With full acknowledgment of the big picture implications of a pandemic that has already claimed thousands of lives, cratered global economies and closed international borders, Coping With COVID-19 Crisis is a forum for those in the entertainment space grappling with myriad consequences of seeing a great industry screech to a halt. The hope is for an exchange of ideas and experiences, and suggestions on how businesses and individuals can best ride out a crisis that doesn’t look like it will abate any time soon. If you have a story, email email@example.com.
Craig Greiwe, Chief Strategy & Transformation Officer at Rogers & Cowan PMK focuses on the need for leadership & coordination in a titan-less, COVID-19 Hollywood, asking for a new task force to help steer the business through this crisis.
In the last week, we’ve gone from seeing our industry operating at full tilt to a cold stop as we confront the worst crisis of the last century, already in the middle of a pivotal time for our industry. In the name of prevention, studios, networks, and agencies have shuttered offices, productions, and programming. Those who can still work are working from home, while thousands of others are furloughed or laid off. Grocery shelves may be temporarily bare, but the panic behind them is very real and long-lasting. Thousands—even those who are members of guilds and unions with emergency funds but particularly those who are not—are wondering what to do, who to turn to, and, most importantly, what’s going to happen to our industry. And yet, as of this writing, there is no one to answer them.
Individual companies are working with their employees in real time to reassure them, of course. Corporations have benefits programs and VPNs and HR departments providing daily updates. Productions are assuring their crews they will return. Studios are releasing blockbusters early for consumer consumption. But what we really need is reassurance from a coordinated leadership effort across this town and our industry, not a patchwork quilt of private communications. We need coordinated, smart leadership from everyone, together.
Sure, there may not be a cohesive plan, but why should that stop us from creating one? In the old days, Jack Valenti, Lew Wasserman, or another industry titan would have picked up the phone to every network and studio executive and invited, cajoled, induced, berated, or kindly goaded them into a single cohesive and calming message. And that message would be followed up by an actual plan for a return to normalcy—something that is important not just for our industry, but for our entire country, who relies on our programming to escape, feel, emote, and bond.
In the absence of titans, we have sprawling corporate empires who have taken “America first” to a company- or agency-level. I may know what’s happening at my company, and you might know what’s happening at yours, but what is our industry’s plan to develop a plan around this globe-changing crisis? When it ends, and it will end, what will be our plan to rise from the ashes and establish ourselves better than ever before?
We don’t have one, but we should. Now is the time to lead and provide comfort, when we are at our most uncertain; not to wait until things are clearer. I hope this letter serves as a call to action, specifically to create an industry-wide working group or task force to address not just our response to this crisis but to the very future of our industry after it.
Every studio head, network honcho, and agency chief should endorse an open letter that would, in one cohesive statement, explain to our industry that:
• Individually, we are caring for our employees as much as our shareholders;
• Together, we are caring for each other as much as for ourselves;
• Hard decisions lie ahead, but we will not take them lightly, and we will continue to financially support individuals as long as possible;
• We are working on a plan for those most in need now, including but not limited to those who aren’t protected by insurance, benefits plans, guilds, and unions;
• We are also working on a plan to coordinate our industry’s efforts to return to normalcy so that, when authorities and conditions permit, we can get back on track faster than ever;
• We will put our people first, and coordination above individual interest, for the benefit of our industry as a whole;
• And most importantly, that we are creating a formal task force whose work we will all endorse and support, to address all of the above.
And once we’ve reassured the public with an opening letter, we’ll need to set up the task force. The group should be composed of equal representation from representatives around our industry, including:
• Unions and Guilds
• Financial & Law Firms
• Studios and the MPAA
• Networks & Streamers
• Next Gen & New Media
• AMPAS, ATAS, and NATAS
These individuals must represent the larger whole, and need to have the support, buy-in, and endorsement of their respective constituents. Collectively, they need a formal structure and a neutral, guiding head. And they must take measured, considered, but immediate action. Some recommended actions could include:
• A working manifesto and guiding principles for the public in complete transparency;
• An honest assessment of the needs of the industry during this time of crisis and after it;
• A fund for those most in need, fueled by contributions from major corporations and filmmakers, creators, and actors with the most resources, and focusing on loans and other emergency financial assistance;
• A directory of additional public and private resources, with a 24-hour hotline for anyone in the industry;
• A coordinated effort across all corporations and unions to aim for equal but proportional financial support, regardless of whether you’re a publicist, gaffer, cinematographer or assistant;
• Coordinated guidelines for programming, focused on creators, audiences, and safety; For example, are closed sets endorsed; should we break the theatrical window; when can and should people return to work?
• A coordinated, sustained, and new lobbying effort of federal and state governments to financially support the return of production when health officials permit, including new tax incentive programs and other financial supports;
• A long-term strategy for streamers, networks, and studios to return to success, including a coordinated effort to get consumers back in theaters when chains are allowed to re-open;
Together, our leaders must reassure not just our entire industry, but our country, that we, too, are part of the solution, even as it develops in real time. There’s no reason to let the dust settle when real people need real reassurance and help today. We should give it to them.
These are just a few suggestions, and they are only mine. The best ones will be the work of many. I may be one voice, but I’m asking for others—all of ours.
We must lead. And in order to lead, we must coordinate and join forces to confront a crisis the likes of which we have never seen and hope to never see again.