TV Writer Molly Schoenfeld reports on how Britain’s TV and Film industries have been given the go-ahead but may be limited by the new COVID-19 guidelines
‘You must be two metres apart’, a producer of Love Island will yell as a couple climb into the villa pool for a swim. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has announced that TV and film production in the UK (which has been suspended since 23rd March) can resume if official guidelines, involving social distancing measures, are followed. This news arrives with the government’s recent relaxation of lockdown restrictions which allows those who cannot work from home to go to work. Although a commencement of filming is certainly needed to keep the TV and film industry alive, there are numerous problems associated with immediately restarting production in the current situation which may prove disastrous for production companies.
In accordance with government advice, the British Film Commission has been drafting guidelines, named the Film and TV Production Codes of Practice, to be followed by production companies. These guidelines are yet to be released, but have been predicted to demand the presence of a COVID-19 supervisor on set, thorough cleaning of areas in use, regular health examinations of staff, certain body positions to be taken by actors if social distancing is not possible during filming (just try to imagine Bella and Edward in Twilight whispering sweet nothings to each other back to back) and much more.
The TV and film industry has been facing a plethora of difficulties owing to this pandemic. Whilst viewing figures for TV channels have dramatically increased due to families turning to the television during the lockdown, channels are still struggling to make money. There are very few advertisements to be shown on TV channels since businesses have cut marketing budgets in order to cope with other financial difficulties. It has been reported that British TV advertising will be down 40% between March and June. As a result, Channel 4 has already cut its programme budget by a quarter. Furthermore, the cancellation of film releases and film production has had dire effects. The UK cinema industry is possibly going to lose £400m in ticket sales. Whilst the ongoing relaxation of lockdown will eventually allow the reopening of cinemas, it could be a long time before people are comfortable entering enclosed cinema theatres.
Whilst it may seem as though the resuming of TV and film production will immediately kick-start the entertainment industry, matters are more complex. Firstly, there are issues with insurance. Producer Andrew Eaton has said that there could be major consequences if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 on set and the production company is not properly covered. Furthermore, the current travel restrictions could cause logistical nightmares, especially when overseas talent is being sourced or filming is on location abroad. Producer Sam Breckman said that ‘Talent and those representing them will also be concerned about contracting the virus. You have to protect your talent’, which could create astronomical insurance costs for production companies.
This means there will be cash-flow problems for many production companies which could lead to the cutting of jobs and fewer films and TV programmes being made. Many in the entertainment industry are freelance workers whose annual income will vary year-on-year. As a result, they may already be receiving very little money under the government wage scheme for the self-employed.
Even with people desperate to restart work, there are going to be practical issues on set. Filming naturally requires close proximity between crew members, whether it be in hair and make-up, catering or during stunts. Social distancing will be incredibly hard to implement in these circumstances. Eaton also says that the lack of testing in the UK will lead to anxieties among crew members, with the worry that testing will not be available if someone on set falls ill (which could lead to the suspension of filming, further raising filming and insurance costs).
It seems that something more than a release of restrictions is needed to kick-start the entertainment industry. Of course, the huge loss of revenue in the film and TV industry so far means that filming needs to resume as soon as possible to avoid its collapse. There are a few glimmers of hope already with EastEnders, Top Gear and Coronation Street soon to resume production (though not everyone will be thankful for their return) and the likes of Sheridan Smith have filmed Isolation Stories for ITV from their own homes. Nevertheless, they are the exception rather than the rule at the moment. It seems a PDF document is not magically going to resolve the pressures placed on the entertainment industry during this tumultuous time. To conclude, do not expect a further film instalment of Fifty Shades of Grey or Normal People any time soon.
Find out how other artistic industries have been affected by COVID-19 here: