“Get back to it” – that was the message to the production sector from John McVay after the government ringfenced £500m to underwrite Covid-19 insurance via the Film and TV Production Restart Scheme. It is a big win for the industry.
The initiative means indies can now secure funds from banks and financiers that would otherwise have refused to lend without guaranteed insurance, and prep will soon be underway ahead of what should be a surge in production come September and October.
The Pact chief executive did his best to field questions from around 400 companies on an epic Zoom call earlier this week, and there are still plenty of details to be ironed out, around additional premiums and additional deductibles especially.
The scheme also currently applies only to shows that begin principal photography this calendar year, and there’s a danger it could just transfer the problem to the first half of next year unless it is extended.
Fortunately, there’s a sense that should happen, given that the tough part was convincing the government to act in the first place. That battle was won thanks to a strong business case: TV production is such a fast growing part of the economy; it employs a vast number of freelancers who will ease the furlough bill if they return to work; and this is not a bail out akin to the (entirely appropriate) £1.5bn cultural recovery fund.
What the insurance guarantee doesn’t do is solve the thorny issue of who covers the increased cost of producing under (semi?) lockdown conditions.
Pre-production and production are taking far longer and costing significantly more and there are going to need to be mature and potentially slightly different conversations between broadcasters and superindies and true indies.
Finding a way to get things done is one of the sector’s great skills - just ask the Avalon team behind Breeders, the Sky 1 comedy that will be one of the first scripted shows back in production.
Hopefully pragmatism can win out – neither party can pick up the cost in its entirety and broadcasters need new content for schedules wit just as much desperation as producers feel to start creating great shows and generating some cashflow.
For now, informed estimates suggest production might be back at 70%-80% capacity by the autumn and from where we were a few months ago that feels like a huge step forward.