Fellow producer Ben Grant of Goalpost Pictures, which recently scored a global box office number one with The Invisible Man, said the industry faced a number of immediate challenges in attempting to resume.
“There are three issues, all of them equally important: insurance; travel, both within Australia and inbound from overseas; and the cost of compliance with COVID-Safe measures,” he said. “But without the insurance, the other two don’t really matter.”
Grant said insurance costs typically accounted for a little under one per cent of a film’s budget. He suggested producers would be willing and able to wear a premium increase of around one-third, with that money to be directed to a dedicated COVID fund, but insurers were simply unwilling to even price COVID cover.
“At the moment they’re saying ‘we’re unwilling to take the risk, so we can’t help you’,” he said. “Without us resolving how to guarantee insurance cover, we can’t proceed.”
Sherman’s company, See-Saw, was midway through Jane Campion’s film The Power of the Dog in New Zealand when the pandemic shut down production. The family drama – set in Montana, and with a big-name international cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Keith Carradine alongside fast-rising Kiwi talent Thomasin McKenzie and Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee – is covered for the shutdown-related costs because insurance was issued before the pandemic.
However, any fresh policies will have COVID-related exclusions, meaning only super-low budget productions or mega-budget studio-backed shoots have much chance of being able to take the risk of starting without cover in place.
Sherman said he had a $10 million production that could start within a month or two. “The finance is in place, but it won’t wait around forever. But we can only shoot if we get the insurance.”
Industry group Screen Producers Australia last week added its voice to the issue.
“With insurance policies most certainly to exclude coverage for COVID-19, we are asking the Government to step in and cover this risk, with reference to previous Government assistance in covering terrorism-related insurance issues,” the organisation said. “Without some form of assistance, production activity will stall, despite the best efforts and innovation of production businesses.”
With industry-wide COVID-Safe guidelines having been released last Friday, the insurance issue remains perhaps the biggest immediate obstacle to a return to full-scale production in the country.
A spokesperson for Paul Fletcher, the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, praised the industry for proactively developing its working with COVID guidelines, and indicated the government was considering its response to the insurance issue.
“The film and television industry is engaging constructively with the Government and Screen Australia about pathways for productions to get back up and running,” the spokesman said on Saturday.
“The Government is aware that there are a number of barriers to productions restarting, with insurance potentially being one of them, and is continuing to consult on these issues.”
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.