Editors’ Note: 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, Deadline’s Coping With COVID-19 Crisis series 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.
Lee & Thompson Managing Partner Reno Antoniades is one of the UK’s leading film and TV production lawyers. In almost 30 years at the firm he has repped producers on more than 250 film projects. He has also served as executive producer on movies including Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa and MARV’s Harry Brown.
We spoke to the UK industry vet about the rapidly shifting and challenged production landscape, which has been upended by the coronavirus. Virtually every global film and TV production of scale has been shut down. In the UK alone, all studio and independent movies are on hold and virtually every TV drama and major soap is on hiatus.
DEADLINE: This is a very difficult situation…
RENO ANTONIADES: The situation is extremely complicated. The uncertainty is very difficult. The UK government has been quite disappointing because businesses have been in limbo. Until Friday night, pubs, bars and restaurants didn’t have clear directions, for example.
I try to find some positives. The likelihood is that the larger business we are in will bounce back. The difficulty is that we don’t know when that will be.
If you are looking for optimism, you could say this will cement the position of the SVODs. But it will sadly put an exponential challenge on the theatrical business, assuming those cinemas can survive. But this applies to every business and every sector. If you follow the chains all the way up it goes to the banks which will be carrying hundreds of millions in debts and then it goes to the government. It could get a lot worse.
DEADLINE: What has been the impact on your business so far?
ANTONIADES: Every single production we are working on is impacted. Personally, I’m working on six major film and TV projects. People can still write, which is important, and things can be developed. But anything that’s going near production is in trouble. We’ve had movies with only a few days left that have had to shut down. We had a project where the producers had to charter a plane to fly home the cast and crew from abroad. Anything that involves travel or bringing in talent is off.
DEADLINE: How far into the future are productions being iced?
ANTONIADES: Most projects due to shoot in the summer are, or were, in prep. Everything that was due to shoot in coming months is being pushed. And now pretty much everything scheduled to begin in July or August is having to rethink its schedule.
DEADLINE: What are you hearing about crew contracts? I’ve heard that some studios are preparing to terminate contracts and re-hire crew at much later dates…
ANTONIADES: A lot of independent productions only pay one week in lieu. Some pay two weeks. If some studios pay four weeks that is equitable but I doubt they are legally obliged to do so. Termination of contracts after those initial pay periods can work in both parties’ favor as long-term production suspensions at least give freelancers the chance to find work elsewhere.
DEADLINE: How do you think producers and industry leaders are responding?
ANTONIADES: I think the BFI and BBC have been good to date. But there is still so much up in the air. All you can do is bring your project to an orderly suspension by limiting costs and exposure and make sure that anyone who is working on your project has been paid up to date.
DEADLINE: This crisis is going to cost tens of billions of dollars…
ANTONIADES: Tens and tens of billions of dollars. It’s catastrophic. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen before. Any business, whether that be a distributor, producer, studio, etc, have fixed costs and without income, that business isn’t sustainable. Lack of income hurts cash flow and banking arrangements. But that scenario also applies to retail, hospitality, airlines, everyone.
DEADLINE: To what extent will we see legal action in coming months?
ANTONIADES: I’m sure there will be legal challenges around payment and non-payment of debts. And around insurance issues. We did have one situation where there was a well-known distributor who was investing in a project’s production finance but who then stepped away.
If you’re an insolvency practitioner you could become very busy. The whole situation is confused by a lack of insurance.
DEADLINE: Will your own company face layoffs?
ANTONIADES: We are a robust firm and we will do everything we can to preserve people’s jobs. Our workforce is our priority.