Film Industry Check-In

2020 has proven to be the most unpredictable year that we have experienced in our lifetime – for not only the world, but the film community. Since March, we have seen lockdowns, re-openings, limited gatherings, and now a potential vaccine on the horizon. While the virus is still not under control in America, we have found ways to press on, even without substantive guidance from elective officials on recommended next steps. 


The recent presidential election is already setting the tone for America’s future and its relationship with Coronavirus. President-Elect Joe Biden has formed a COVID task force and Pfizer recently announced groundbreaking results for a vaccine, and therefore many are starting to see a light at the end of a very long and uncertain tunnel. However, widespread vaccine disbursements are likely to take several more months and Georgia’s senate race, the inauguration and the months between promise to keep us on our toes. It is important to assess where we are now as a country and see what the future could hold. 
 
As discussed in one of our recent blogs, the film industry across the world is trying its best to do business as usual, especially with winter and flu season approaching for many production hubs. While we cannot predict what winter will bring for production sets, we can assess what is happening now to give us a sense of what’s to come in the next season. In this week’s blog, we analyze recent news that could affect the state of Hollywood for the coming months and what that could mean for those getting back into work. Enjoy!
 
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Rising Cases

To say that coronavirus case spikes directly affect the film industry is a huge understatement. Other countries, like the U.K., Spain and France, have gone into a second lockdown as cases began to spike back up into a second wave. The current US administration has been very vocal about not wanting another lockdown or restrictive governmental mandates for citizens. While these relaxed outlooks have created ease for filming to pick back up in some states, Coronavirus cases are worse in the U.S. than any other country.

Recently, several states announced new restrictions due to the rapid spiking of cases. New York governor Andrew Cuomo ordered a 10 PM closing time for bars and restaurants statewide and has limited private gatherings to no more than 10 people. While this new restriction does not directly impact filming yet, it does impact New York cinemas which are already struggling to stay afloat in this pandemic. It was projected that cinemas across the U.S. might have a silver lining with the announcement of a new vaccine, however the ongoing debate regarding the legitimacy of the presidential election might delay vaccine distribution. This may leave cinemas in the dark for a bit longer, and put key studio holiday releases at risk of performing more poorly than usual at the box office. 
 
Several other states, including Ohio, have issued a mandated mask requirement. Mask requirements for U.S. citizens have been a point of contention as some have argued that they infringe upon free will. However this week brought a new trend: many governors, mayors and other elected officials are urging their constituents to wear masks and advocating that they are our main defense against this deadly virus.

Film & TV Production Stats and News

With productions coming in at full force, we are seeing an uptick in statistics and industry news regarding the pandemic. Just this week, FilmLA reported October’s monthly permit applications were up by 24% however, feature film production was still low in comparison to the previous reporting. Still photography and commercials have been the most notable with about 44% of all local permit requests being from these sectors. TV production is next at about 25%. However, feature film production only takes up 4% of all permit activity in October. While this data does not include productions that occur on certified soundstages or locations in jurisdictions not served by FilmLA, this trend makes sense given our current climate. 
 
While many feature film productions are well underway, there have been many setbacks that make us wonder if the risk is worth the payoff. This past week, Lionsgate pulled out of the Gerard Butler pic The Plane over COVID-19 insurance concerns and delays. COVID-19 insurance has been a major topic of concern for the film industry. Our sources confirm that the cost of COVID-19 insurance, which is approximated at 20% of the overall budget, is seen by many studios as too risky given the losses the film industry has experienced this year. Productions such as The Batman and Don’t Worry Darling have seen production halts due to an Coronavirus outbreaks on set, which highlights the need for COVID insurance. It stands to reason that the huge decrease in feature film production permits might also be attributed to their high cost, longer schedules and turnaround times.  These factors are of course quite different for commercials, most television shows and still photography shoots. 

Despite the risks, the show must go on. Over the past several months we’ve seen a large number of productions start and finish in Hollywood, however New York has been one of the slowest to get back to full capacity. Last month, it was reported that New York City could have 40 or more productions underway by the end of the year – which would bring it close to its pre-COVID activity level. Several scripted and non-scripted shows such as Blue Bloods, Gossip Girl, Saturday Night Live, and more are said to be well into production and most are filming in controlled soundstages where Coronavirus precautions can be closely monitored. This is a huge win for New York City, but with the new restrictions in place due to Coronavirus spikes, only time will tell if New York will meet its pre-COVID production mark.

2021 Predictions

The film industry’s short term future is still unknown. However, many are calling Spring 2021 a safe bet for in-person events and theatrical releases. MTV Movie & TV Awards recently announced that they fully expect to make an “epic return” in spring 2021. Several highly anticipated films like Black Widow, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and In the Heights are all set for Spring as well. 

Hollywood appears to be betting that the pandemic will be safely under control within the next handful of months, however unfortunately no one knows. These “Spring releases” are purely guesstimates and no concrete timeline can be made until more information is released about vaccines to combat the virus. Hopefully, that will come soon as Pfizer and BioNTech recently announced that their vaccine has a 90% success rate in combating mild cases of Coronavirus. This is a huge step in the right direction for the world, but patience is still needed.  
 
The film industry is constantly adjusting and is headed down the right path,  but as we always say, “only time will tell.” Winter may be a game-changer, but we have faith that the industry will prevail.

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