Donald Trump’s decision last night to prohibit travel from Europe to the US. These are directly impacting current productions and the crew members working on them.

Productions have been putting in measures to mitigate impact, such as providing gloves, hand gel and extra handwashing facilities, as well as charting recent travel history of crew and cast involved on productions.

Production schedules are being cut short and changed. Mission Impossible was one of the first Hollywood shoots to cancel production in Venice in late February citing “an abundance of caution for the safety and well-being of our cast and crew, and the efforts of the local Venetian government to halt public gatherings”. On March 11, Marvels' The Falcon and the Winter Soldier wrapped filming in Prague early as the government closed all schools in an effort to protect students.

Meanwhile, Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson have just been diagnosed with coronavirus while in Australia for the filming of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley film, in which Hanks plays Colonel Tom Parker.

Production of Riverdale has also been suspended after a member of the production came into contact with someone who recently tested positive.

The situation is rapidly evolving, recently being declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. If a territory was open to productions at the beginning of the shoot, countries placing lock-downs can leave crews stranded in foreign territories or unable to work due to quarantine for two-weeks. Not only does this slow production but it also pushes up expenses.

Interruption, delays and rescheduling seem to be the overwhelming effect of coronavirus. Pippa Bhatt, founding partner of MADAM Films, a UK based production service company whose client base is 90% international says, “everyday you just don’t know what is going to happen. Everyone is carrying on as normal, until someone says it can’t happen. There is still a lot of preliminary work being done and then paused to be picked up at a later date in the majority of cases”.

However, some productions have been able to go ahead by using creative solutions permitted by technology. Michael Moffett, founder of Production Service Network (PSN) whose partners are located across the world notes that “travel restrictions created an actual need for our PSN China team to provide solutions for a TVC shoot that wrapped just in early March. The Chinese brand and agency were unable to travel to New Zealand, so PSN China employed its own live-stream system to overcome poor image quality and latency experienced on previous generation technologies. At user-friendly costs, this live-stream connected professional-grade video to all devices in near real time”. Traveling was restricted to one EP from Malaysia and a Director from Japan while the brand team and agency watched from home. “The company has also employed sophisticated “virtual presence” solutions such as robotically-mobile HD camera with pan, tilt and zoom or Qtake Monitor that pushes browsing, playback and collaborative metadata editing to the cloud, to facilitate remote direction and meet client demands on feature film productions”.

Hase Hiroyuki of Japan’s Plus B Film Productions notes that “people are not going to be able to travel so much to film, which is a great thing because we often have people fly all the way out here with a cameraman, a producer and actually we have people here who can do the job - we don’t need anyone to come. We can make use of local talent”.

Bhatt echoes this sentiment, saying “from a sustainable production perspective, there is a real argument for that and a lot of people are starting that journey now. This is the year that we want to be working towards carbon neutral productions. Wouldn’t it be great if the rest of the advertising industry started to put plans in place where you are not flying personnel, using local directors and DPs where your shoots are. There’s a real argument for that.”

For feature film and TV, where pre-production and shoots are usually much lengthier than commercial shoots, productions are looking to shoot less internationally, and keep productions in the filming hubs.

UK based location manager Harriet Lawrence noted, “several commercials have cancelled at short notice and a couple of the bigger studio pictures have cancelled shoots abroad. But that's worked in the UK favour, as they are now looking to shoot here”.

With the production industry made up of freelance crew members and small production companies, the economic impact of a slow-down in productions is very real. The UK government addressed concerns as part of its annual budget yesterday, with a GBP30 billion coronavirus package that makes in-work benefits easier to access. Those who get ill will be able to claim from day one, instead of day eight in an effort to encourage people to self-isolate from the onset of even minor symptoms. Moreover, business interruption loan scheme for banks will offer loans of up to GBP1.2 million to support small and medium-sized businesses.

Coronavirus is likely to keep impacting productions over coming months, and if travel bans continue to be put in place international productions will be impeded further. However, content is still being created and creatives are getting savvy to make sure this continues. Bhatt recommends, "always talk to your production companies because they are the problem solvers in production when things aren’t quite moving at the direction you had planned. Commercial producers and production companies are the problem solvers so they know how to come up with creative solutions". Moreover, the questions raised and solutions applied to ensure continuing production in the face of a global crises is something that the industry will benefit from long after the threat of coronavirus declines.

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