A still from the fifth season of 'Outback Opal Hunters'.

With Western Australia’s COVID-free bubble likely nearing its end, the state’s production sector is navigating the effect of an indefinite hard border while bracing for the inevitable spread of the virus.

Premier Mark McGowan announced last month that WA would not be opening up to the rest of Australia on February 5 as was initially planned due to the prevalence of the Omicron variant elsewhere in the country. Instead, the date will now herald new border settings that include expanded exemption criteria.

As it stands, production activity and events may continue in WA in accordance with the state’s government COVID directions, but the ever-evolving situation is forcing producers to be vigilant when making plans for 2022.

Among the projects poised to begin filming in the state are Paul Goldman’s Kid Snow, a feature film set in 1970’s Western Australia, about a washed-up Irish boxer who is offered a rematch against a man he fought 10 years ago.

Kalgoorlie.

Set to be shot across six weeks in Kalgoorlie this May, the film’s director, producers, cast, and heads of department span not only interstate but international borders.

WA producer Megan Wynn told IF daily updates were required to confirm the film’s status.

“We’ve had to remain incredibly flexible and execute quicker decisions than usual in order to adapt day-to-day,” she said.

“Ultimately, Kid Snow is a wonderful story that we hope will resonate strongly with domestic and international audiences and will provide many local jobs, so we really hope it can proceed.

“We have received great support from the state government, WA Police and Screenwest in terms of navigating this complex, constantly evolving situation.”

Wynn recently worked as a co-producer on Russell Crowe’s thriller Poker Face, which was forced to shut down production in Sydney last year due to a confirmed case on set.

She said the experience had taught her that “anything could happen” when it came to the virus, but was confident WA production would be able to weather the storm.

“The industry in WA has been impacted but I think the relevant parties are aware of that,” she said.

“I think WA state government and WA Police are doing everything they can to stimulate production again.”

Production companies based in the state are also being forced to reassess their movements as a result of the current situation.

Ryan Hodgson of Factor 30 Films told IF that while it had not been heavily inconvenienced by COVID thus far, there had been a shift in the scope of their work.

“We acquire, develop and finance our own films, but we have skill sets that we can sell off,” he said.

“Melissa partnered with Lingo and was one of the producers on Upright, where she was based in Adelaide for 4-5 months, and I have line produced a number of shows in the past two years here in WA.

“The border uncertainty now means we can’t necessarily do that outside of WA, given that we don’t know when we can come and go and what the quarantine will be.”

Sara West and Josh Virgona in the Perth-shot ‘Iggy & Ace’.

Hodgson said although he appreciated updates from the state government about freedom of movement and quarantine rules, there were specifics that still needed to be addressed.

“My big takeaway is that, for the large part of the last couple of years, those of us that have worked exclusively in the state and have not required to bring cast and crew in have had a pretty good time of it and have gone about our business of making stuff in a COVID-free environment,” he said.

“We now have COVID and we know more COVID is coming. We don’t necessarily know what the rules are going to be around how we have to manage that, and that’s rules imposed upon us with regard to close contacts, separation, and isolation.”

Like Hodgson, Prospero Productions director Julia Redwood is wary of the shifting climate and its ramifications for the projects of her Fremantle-based company.

The executive producer is currently overseeing post-production on the fifth season of factual Outback Opal Hunters, one of several factual series produced by Prospero that films outside WA.

She said she had been able to so far keep her office of 20-25 staff but was concerned about what the border situation would mean for WA crews going forward.

“On productions, sometimes we don’t have the people to be able to fill high-end specialist roles, especially if a number of companies are in production at the same time,” she said.

“At the moment, we can’t get people in, and that affects production because if all those skilled people are busy, and I can’t get a series producer, then I am in trouble.

“WA crews wanting to leave the state will also be impacted because now I’ll be looking at eastern states crews to fill eastern states jobs when normally I prefer to use my WA crew, who I know and that are loyal to us.”

Despite this, Redwood said she was “generally supportive” of a hard border, albeit with greater protection for the screen industry.

“If we’re not part of that specialist exemption for personnel, then we are going to hurt, and there are also COVID costs, which I don’t know how I am going to cover and everyone is in the same boat.

“Screenwest can only do what they can with what they get from the government as well and other resources, and I know they are battling hard to try and raise more funds for the industry.

“More money and exemptions for the screen industry would certainly help.”

Earlier this week, Screenwest issued a statement in which the agency acknowledged the “uncertainty and serious challenges” resulting from state’s delayed border opening, and said it was actively working to provide “as much clarity and support as possible for the industry”.

Speaking to IF, CEO Rikki Lea Bestall said Screenwest’s chief concern was how production continues when Omicron hits the community.

“We are seeing productions struggle and many shut down with crew and cast outbreaks on the east coast and overseas,” she said.

“Productions are needing more money to ensure PCR testing, isolation periods, and crew replacements can occur.

“All issues the industry around the world is facing and something we all need to address and plan for.”

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