Nick Murray, Emile Sherman make the case for government underwriting COVID-19 risk

Nick Murray.

CJZ MD Nick Murray and See-Saw Films’ Emile Sherman have made a detailed submission urging the Federal Government to underwrite the risk of productions having to shut down or replace the director or key cast due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Their scheme would not require any upfront funding from the government and would entail minimal risk.

If the government underwrites the risk of the COVID-19 exclusion from insurance policies, most productions would be fully covered for amounts ranging from $500,000-$2 million, they estimate.

They propose producers would pay an excess of $20,000 or 1 per cent of the production budget to cover any low impact virus-related disruption.

The maximum exposure for the government would be in the range of $70 million-$90 million, based on the unlikely event that future COVID-19 outbreaks would shut down all production and that the costs could not be managed out of the budgeted contingency and insurance excess.

Representatives of the main industry insurers told Murray and Sherman the current shutdowns would likely cost between $15 million and $30 million.

“I am confident of a sympathetic assessment of our proposal,” Murray, who sent the submission to Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher, tells IF.

“It’s the starting point for discussion and sets the foundations for what can be quickly wrangled into a simple, workable scheme.”

Fletcher, who has asked his department for advice on the issue, said: “The government welcomes planning and preparations to restart the Australian film and TV production when and where it is safe to do so.

“The industry has been engaging constructively with Screen Australia and the government about the pathway for the local TV and film production sector to get back up and running.”

Underwriting for the scheme could be provided by the Australian Reinsurance Pool Corporation, which manages the Terrorism Levy and is administered by the Treasurer, according to Murray and Sherman.

“Even though the potential downside cost is relatively contained, it is critical that the government underwrite the full risk in order for funders to commit. This remains the core issue for our industry,” the submission says.

“Essentially, this scheme would act almost like a guarantee with no upfront costs to government. Screen production businesses will be able to move into production, generating tens of thousands of jobs and keeping people employed instead of on welfare benefits.

“It gives the funders (broadcasters, insurers, producers and financiers) comfort that content can get made and delivered in a way which deals with any COVID-19 risk.”

CJZ was about to start pre-production on Reputation Rehab for the ABC when the virus flared. Created and produced by Sophie Braham and Melina Wicks, the doc follows Kirsten Drysdale and Zoe Norton Lodge as they investigate scandals surrounding victims of public shaming in Tweets, opinion pieces and media punditry. Filming of the first block has started using small crews and with remote interviews.

In post for the ABC is Shaun Micallef’s On the Sauce, which sees Micallef examining how alcohol has shaped who we are as a society.

Also in post for the Seven Network and the UK’s Channel 4, Murder in the Outback: The Falconio and Lees Mystery is a 4-parter which uses first-hand accounts of people who were impacted by the 2001 disappearance of British backpacker Peter Falconio and re-examines the evidence put forward at the trial of the man convicted of his murder, Bradley John Murdoch.