Canada to Pay 75 Percent of Wages for Entertainment Producers Hit by Pandemic

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Only a few vehicles line the streets of downtown Toronto, Ontario on March 24, 2020.

"The fund's goal is similar to ours: to keep as many people employed as possible during this crisis," an indie producer tells THR.

The Canadian government's bailout of a virtually idle film and TV production sector is gathering pace.

Ottawa's latest cash drop for content producers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis will see 75 percent of the wages paid by entertainment companies subsidized so they can stay in business. To qualify, locally-owned companies must show their revenues have fallen by at least 30 percent and must keep paying their employees and not lay them off.

"This will help everyone affected to bridge to better times," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a press conference in Ottawa on Monday.

Mark Bishop, co-CEO of marblemedia, said his Toronto-based indie producer and its distribution arm, Distribution 360, will apply for the 75 percent wage subsidy. "The fund's goal is similar to ours: to keep as many people employed as possible during this crisis," he told The Hollywood Reporter.

Details on the plan are expected on March 31, but the wage subsidy, capped at $847 per week for each worker, is expected to be paid for up to three months and backdated to March 15. The Canadian feds' rescue effort follows Hollywood location shooting in Canada shutting down to help contain spread of the novel coronavirus, leaving a reeling production sector seeking an industry bailout.

A delegation of Canadian representatives of IATSE International, whose unionized crews work on major Hollywood shoots in Canada, late last week met with federal heritage minister Steven Guilbeault to discuss emergency support for film and TV workers left jobless by the industry shutdown.

And Valerie Creighton, president and CEO of the Canada Media Fund, the biggest financier of Canadian TV, in a statement said over 1500 local projects her fund supports have been impacted by the pandemic shutdown.

"We will work with our clients to ensure maximum flexibility as we consider relief measures, wind down and start-up costs," Creighton wrote. The CMF head added the fund is seeking "additional relief measures" from the federal government.

Elsewhere across the Canadian sector, physical production on local film and TV projects have shut down. Film studios have emptied and small pockets of visual effects and postproduction artists are working in small clusters for social distancing or at home as production allows.

Jennifer Twiner McCarron, CEO of Vancouver-based Thunderbird Entertainment, told THR her studio will not be tapping the 75 percent wage subsidy as the company in recent weeks has shifted around 1,000 employees to working remotely from home, which has allowed animation work — especially for mostly Hollywood streaming platforms needing kids content — to continue without disruption.

"My goal is not to tap into the subsidies. I'd rather leave them for companies that aren't able to devise plans for their employees to work from home," McCarron said after emptying studio space in Vancouver, Los Angeles and Ottawa.

Thunderbird's Atomic Cartoons division is at work on Hello Ninja for Netflix, 101 Dalmatian Street for Disney+ and LEGO: Jurassic World for NBCUniversal as Hollywood streaming platforms look to kids and family content to keep families entertained as they self-isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thunderbird also has scripted and factual TV divisions and staff, who are mostly at work on developing series ahead of production eventually resuming or that have moved into postproduction. Thunderbird's scripted team for CBC drama Kim's Convenience has its writers room working remotely.

Elsewhere, the federal government has already proposed directing $30 million in advertising buys to struggling Canadian newspapers, TV stations and online publications to promote a COVID-19 awareness campaign.