Canadian Entertainment Industry Seeks Government Bailout for Virus Fallout

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

The request for relief to offset the "financial impact" of the virus outbreak follows Hollywood producers halting location shoots across Canada.

After Hollywood location shooting in Canada shut down to help contain spread of the novel coronavirus, the country's reeling production sector is seeking an industry bailout as the federal government develops COVID-19 rescue packages.

The Canadian Media Productions Association, representing indie producers, has asked its members to "help our industry quantify the scope of the financial impact of the crisis on production companies," to be presented to government officials as they respond to the pandemic with emergency financial stimulus.

Local film and TV production has also virtually shut down and production studios have emptied, leaving cast and crews out of work, as governments restrict large gatherings and shut down nonessential businesses as safety precautions.

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

"From the beginning, they have listened with open minds about what the industry needs, what is working and what might need more attention," John Lewis, international vp and director of Canadian affairs at IATSE International said in a statement following the meeting.

The IATSE delegation raised concerns about entertainment producers nationwide being able resume operations once the COVID-19 crisis ends. "Minister Guilbeault assured representatives that the ministry of heritage shares the goal of seeing the entertainment industry and its workers successfully through this crisis," the union added.

The Canadian production sector has also been impacted by the federal government imposing travel and border restrictions on Americans and other foreigners entering the country, to run until June 30. Local media players like circus giant Cirque du Soleil and exhibitor Cineplex have already temporarily laid off thousands of employees to cut costs and shore up their balance sheets amid the industry shutdown.

Wendy Noss, president of the Motion Picture Association - Canada, which lobbies for the major Hollywood studios in Canada, in her own statement backed government efforts to shore up an embattled production sector north of the border.

"Major producers and partners in Canada's creative economy are appreciative of minister Guilbeault's leadership in supporting the hundreds of thousands of creative workers -- from special effects, technicians to make up artists, cinematographers, lighting experts, carpenters and more -- and look forward to continuing to work with him and all of our industry partners to help address the challenges ahead," Noss said.

A consortium of Canadian film producer associations, funding agencies, as well as provincial and municipal agencies earlier struck a COVID-19 task force to detail the full impact on the industry ahead of a call for an industry bailout. "The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented upheaval for the Canadian screen-based sector and is causing significant and ongoing financial disruptions for our industry," the CMPA added in a statement.

And Mayor John Tory in Toronto launched his own task force and met with the city's entertainment sector after local and American film and TV shooting ground to a halt. "The focus of the task force will be on quickly determining what current supports and stimulus work needs to be done," Tory said in his own statement.

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. Heritage minister Guilbeault told a press conference the ad revenues aimed to "breathe new life into our media."

And Netflix last week said it had donated $1 million to the Toronto-based Actors Fund of Canada for emergency financial relief to reach out-of-work artists in Canadian film, TV, music, theatre and dance. Netflix also gave another $500,000 to The Fondation des Artistes, which supports Quebec artists in need.