Covid-19: sector scrambles to make sense

Industry trembles on the edge of chaos as producers realise they have reached the end of the known world.

As productions like Clickbait and Elvis get the wobbles and stop, some producers are hoping this will last for a short time, like Wuhan, and they can restart. The majority of the advice, however, is that Covid-19 will peak around August. hoping to get going again quickly.

Either way, the immediate problem is caused by the same rules that everyone else is stuck with. Will we be seriously shut down as a society? Will schools shut? Can people move between countries? Can a production survive someone being tested?

There seems to be a general feel that shows which are hanging on just have a short delay and that nothing will move except dust motes in Australian studios pretty soon.

Shorn of the hope and distress, the industry specific problems are of three kinds:

1.  A lot of people are on thin incomes and need productions to build their warchests. They can be in trouble quickly.

2. A lot of businesses will run out of cash flow and will no longer be able to support their outgoings. 

Both of these add up to problems common to the whole society.

But there is also this:

3. Insurance.

Independent productions, mostly in the film area, are protected by completion guarantors. Insurance contracts are unique to each deal, but some current shows will not be protected. Once they stop, everyone is in bad trouble. How can they satisfy their contractual requirements?

Just as bad is the fact that productions which are largely or completely financed will not be insured. The banks and sales agents etc won’t deal with them without a completion guarantor who will protect them against the risk of pestilence. 

The studios and broadcasters are bonding their own shows so at least the risk is being defrayed off to larger companies. Then again, Netflix has shut down a series so no-one is immune. 

Adrianne Pecotic from Independent Cinemas Australia sent this salutory email: 

Exhibitors are facing turbulent times alongside everyone in our community.

Our first concern is for the health of our patrons and staff. ICA is also working hard to ensure support is available so that regional towns especially still have a local cinema providing a valued social and cultural service when the crisis is over.

Regional communities have fewer resources than our big cities and more than 60% of independent cinemas are located in our regional areas employing local people, many still reeling from the Summer’s fires.

And from the Documentary Australia Foundation

Whilst we need to remain physically distant to stem the spread of the virus, we need to continue to be socially connected more than ever. To this aim, we will share stories, playlists of documentaries that can be streamed, educational tools that can be accessed, and inspiring stories of community care and leadership.

The arts sector will take a huge hit and we need stories, music, laughter and connection more than ever, so now is the time to support the beautiful sector you all love so much. Jump onto What’s Your Issue and tell us and support what you care about.

While the NFSA shows us what happens to institutions.

As a precautionary measure during the Covid-19 pandemic we have made the decision to cancel our education programs from today, as well as our on-site screenings, exhibitions and special events from 4pm Wednesday 18 March until 30 April 2020.

Our building will not be open to the public during this period. The NFSA is taking this decision to help safeguard the health and safety of visitors and staff, as well as the broader community.

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.