With the struggling U.S. indie film sector deeply impacted by the COVID 19-era industry shutdown, being without Coronavirus insurance cover needed to return to production, filmmakers at the Toronto Film Festival were told to look overseas for solutions.
“There can be in a moment of crisis a tendency to look inwards and build barriers and to think about local first. But this is a point where we need to look internationally with renewed focus,” Neil Peplow, director of international at the British Film Institute, told a virtual panel on film financing during the pandemic.
The indie film sector has been hobbled as reinsurance companies, which insure insurance companies, refuse to cover COVID-19-related risks, making it virtually impossible for production companies to secure traditional insurance and completion bonds and get their cameras rolling.
Peplow pointed to Australia launching a fund to help get around the problem of production insurance and get local film and TV production up and running. Meanwhile, he added that Germany has launched guidelines of its own for an indemnity scheme to cover the virus risk to local producers that acts as an insurance scheme.
“We’ll end up in very similar places in terms of solutions,” Peplow forecast as a backlog of U.S. indie film and TV shoots look to start or restart production post-pandemic.
But Effie Brown, CEO of The Gamechanger Films, said indie filmmakers didn’t have the luxury to wait until COVID-19-related insurance cover or a vaccine became widely available before getting back into production.
“We’re going to have to learn how to shoot independent films during this time. I don’t believe there will be a vaccine that’s widely spread before the first quarter of next year,” Brown told the TIFF panel. “We have to creatively think about how we’re going to make things safe, but also keep production going,” she added.
Brown pointed to the UK shoot for The Batman, which was forced to shut down after lead Robert Pattinson tested positive for COVID-19, and suggested production would not have easily resumed had it been an indie film shoot on a tight budget.
“Those COVID safety protocols are for big-budget films. If you’re on the set of Batman, and you can’t keep your lead COVID-free and you have all kinds of resources?” she questioned. Brown added indie film shoots in the $10 million to $15 million range have to rethink how they pivot pandemic-era production that is both safe and possible at a time when production risks are higher, and yet streaming giants and other Hollywood distributors will need content to feed their expanding pipelines.
“If you’re able to get content out, just start shooting in a safe way, and with integrity. We need to figure out how to do that,” Brown argued.
Mike Jackson, who runs the multicultural storytelling firm Get Lifted along with co-founders John Legend and Ty Stiklorius, pointed to Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie, a pandemic-era movie starring Zendaya and John David Washington that sold to Netflix for $30 million as an exception.
“They made that movie on a small budget. They did it right. They rented a home and everyone stayed there. They only had what they needed, an essential crew. And they got out of there unscathed,” Jackson said.
The Toronto Film Festival continues through Sept. 19.