Global screen industry grinds back into gear

Big gestures are being made around the world to get the studios humming but what how is the rest of the world re-starting studios and productions. This may well be a triumph of hope over common sense.

In Australia, producers now have the basic agreement from the government to guarantee insurance against COVID-19, and most states are walking back from complete restrictions. Barring a second wave, the environment is encouraging.

Around the world, most countries have worked out a fairly common set of regulations to protect crews and performers. 

The US has also been hit by rising numbers of cases, often in fair weather Southern states which provide production subsidies. Georgia is going full tilt towards starting as studios make architectural modifications to get working, like purging handles on doors and buying touchless bathroom facilities. Companies are contracting biosecurity outfits to work onsite. One company is building a COVID-safe 800,000 square feet studio from scratch. In both these solutions, producers will be able to ingest entire crews and cast then keep them in an isolated production fortress for the whole shoot.

The general impression here is that the Americans are employing their D-Day approach. Wait a while, create an enormous machine and then unleash the lot in an unstoppable wave. By 2021 it will all be a distant memory.

In Toronto, the crews were back in action as of June 12 but the city has only issued permits for small productions so far. The Americans expect no large shows until the beginning of September; they can get visas but have to self-isolate for two weeks. Domestic television will be shooting from August 1, although costs are tipped to rise by 15%.

The Canadian recovery is a state-by-state responsibility, with Vancouver back in early, August and Manitoba and Alberta getting ready to come out of the winter cave. They all put cross-border crew into quarantine for two weeks which is considered to be very annoying.

In New York, Deadline has established that Anne del Castillo, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, is expecting a small scale reopening in August. Very small productions like commercials with less than ten people are already shooting on the streets, overseen by the NYPD Movie TV Unit.

The NBCUniversal lot in Hollywood has run elaborate rehearsals to work through the new systems, though most of the 10,000 staff are staying remote. The lot is big enough to deal with its own shortages by manufacturing masks and sanitising fluid.

Vice published a thorough and thoroughly alarming account of the state of play. It details the elaborate three-zone system by which US crews will work, and emphasises the impact of the extra costs. In theory the big productions can roll, but costs are prohibitive for smaller shows. We can’t be remotely sure that the epidemic is under control even in screen-friendly cities, and workers may decide that the systems are still not safe enough to work in. Don’t forget that a lot of key crew are on the upper side of fifty years old.

In the UK, the big studios have been able to operate from the end of May, though it has taken until now for the locations to be ready for cameras and actors. Sweetly lined up to keep it happening, the UK Government has just announced that the sector can work with overseas cast and crew as long as they live in a bubble around the production and obey the cleanliness rules. This is not a sleazy piece of hope: Adrian Wootton, the CEO of the British Film Commission is skipping with glee. 

By October, Netflix’s own purpose-built studio in the UK will be open for business as well. Over the next while, the big productions will go wherever they can find capacity, which looks like the real limiting factor. 

David Tiley was the Editor of Screenhub from 2005 until he became Content Lead for Film in 2021 with a special interest in policy. He is a writer in screen media with a long career in educational programs, documentary, and government funding, with a side order in script editing. He values curiosity, humour and objectivity in support of Australian visions and the art of storytelling.