As you know, there is a huge amount of work being done across the sector in response to the COVID-19 crisis and it’s been brilliant to see the way everyone has come together. I just wanted to express my own thanks for the support I have had and also to give you an update on the progress of the Screen Sector Task Force and our work with Government as we turn attention to the recovery phase. The Task Force is convened by the BFI and brings together organisations from across the full breadth of the UK”s screen industries, to develop a co-ordinated response to the COVID-19 crisis and shape how to get the sector back up and running quickly and safely.
The Task Force has been split into five sub groups (inward investment, independent film production, TV production and broadcasting, distribution and exhibition and video games) where immediate priority has been given to the following three cross-cutting issues — health and safety codes of practice; insurance; and the knock on impact on the cost of production. The drafting and evidence gathering work on each of these strands is being led by a specialist group and then shared with the other Task Force groups and beyond. We are working to ensure that recommendations from the Task Force to Government are well evidenced and scalable to meet the needs of different parts of the screen eco-system, and also work together to ensure that no part of the sector or its workforce is left behind and that all specificities are considered.
1. Codes of Practice
With a focus on health and safety, the sub groups have been developing codes of best practice that are endorsed by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) to ensure that film and TV productions of all sizes and cinemas can get back up and running as quickly and as safely as possible.
The inward investment group led by the British Film Commission (BFC) has drafted a set of codes of practice for film and high-end television drama production. These have been out to consultation and shared with Government and the hope is to have them completed and rolled out for productions by the end of May and provide detailed and comprehensive guidance for returning to work and resuming production as safely as possible. They have been developed to meet the needs of both studio and independent production, although productions will still need to make sure they satisfy any requirements put in place by insurers, financiers or completion bonders. The codes of practice are designed to act as a resource for productions based in each nation of the UK as lockdown is eased in each of them respectively. They will also read across to the guidelines developed for television produced and published by the broadcasters and Pact today (18 May) and which you can read here.
The UKCA and FDA have led a working group for Distribution and Exhibition to develop plans for the reopening of cinemas. The Government’s recovery strategy states that cinemas in England will potentially be able to open on 4 July at the earliest and the Task Force is working with the DCMS to ensure this change to lockdown rules is introduced at the best possible time for all venues. At the same time it is gathering evidence to propose what additional support might be needed specifically for the exhibition sector.
Cover for COVID-19 is an issue for both film and TV productions and could be a barrier to the Government’s return to work plans. A specialist insurance sub-group has been looking at potential solutions to this problem (led by Pact as part of the TV and broadcasting group).
The Government has announced on 28 July a new UK-wide £500 million Film and TV Production Restart Scheme to help domestic film and TV productions which are struggling to get coronavirus related insurance which they need in order to get back up and running. The aim of the new scheme is to give productions the confidence they need that they will be supported if future losses for cast member and crew illnesses and filming delays or disruptions are incurred due to Covid-19. More details will be available in due course.
3. Cost of Production
The working groups are calculating how much it could cost to implement codes of practice for returning to work in their respective areas. Different budget production levels are being costed out and in the case of exhibition, the anticipated reduced audience capacity as well as unknown levels of audience anxiety are being factored in. This will allow us to understand the financial viability of a return to work for productions and exhibitors of all sizes and will inform Task Force discussions with Government regarding support for this process.