Kevin Whyte’s Token Group is weathering the pandemic thanks to its diversified businesses which encompass talent management, live touring, TV production and distribution.
“It will be a brutal two years but we will come through this; we have reserves to fall back on,” said Whyte, who founded the group nearly 30 years ago.
“I’m worried about where the young, entrepreneurial businesses will be coming out of this,” he told Screen Producers Australia CEO Matt Deaner in a webinar today. “They’re the ones that we will all have to look out for.”
During the pandemic the group’s Guesswork Television kept shooting The Weekly with Charlie Pickering for the ABC, which enabled the producers to experiment with new ideas.
Whyte tells IF he is figuring out the logistics of when and how to film the next series of the ABC’s Hard Quiz in Melbourne later this year.
Seeing one positive in the pandemic, he said: “We all have 12 months where we get points for trying. So now is the time to just fail your head off, fail yourself stupid. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth failing.”
The JobKeeper wage subsidy helped the group retain its 42 full-time employees and Whyte is keen to take advantage of the Federal Government’s $50 million Temporary Interruption Fund to cover the COVID-19 insurance risks.
He told Deaner he’s in the process of financing two shows, one to shoot in Tasmania, the other in NSW, with production scheduled for the first quarter of 2021. He did not name either but the Tasmanian location suggests another helping of Rosehaven.
The other may be a second season of Frayed, a co-production with the UK’s Merman Television, which the ABC had announced was in development.
Guesswork’s credits include stand-up comedy specials for Amazon Prime, Netflix’s Nanette, Get Krack!n and Please Like Me.
Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney are creating and will star in Slushy, a narrative radio comedy set in Antarctica, for Amazon’s Audible, while Guesswork MD Jon Casimir is developing a raft of TV projects.
Asked about the support measures for producers, Whyte said: “In my experience Screen Australia has been really responsive, open and positive in wanting to keep productions going.
“While many of us have been focused on keeping our heads above water over the last six months, there has been a lot of policy discussions in relation to the Offsets, the SVODs and local content quotas.
“We have to make sure that when we get to the other side there is demand for our content and to have all those fantastic Australian crews working on Australian IP.
“We need to attract money in so our writers and directors can stay here and work on globally-competitive terms.”
The lockdown forced the group to pull the plug on the Melbourne Comedy Festival a week and a half before it was due to kick off, refunding 40,000 tickets. The company swiftly pivoted by getting Stan to commission the Australian Lockdown Comedy Festival, a four-part series which featured six comedians performing stand-up spots in their homes.
“That created an immediacy between the artists and the director which we want to replicate in the future,” he said.