Film and TV woes unlikely to end with safe restart

Even if productions can resume, devastated industry will endure unwanted drama

The cast of Neighbours pictured before the Covid-19 crisis. The Australian soap is to resume production, but most dramas remain on hiatus.

The cast of Neighbours pictured before the Covid-19 crisis. The Australian soap is to resume production, but most dramas remain on hiatus.

 

Netflix didn’t shy away from the weirdness of the television and film industry’s predicament in its latest letter to shareholders.

“In our 20-plus year history, we have never seen a future more uncertain or unsettling,” it began. With South Korea and Iceland two of the only places where much Netflix production is happening at all, the impact on millions of workers has been “devastating”.

Despite the global production pause, which has also delayed the scheduled start of the Vikings: Valhalla series at Co Wicklow’s Ashford Studios, Netflix itself is in a better position than most, given its completed pipeline of content dwarfs that of its competitors.

Still, “no one knows how long it will be until we can safely restart” is the kind of anxious statement that will be shared by many Irish production companies that are only the size of the smallest satellite compared to Netflix’s supergiant.

In Australia, soap opera Neighbours made headlines this week by saying it would go back into production with social distancing practices in place. Cast and crew will be split into groups in separate areas of the set, crew members will be used instead of extras and – in something of a drawback for a soap – there will be no physical contact between the actors. Camera tricks will be used to make them look closer than they are.

Safe production

Other soaps may follow the example. They at least have the option of weaving the coronavirus crisis into their storylines. But for higher-end television drama and films, safe-yet-efficient production in the age of Covid-19 will likely be an unappealing, if not impossible, challenge.

Finance pressures, insurance woes and a potential future bottleneck on demands for crew members are now lining up to thwart the post-pandemic recovery. Cast availability will be another complication: yes, Matt Damon is already here, but even when flights resume, persuading Hollywood stars to fly to Europe could be a struggle.

The only good news for the Irish industry is that it has long been strong in one type of production that isn’t suffering quite the same impact from social distancing. Blessed are the animators who can work from home.

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