A total $2.5-billion in film and TV production in Canada could be at risk if an industry shutdown imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic does not conclude by the end of June, according to a new study.
The research prepared for the Canadian Media Producers Association also says up to 81,000 cast and crew have been affected since production ended in March, and they face the prospect of permanent job loss if there’s no restart by June.
Much of the $2.5-billion impact – $1.4 billion – is spending for labour, says the study prepared by the research firm Nordicity and released on Tuesday.
At risk, says the study, is both domestic and foreign production. At stake are not just 73,000 to 81,000 cast and crew, but also 155,000 to 172,000 workers across the Canadian economy.
“At the outset of the COVID-19 shutdown, many projects in production were disrupted and a continuing shutdown may lead to these (and future) productions being cancelled,” says the study.
In a statement, the producers’ association said the timing of the pandemic shutdown has hit the industry especially hard because spring and early summer are one of the busiest times of the year for the sector as production ramps up and the hiring of cast and crew reaches its peak.
Reynolds Mastin, president and chief executive officer of the association, an advocacy group for independent producers, was unavailable for comment, but said in a statement the numbers should serve as a “wakeup call for what’s at stake," and motivate efforts to restart industry work as quickly as possible after the crisis.
He praised the federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault for the recently announced $500-million COVID-19 emergency support fund for cultural, heritage and sports organizations to help affected operations within the named sectors.
As the shutdown began in March, scores of films and TV series ended production, including Nightmare Alley, the latest film from Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro and starring Bradley Cooper. It was before the cameras in Ontario. British Columbia-shot series Riverdale, Batwoman and Supergirl were also halted.
B.C. Premier John Horgan has been bullish about the restart of production in the province. He said Hollywood has been noticing the province’s efforts.
"They’ve seen that the curve is starting to bend in the right direction. They see the programs that we’re putting in place, and they see an opportunity to return to B.C., perhaps, faster than they will to other parts of North America.”
More than 70,000 people work in the film and TV sector in B.C. The sector contributed $3.2-billion in production spending to the province’s economy in 2018-19.
On Tuesday, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer said the film and TV production industry will face the same challenge as other sectors, trying to figure out how to work while maintaining physical distancing, the number of people in a given area, handwashing and other measures to counter the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Bonnie Henry said she is challenging industry to figure out how to proceed.
Shawn Williamson, a B.C.-based producer on the Hollywood TV series The Good Doctor, which is shot in the Vancouver region, said he is optimistic production, in general, can resume as restrictions are eased.
But Mr. Williamson, also chairman of his own production company Brightlight Pictures, said about 1,000 workers have been laid off on seven shows associated with his company.
“The study is correct with regards to the immediate and huge number of jobs that have been lost,” Mr. Williamson said Tuesday. “The very quick shutdown will be followed, though, by a very quick startup as soon as we’re able to find some way, some process by which we can shoot.”
That means addressing such challenges as placing cast regulars, directors and guest stars in quarantine upon their arrival in B.C. before they can go to work.
David Shepheard, the Vancouver film commissioner, said he expects that, given a green light, the film industry will rebound more quickly than other sectors because it will not take long to rebuild their infrastructure. Sets for TV series, for example, are waiting for cast and crew to return.
Mr. Shepheard said B.C. industry organizations and unions are trying to figure out how productions will be made given the realities of the pandemic lingering, even if production resumes.
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