The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the film and television industries. Production has been halted on all UK feature films and television series, cinemas were closed, and film festivals migrated on line.
The onset of the virus has, however, accelerated changes that were already forecast. The enhanced subscription take up for the streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney is one such example; a second being the straight to digital strategy of film releasing, thereby eschewing cinemas, as recently happened with ‘Misbehaviour’, Philippa Lowthorpe’s film of the 1970 Miss World and its feminist disruption of the contest.
The impact of the virus has also exposed the economically vulnerability of many of those working in the screen sector, who are on short term self employed contracts, moving from project to project, and from one part of the country to another. Yet, the response of both the public and the private wings of the industry in supporting the laid off work force has been admirable. Not only the British Film Institute and the film union, BECTU, but Netflix and Mubi have also set up funds to help those in need.
As production looks to reboot after the lockdown, a whole host of questions need resolving: including social distancing rules on set and on locations; requirements to quarantine foreign cast and crew; how to deliver catering and transport arrangements; the vexed question of insurance . Will PPE be required for hair, make up and costume preparation? Will daily health screenings need to take place? Will all crowd scenes be replaced by CGI?
Industry discussion suggests that cinemas will open again in August. But will the public be attracted back to venues that due to social distancing rules will only at their maximum be a possible quarter or third full, and thus lack the essential communal ‘atmosphere’? Will the pipeline of product, stemmed in March by the virus, be in enough quantity and quality to satisfy an audience’s appetite?
During lockdown, the streaming platforms have been the saving grace, but will that lead to a total shift away from cinemas as we move into a new, post-corona culture? I guess we will find out!
Professor Roger Shannon is Emeritus Director of the Institute for Creative Enterprise (ICE) at Edge Hill University.