Coronavirus disrupts the screen industry with worse to come

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock (10545111a) This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China China Virus - 30 Jan 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of four screen industry events, halted production on Netflix’s Clickbait and two major movies and postponed shooting of two TV reality shows.

MEAA members were informed today by the Clickbait producers there would be a two week hiatus due to general health concerns, nothing specific as no one associated with the production has contracted the virus.

Matchbox Pictures and Tony Ayres Productions told the union they will continue to closely monitor the situation and then reappraise to ensure the safety of cast and crew.

Ayres and Christian White co-created the US-set, eight-episode thriller which began shooting in Melbourne in November, directed by Brad Anderson, Emma Freeman, Ben Young and Laura Belsey. Filming was due to wrap in April.

Filming of Fremantle/Seven Network’s Australia’s Got Talent and ITV Studios Australia’s/Nine Network’s The Voice has been postponed.

Seven and Fremantle are working out an a new production schedule for AGT and Nine says the blind auditions and battle rounds of The Voice have been filmed and the show is on track to premiere as planned.

Endemol Shine Australia/Nine’s Australian Ninja Warrior is filming this week in Melbourne with no audiences, only family and friends, and Shane Crawford stepped in as co-host in place of Rebecca Maddern, who is in self-isolation after co-hosting Today Extra with Richard Wilkins.

Today the Independent Cinemas Association (ICA) announced its annual conference scheduled to take place in Perth from May 4-7 has been postponed until May 3-6 2021.

“We are presently liaising with venues and accommodation concerning financial arrangements and available dates,” ICA told its members. “ICA appeals to all our partners and sponsors to ‘roll over’ their commitment to support our event to the following year.”

A number of organisations including Universal Pictures Australia, Screenworks, the Australian Writers’ Guild and Australian Writers’ Guild Authorship Collecting Society (AWGACS) have told staff to work at home or remotely until further notice.

The AWG said: “Over the coming days and weeks we will make decisions regarding upcoming AWG events including our monthly state events and the 53rd annual AWGIE Awards.”

Worse may be to come. The next scheduled industry gathering is the Australian Directors’ Guild Awards in Sydney on May 11.

There is no word yet on whether it will proceed but it must be considered doubtful in light of the federal government’s ban on non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people.

Joe Lo Surdo, managing director of insurers SURA Film & Entertainment, started excluding coronavirus cover for all new productions from March 11 after earlier telling IF he hoped that would not be necessary.

“We have had no claims as yet as all clients are using best practice and due diligence as required,” he said today. “We do have some projects that were scheduled to commence in coming months that may reschedule for later in the year depending on developments.”

A Network 10 spokesperson tells IF: “These are unprecedented times for the broadcast industry. We are regularly reviewing our practices with the health, safety and well-being of our staff, crew and talent top of mind.

“We are temporarily going audience-free for our live shows and have re-focused our route on The Amazing Race to domestic destinations around Australia.

“This is an ongoing situation that we are continuing to monitor closely with all of our production partners across all of our shows.“

Production of Fremantle/Foxtel’s Wentworth and 10’s Neighbours continues, with strict health protocols in place.

Hoodlum Entertainment is filming the second season of Five Bedrooms for 10 and the third series of Harrow for the ABC. “Hoodlum has increased communication with all our staff and productions on hygiene and social distancing to protect against the infection per the advice of government and will continue to monitor the situation and follow the advice of both the State and Federal Government,” a spokesperson said.

An ABC media rep says: “We are in ongoing discussions with production companies about continuity and contingency plans for COVID-19.”

Several days after launching its program, the Gold Coast Film Festival pulled the plug on the April 15-26 event.

“We understand that this will be a heartbreaking situation for so many filmmakers, guests, sponsors and of course our team who have worked for months to put together the festival,” the festival said.

“However, the safety and health of our guests and staff is paramount. We will work with filmmakers and venues to reschedule some film events in the future.”

After launching on March 12, the Melbourne Queer Film Festival decided to suspend the rest of the program, which was due to run until March 23, from today. The festival was celebrating 30 years of queer film from Australia and around the world.

Last week Screenworks canned its Business of Producing seminar that was due to be held in Ballina from March 19-21.

“Due to multiple factors including concerns for staff and other risks, Screenworks has decided that it is in the best interests to cancel the event and allow for attendees and speakers to cancel any travel plans and make other relevant arrangements,” the agency said.

Screenworks added that it is working with AACTA to establish an alternative approach to delivering the final stages of the AACTA Pitch: Regional Landscapes initiative.

Last week Marvel Studios paused production of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which had been shooting at Fox Studios Australia since February, as director Destin Daniel Cretton self-isolated under the recommendation of a doctor and tested for COVID-19. Marvel said it would reassess after the director gets the results of the test this week.

As IF reported, Warner Bros. called a halt to Baz Luhrmann’s untitled Elvis Presley biopic at the Village Roadshow Studios after Tom Hanks, who plays Colonel Tom Parker, and his wife Rita Wilson tested positive for coronavirus and were hospitalized.

Luhrmann, his wife Catherine Martin and their teenage children are self-isolating for two weeks.