EXCLUSIVE: It’s been less than two weeks since, in the span of 48 hours, virtually all TV production ground to a holt amid fast escalating coronavirus outbreak. After the initial shock and while continuing to deal with the ongoing health crisis, Hollywood TV studios are starting to settle matters stemming from the unprecedented production shutdown.
I have learned that Netflix has started paying cast members on shows affected by the shutdown, which is being treated as force majeure or unforeseeable circumstances. I hear actors on series, which were filming or about to go into production at the time everything was put on hold, are receiving their minimum guarantees. That’s episodic fees for the minimum number of episodes each regular cast member is guaranteed on a show each season per their contract (it varies). I hear the initial wave includes about a dozen series, which had been immediately impacted, with the list expected to grow as more shows don’t go into scheduled shoots during the pandemic.
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I hear the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA, has been in the loop and is aware of Netflix’s actions. I hear other TV studios are hammering out their policies and are expected to start paying their actors on affected projects by next week.
As most broadcast series were either wrapped or very close to wrapping because of the timing of the shutdown, with minimum guarantees largely met, broadcast-centric studios are focused on paying talent cast in pilots which have not been produced. If a force majoure provision is invoked and actors are not paid, it voids their contracts, and they are no longer attached to the projects. In order for studios and networks to be able to hold onto talent as backup scripts are being written for pilots, they have tp pay them at least a minimum. I hear the ongoing negotiations with actors and their reps on the size of the fees also include possible extensions of the cast options for at least some or the pilots, which traditionally expire at the end of June. With the worst in the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. yet to come, Hollywood production may not resume before July at the earliest.
When that happens, I hear Netflix plans to complete production at least on the shows that were well underway before the stoppage. That includes flagship drama Stranger Things, which had just started filming its fourth season. For the time being, work on series that can be done from home, like writing, continues.
I hear there is hope that traditional studios would adopt a similar model, giving talent “advance” payments for episodes that will be produced later on series that already have been picked up/renewed. That would also provide a lifeline for talent agencies, securing fresh cash flow of commissions as they are facing draconian cutbacks amid the downturn.
As it started paying its talent over the weekend, Netflix also established a $100 million fund to help below-the-line personnel. Most of the money in the fund, announced on Friday, will go toward hardest-hit workers on Netflix’s own productions around the world in areas such as construction and hair and makeup. The company had already committed to paying staffers two weeks pay following the production suspensions.
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