The Australian screen sector is resilient, but there is no denying that COVID-19 has presented a unique challenge for all aspects of the industry. Its impact is still being realised.
On Monday 23 March 2020, the majority of Screen Australia– funded productions that were actively shooting went into hiatus, and all productions that had an imminent shoot (within 30 days) delayed principal photography.
Domestic and international film festivals were forced to postpone, cancel or remodel their events to be virtual. Cinemas across the world closed, and film release strategies were adapted to suit the current climate.
Screen Australia has remained focused on ensuring funding continues to be injected into the sector during this time and that the industry is supported as it moves into recovery mode. To facilitate continued activity we have pivoted our support from production into development. In some areas, such as documentary, we have seen continued strong levels of activity. Across all of Screen Australia’s programs (except those facilitating travel) we have seen a significant uplift in demand and enquiries.
The agency took a strategic approach to address the challenges presented by COVID-19 and the following actions were taken.
1. Provided funding support
The agency initially contributed more than $1 million in emergency funding assistance to Screen Australia–funded productions that had been forced to shut down or go into hiatus. The funding was designed to cover costs such as for standing down personnel or taking down sets as well as securely storing sets, costumes and other items for when the production could recommence.
An additional $1.6 million was provided to support projects that were able to continue working remotely, and assist those faced with additional COVID compliance costs to resume production.
A total of 26 projects were supported across all funding programs.
2. Launched the Premium Plus development fund
The agency reallocated Production Investment funding to the Story Development fund to support higher-budget productions that were close to being production-ready and that had firm market interest. Between Premium Plus and the Premium Story Development fund more than $2 million was pushed out to the sector between April and June 2020. This action was taken to ensure that when production became viable again, such projects were able to get back up and running as quickly as possible.
3. Created an Industry Resource Directory
In collaboration with the Office for the Arts, Screen Australia created a resource directory to collate relevant information on the range of Australian Government assistance provided in response to COVID-19. The directory was made available on the Screen Australia website.
4. Created the AustralianScreenProductionIndustryCOVID-Safe Guidelines
Screen Australia was part of the Australian Screen Sector Task Force that developed the Australian Screen Production Industry COVID-Safe Guidelines. These guidelines are intended to provide support and assistance to all practitioners (from screen producers to individual workers) in the Australian screen production industry as they consider returning to work and recommencing productions. The guidelines provide advice on how to eliminate and minimise the risks associated with exposure of personnel to COVID-19 while working on a production and are available on the Screen Australia website.
5. Launched the COVID-19 Budget Support Fund
The agency allocated $10 million to the COVID-19 Budget Support Fund. This fund will cover additional costs for green- lit productions to implement their COVID-Safety and Risk Assessment Plans to allow them to go into production safely.
6. Took on administration of the $50 million Temporary Interruption Fund
On Thursday 25 June 2020, the Australian Government announced a $50 million Temporary Interruption Fund (TIF), to be administered by Screen Australia. In an environment where productions had been halted by insurers not providing coverage for COVID-19, the TIF will help film and television producers provide their financiers with certainty so they can start filming.
Despite the ongoing impact of COVID-19 the objectives and core functions of the agency remain the same.
Screen Australia will continue to adapt its response to how it best deals with the significant disruption that COVID-19 has wrought on the sector. Although we hope a recovery is in sight for the industry, the impact of this disruption is likely to be felt for some time.