Resilience under adversity: How the screen industry copes with the pandemic
Two weeks ago Jub Clerc was scheduled to go into a writers’ room on the webseries Shady Ladeez in the remote community of Ngukurr in East Arnhem Land.
But knowing that the elderly and people with pre-disposed illnesses – “all my mob” – are most vulnerable to the coronavirus, the filmmaker cancelled the trip and instead took part via Skype for a much lower fee.
Two days later she got an email from Bunya Productions advising the inaugural Bunya Talent Indigenous Hub in Los Angeles, to which she and 12 other Indigenous practitioners had been invited, had been postponed.
“The opportunity to pitch a feature film idea to Netflix was super exciting but my decision to cancel on Ngukurr made it an easier pill to swallow,” Clerc, who made her TV directing debut on season 2 of the ABC’s The Heights, she tells IF.
“I feel like one of the lucky ones though. As writer and director, I work from home 90 per cent of the time. I’ve been self-isolating for 15 years and my husband is an introvert.
“I don’t know what I’ll do if the film industry closes down for a year or more, but I’m a blackfulla and the land has always looked after us.
“I know how to survive and I think that lawn looks like a mighty fine space for a veggie patch. I’ll plant a couple of paper bark trees in the back yard as well.”
Clerc typifies the stoic attitude of many of her peers as multiple productions are postponed and job losses among cast and crew mount.
So does freelance writer Kodie Bedford, who is accustomed to uncertainty over jobs and has overcome lulls when she struggled to pay the rent.
This week Bedford lost a gig due to precautions taken by the production house. “I’ll be using this time to work on my own projects and catch up on a lot of TV series and films,” says Kodie, whose credits include Mystery Road, Blood Sisters, Grace Beside Me and Robbie Hood.
Bedford adds: “I’m really feeling for the theatre, TV and film producers who have had to make very hard decisions and the casual workers affected by these decisions. The arts community has always been so supportive of each other and I’m already seeing creative ways of supporting artists out there.
“I have had a few people check in with me and see if I’m okay and it makes realise that we’re a pretty resilient community.”
Writer-director Miley Tunnecliffe is in self-quarantine after returning last Sunday from the US, where numerous meetings which her reps had arranged were cancelled as studios and production companies closed doors and workers were told to work from home.
“This means six months of my work has been put on hold, indefinitely, but this is happening to creators across the board,” says Miley, whose credits include The Heights, Flying Bark’s ABC animated series 100% Wolf: Blood Moon Rising plus Molly and Cara for SBS and the drama short In Australia, which she wrote and directed.
“The biggest thing at the moment is the anxiety of where the pay check is coming from and how this work stoppage will affect our already fragile industry in Australia,” she says.
“I’m choosing to remain positive and trust that it will work out. But that uncertainty, as everyone in every industry affected must be feeling, is incredibly stressful.”
Produced by Emilia Jolakoska and executive produced by Ben Young and Rikki Lea Bestall, In Australia follows Karin Kowi as a victim of domestic violence who makes her escape, only to find the outside world is just as dangerous.
Tim Lee is among many writers who are developing projects via Skype or Zoom instead of face-to-face. “For a local industry already punch drunk from overwhelming change and uncertainty, COVID-19 is a big kick in the balls,” says Lee, who has written for Mystery Road, The Unlisted and Doctor Doctor.
“I hope the government will extend financial relief to everyone involved in production – so businesses and individuals can survive until we’re through the other side. Once we’re through, I hope the government helps us get back on our feet.
“Forcing the streaming services to start supporting our industry instead of plundering it would be a great place to start. I do look forward to seeing what new and different creative works come out the other side of this crisis.”
Composer Caitlin Yeo has opted to stay at home this week with her teenage son, who is asthmatic, and cancelled the recording sessions she had scheduled. She will reassess the situation over the weekend and may decide to move her studio to her home.
“So many musicians have lost gigs, so many have felt the impact, and so many have suddenly lost all their income for the next six months,” she says.
“I have already heard of musicians starting to sell their instruments so they can survive. Thankfully #Ilostmygig (https://ilostmygig.net.au/) has been set up to hopefully help many of these musicians survive. ”
As for Clerc, she continues to develop her debut feature, Sweet As, with Arenamedia’s Liz Kearney, supported by Screen Australia.
“It is beyond all of our control and I can only hold onto the sweet word of postponement and not cancelation,” she says. “We are healthy but we understand the need to protect those who are not. My heart goes out to those who will find the task of self-isolating financially impossible.”