EXCLUSIVE: The UK film and TV industry’s hopes of securing an emergency coronavirus insurance fund have reached a critical juncture, with an estimated £1BN ($1.3BN) backlog of productions at risk of being aborted or moved offshore unless the government steps in with a rescue package.
Producer trade body Pact has been involved in months of constructive talks with the government, but the discussions are yet to bear fruit, and there is now real concern that if ministers don’t announce plans in the next seven days to plug the insurance gap, it could create mayhem for hundreds of shoots awaiting a green light.
Pact CEO John McVay and a lobby group made up of powerful industry figures presented plans for a multi-million-pound insurance fund, which will effectively underwrite the cost of productions closing in the event of a second lockdown. Government officials have also explored the possibility of sector-specific commercial reinsurance, which in simple terms means that the Treasury would underwrite insurance companies if they provide coronavirus cover for productions.
McVay believes the fund is the favored solution, though he admitted that despite positive engagement from the government, the process is taking “a lot longer than we would like.” No one is pointing the finger of blame, but those familiar with the matter acknowledged that it is an unprecedented intervention, requiring significant political capital to get over the line.
The plans also need sign-off from the European Union, given that the UK would not want to break state aid rules while it remains in a Brexit transition period. There is no suggestion that the EU is delaying proceedings, but it is the case that talks with Brussels have brought an additional layer of bureaucracy to a situation already fraught with complication.
Julian Knight, a Conservative MP and chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said he is aware that “there are issues over EU state aid rules.” He told Deadline: “This is really difficult, legally, but we’ve got to find ways to get it done. If we don’t, we’re going to lose a whole year of filming, which would be economically devastating.”
McVay stressed that government officials have been working “intensively” to find a way forward and support for his proposals goes all the way up to Chancellor Rishi Sunak. But he said that the goodwill ultimately needs to translate into action by the end of July or shoots will go one of three ways: they will be moved overseas, be pushed into 2021, or abandoned altogether.
“We need an intervention now. Unless we get something imminently, then productions will go offshore or they will not be able to get into pre-production to then start principle photography before we hit winter. The clock is ticking. We’ve said to the government: end of July at the latest,” McVay said. “The amount of pressure we are under in terms of the calls and emails from members. People are saying: ‘If I can’t get this insurance, then the broadcaster or financier whose backing this is going to pull it, cancel it, or ask me to postpone until next spring.'”
Mcvay said ministers are equipped with “reams and reams” of data about how much production “is sitting on the books” waiting to go, and he estimates that the shoots could be valued at “in excess of £1bn.” He added it would be a “tragedy” if work moves overseas, particularly for a freelance sector already on its knees. “I’m at a point now where I don’t know what else I can do. It’s really now for the government to say we’re going to do it. As soon as they do that, the floodgates can open,” he added.
Deadline has approached the Treasury for comment. A spokesman told us earlier this month: “We are aware of the specific problems film and TV productions are having securing the necessary insurance and are discussing with the industry ways in which they could get back on set as soon as possible.”
Tory MP Knight was stark about the danger to the UK economy unless support is forthcoming. He said: “We’re world-leading in this industry… without film and TV production, the UK economy would actually have been in recession for two of the last three years. This is an industry that does not rely on handouts, that is basically really income generating. There are people involved in the industry who have skills that are a great credit to our country. We should be moving heaven and earth to make sure we get this up and running again.”
Although many shoots are waiting for an insurance solution, filming is getting back underway in the UK. Deadline revealed that War Of The Worlds was the first major drama series to get cameras rolling earlier this month, while BBC show Death In Paradise is shooting again on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Other slows slated to restart in the coming weeks include The Witcher, Sex Education, Line Of Duty, Britannia and A Discovery Of Witches.