Screen industry grapples with coronavirus pandemic as job losses mount

18 March, 2020 by Don Groves

The coronavirus pandemic is taking a heavy and growing toll on the screen industry, resulting in the postponement of numerous TV shows including the Seven Network’s Holey Moley and widespread job losses.

Many offices have closed so staff are working remotely and series that are still shooting have closed sets and reduced the number of extras.

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Filming of Fremantle/10’s Neighbours stopped today and will resume on Monday to give the creative team time to withstand any impact from COVID-19 by such means as using smaller crews and having less crossover between location and studio crews.

“The impact and devastation to the screen industry will be extreme, there is no doubt about it,” Fremantle CEO Chris Oliver-Taylor told IF today.

“Health comes first, then current productions and third the forward slate. Development continues and we are talking to networks internationally and locally about the forward slate.”

Bronte Pictures’ Blake Northfield, who has Tyson Johnston’s debut feature Streamline in post at The Post Lounge, says: “I feel absolutely horrible for all people within our industry without work right now.

“We really felt the impact on the release of Escape and Evasion, with absolutely nobody going to the cinemas. We have Wyrmwood: Apocalypse scheduled to go into production in July, so we are just monitoring the situation and hoping for the best.

“If we cannot go into production then, I fear for all cast, crew, service providers who are reliant on us and other production companies to be in production, to pay their bills.”

HLA Management’s Kate Richter observes: “The impact on individuals and productions and companies cannot be underestimated. Jobs are being cancelled every day. Many productions have shut down and I predict others will soon follow.

“Obviously no-one can predict how everything is going to pan out but I expect that pretty much all productions will suspend with immediate effect (if they haven’t already).

“How long that will last is impossible to tell. Some predictions are minimum of a month. We expect that most of these suspensions/hiatus will be unpaid.”

In a Facebook post Screenwest said drama production in Australia will be put on hold or be postponed for the foreseeable future, and projects that had been announced will complete their contracting and then be placed on hold until the situation changes.

Screenwest is discussing its factual projects with the producers, observing: “We are hopeful that a significant number can continue and maintain employment within the sector.

“Productions companies will not be shooting the projects they have been planning and crew members will not be working on productions they were anticipating. We are aware of crew who lost their jobs late last week, some yesterday and others today.”

The agency will re-prioritise available funds in response to the crisis and welcomes sector input on ways to re-purpose funding.

The Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS) has postponed its 2020 National Awards for Cinematography and associated events and during the health crisis has asked its branches not to hold any screenings, Q&As or other events.

“We are well aware that many of our members will be impacted and disadvantaged due to the restrictions and the downturn in productions and will offer any assistance that we can,” says ACS president Ron Johanson.

However some see reasons to be positive amid the gloom. “We are a creative industry and I think there is going to be some incredible innovation and invention over the coming months,” says Kriv Stenders, who is in post on the feature doc Brock, produced by WildBear Entertainment.

“I am looking at this as a good opportunity to continue development and to get things lined up and ready to go once things hopefully start to re-calibrate.”

For filmmaker Lee Matthews, it’s business as usual, meaning 10-hour days plus weekends spent developing small and big screen projects for little or no money.

“If I’m lucky and I do secure development funding from a screen agency, I might be able to draw $500 from the overall budget, for what’s usually months of part-time work per project,” Matthews says.

“I am working on about eight different projects in various stages of development, with writers and co-creators who are either also volunteering or that have received a few thousand via the support of an agency.”

For experienced writer and showrunner Blake Ayshford, life hasn’t changed much. “For me and many writers, financial and professional uncertainty is a constant issue,” he says.

“I spend lots of time alone, or at home, writing or in development. I feel for crew and cast though. It must be a source of great stress and worry. I’ve heard many rooms are now being done remotely. I haven’t had that experience but imagine it’s a creative way of keeping going. My thoughts are with those more directly threatened by the virus.”

Eureka Productions was forced to cease production in the US on Holey Moley, a game show set on a larger-than-life obstacle golf course with super-sized holes, after a crew member reported he had been in contact with someone who has since tested positive to COVID-19.

Fremantle and Foxtel have decided to extend the mid-season break on Wentworth from next Monday after completing filming of the first round of episodes. Shooting is due to resume in late April and season 8 is on track to premiere in June.

“The health, safety and well-being of our cast, crew and all involved in the production is our priority,” the two companies said.

Fremantle’s Farmer Wants a Wife is in post for Seven and production continues on LifeStyle’s Grand Designs Australia and the ABC’s Restoration Australia.

With Intent (formerly Breathless), a four-part thriller created by Neighbours executive producer Jason Herbison for Network 10 and the UK’s Channel 5, is four days into a 17-day shoot in Melbourne.

Directed by Scott Major, the miniseries stars Brett Tucker and former EastEnders star Charlie Brooks as a couple in the UK who seek a fresh start in Australia after infidelity threatens their marriage. They hire a nanny (Phoebe Roberts) who isn’t as innocent as she appears and there are deadly consequences.

New Zealand-based Roy Billing was forced to drop out and was replaced by Neil Melville.

Stenders is surely right when he concludes: “I believe all this will have a profound effect on the way the industry will operate in the future. Things certainly won’t be the same again on so many levels.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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