Cris Aragon, MD of 5A Studios shares her thoughts on how Covid19 has affected the industry and the way it will operate for the foreseeable future.

As we emerge from lockdown and start adapting to the new realities of how COVID-19 changed the way we live, our day to day is starting to feel…slightly more normal. After the initial shock of the quarantine, we are slowly but surely looking into ways of carrying on working safely and now that the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has given the go ahead for filming to resume, the UK Film and TV industry can start breathing easier. 

For post production, COVID-19 will change the way we operate for the foreseeable future. From the way we meet and greet our clients, to the way we finish and deliver content. Location will be less critical as sessions are monitored remotely and cloud solutions will be more important. On the whole, the creative workflow will get a forced and fast makeover. Thankfully, we have been able to quickly adapt our procedures to comply with Government’s guidance on managing the risk of COVID-19. With remote ADR sessions already being one of our established services, it was just a matter of modifying procedures to achieve zero contact with the talent. Having studios in separate buildings and free parking has prepared us for the ‘new normal’ and gives us hope for the future. 

As an industry, our resilience will help us find ways to reach stability. It will certainly take time for everyone to be comfortable with the new workflows, but we will get there.  The worry is when we find stability once again, are we going to remember what the pandemic has uncovered? COVID-19 has exposed how precariously our industry operates. The high risk nature of TV and Film prevents companies from having a full time workforce. Freelancers reduce risk and it is easier to adapt to any eventualities. This certainly doesn’t sound too bad until you see it from other angles. 

Nobody could have foreseen such an enormous eventuality as COVID-19. Every single industry in the world is suffering, but the creative ones seem amongst the worst hit. The lucky ones are full time employees furloughed by their employers, but the largest part of the workforce remains unprotected: freelancers, sole traders and directors of Limited companies. Without a doubt the devastation caused by the virus is unprecedented. The music industry, for instance, has seen their revenue vanish overnight with the closure of venues. That has exposed a myriad of issues in the way it operates and it will take a lot of effort to rebuild a healthier version of itself. 

In film and TV the situation is not quite as hazardous, but COVID-19 has also exposed serious issues. How did we get from being “strong” to the point of being on our knees after a few weeks of no activity? It goes without saying that large production companies have a lot more stability, but having independent productions is key to deliver richer and varied content. 

If producers need to be independently wealthy or have other work to supplement their income, how can the rest of the workforce have a steady stable career? How can we maintain any level of production and high level of quality in our craft if shrinking budgets are not allowing people to have security? High volume of productions dilute investments, but we are still being able to produce high quality content thanks to more cost effective powerful technology. We adapt and find ways to cope. But isn’t this only making us more vulnerable? A race to the bottom is not pretty. 

The question still remains the same.  How did we get to this point? Cheaper and more powerful technology certainly has reduced costs, but the level of skill required to produce quality remains the same. Our workforce still needs years of experience and that doesn’t seem to be valued through budgets. It is undeniable that we are all passionate about the industry. Are we our own worst enemies? We roll with the punches, do our best and work until we drop. Then await the next contract and do the same. The anxiety of losing a recurring contract or not having employment continuity puts a damper on creativity and innovation. If the only options to be in the industry are financial independence or not having the required level of security, coupled with the culture of working very long hours to demonstrate commitment, perpetuates the vicious circle. The industry will never change and evolve. It will keep on attracting and retaining the same profile of people throughout. This lack of diversity is hurting not only the workforce but also the creative outcome. A more stable industry with a diverse workforce will inject the much needed life and new ways of operating. More women will feel comfortable in an industry that will allow them to have a career without sacrificing their personal lives, we will get culturally varied content from different points of view, and job security will be discussed and considered. The list of benefits is long. 

Thankfully there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Netflix have already demonstrated that there is a new more diverse way of creating quality content profitably.  They fearlessly challenged the blockbuster distribution model and decided to invest in projects that are now iconic. Orange is the New Black lead the way winning audiences and accolades worldwide. They keep challenging the old fashion business model going from strength to strength all the way to the Oscars.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Netflix founders have backgrounds in e-commerce rather than film and TV. We need to learn from them. We need to remove the fear and reshape an industry that is firmly set in its ways. Our passion needs to push us to challenge the way we operate to secure a healthier industry for the future. There is no denying our work is valuable and we are here to stay. The lockdown has shone a light on the value of content. Consumption of broadcast TV and online/streaming has increased across all audiences.

COVID-19 could be the wake up call needed to finally address and change the way we work and the way we treat our workforce. Wonderful corporations like BECTU, UK Screen Alliance and AMPS are already doing great work setting rates for production and post production but we need to keep on going. We need to make sure we just don’t get trapped in the hustle and bustle of restarting production and quickly forget about the crisis.

www.5astudios.co.uk