FILMMAKING IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

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Even at the best of times, filmmaking is a precarious line of work, governed by an array of challenging and unpredictable factors, from distribution to funding. With various sectors of the film industry all but grinding to a halt, directors and producers around the world suddenly find themselves entering a period of widespread uncertainty and apprehension.

Impact of Job Losses

Just a quick search online will show you an ever-lengthening list of productions and events that have been cancelled or delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Last month, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) estimated that the pandemic had already led to the loss of more than 120,000 industry jobs in Hollywood. Meanwhile, over in the UK, the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (Bectu) has estimated that around 50,000 industry freelancers will lose their jobs as a result of the crisis.

In order to get their projects made, filmmakers are already having to take a variety of logistical and financial issues into consideration. In the case of independent film, making a movie will usually mean taking a personal risk in the hope that your time, effort and expenses will eventually result in a compelling and meaningful piece of cinema that could perhaps advance your career to the next level. For many filmmakers, the current lockdown has made their job all but impossible, but even those with a new film finalised and ready for exhibition are running into difficulty getting their project seen.

As we outlined in a post last week, the ongoing pandemic is sending ripples through the festival circuit, leading to the cancellation or postponement of events across multiple continents. Though some festivals are adapting to the circumstances, making their line-up available for online viewing, plenty of films have still been left without a place to premiere for the foreseeable future. It also doesn’t help that most physical industry and networking events for the next few months are no longer going ahead, making it harder for filmmakers to make the appropriate connections to push forward with their next project.

Shifts in Content Produced

Nonetheless, even in a time when much of the population remains housebound, filmmakers are still finding ways to make the best of the situation. For some people, the prospect of shooting a flick in quarantine has become an appealing challenge to take on. Sites like No Film School and Mandy, for example, have already launched campaigns encouraging their followers to try their hand at filming a short movie within the confines of their own home. One of the more prominent directors to take up the challenge is Lights Out and Shazam! helmsman David F. Sandberg, who earlier this month released a new horror short, titled Shadowed and starring his wife Lotta Losten.

Horror short Shadowed was directed in quarantine by David F. Sandberg
Horror short Shadowed was directed in quarantine by David F. Sandberg

Drawing Inspiration from the Crisis

On a more ambitious level, some documentary filmmakers are taking inspiration from the current lockdown as they push forward with their latest projects. Sea of Shadows director Richard Ladkani, for instance, has recently accelerated work on his next feature, and has reportedly discussed the possibility of equipping his subjects with their own cameras so they can document their time in isolation.

Speaking to Deadline last month, Citizen K and Taxi to the Dark Side director Alex Gibney suggested that documentary filmmakers now have a part to play in capturing the world-changing events unfolding around us. “We’re in a slightly different position than many businesses in the sense that part of our mission is to observe,” Gibney explained. “Part of our job is to document. And so we have to be attentive to that and also the need to push forward.”

Financial Support for Filmmakers

Of course, not every filmmaker has the resources and connections at their disposal to keep making movies, but there remains a concerted effort from certain corners of the industry to help people through this financially strained period.

The Federation of European Film Directors, for instance, issued a joint statement earlier this month signed by various European groups pushing for “easy and swift access to exceptional financial support” from governments, organisations and cultural funding bodies, listing a series of recommendations that could help sustain the film and TV production sector. At the same time, the British Film Institute has announced a partnership with the Film and TV Charity to create a new £2.5m COVID-19 Film and TV Emergency Relief Fund, currently open for applications.

All the same, there’s no sugar-coating the fact that we’re moving into difficult times for the film industry, and it remains unclear what state the sector will be in when the dust all settles. In the meantime, we can expect to see filmmakers around the world continuing to move forward with their work in whatever way they can, be it through online workshops and networking, or simply using this time to reflect, create and plan for what’s next.

 

This article was published as part of an ongoing series on the impact and long-term effects of COVID-19 on the film industry.

 

Cover image: Shutterstock

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