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Production protocols on COVID-19 expected for early June

Protocols on how to safely mount production in the time of coronavirus will be available by early June, according to Canada’s film commissioners
May 14, 2020

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Protocols on how to safely mount production in the time of coronavirus will be available by early June, according to Canada’s film commissioners.

Representatives of six provinces – responsible for roughly 99% of the $9.31 billion in volume of film and TV production during 2018/19, according to the CMPA – shed light on the timeline of reopening of production amidst the pandemic at a webinar with tax consultant company Entertainment Partners (EP) during a webinar held yesterday (May 13).

Taking part in the webinar were Luke Azevedo, commissioner, Film, Television & Creative Industries for Calgary; Justin Cutler, Ontario film commissioner at Ontario Creates; Laura Mackenzie, executive director at Screen Nova Scotia; Marnie Orr, B.C. film commissioner and director of production services; Chanelle Routhier, Quebec film and TV commissioner; and Rachel Margolis, Manitoba Film & Music CEO and film commissioner. The webinar was hosted by EP’s Jennifer Liscio, VP, legal affairs and tax incentives, and EVP Joseph Chianese.

Manitoba is on track to deliver the new production protocols first, according to Margolis, as the provincial government has set June 1 for a slow reopening of film production. B.C. is also on track to begin some production on June 1, according to Orr, as part of their government’s third phase of reopening, but expects the protocols won’t be ready before then. Quebec currently has a preliminary protocol document in place for commercial production, with protocols on film and TV production still in the works.

The nation’s film commissioners largely agreed that most provincial protocols will be available in June, noting that their offices have collaborated throughout the effort to make a largely unified approach to reopening.

Commissioners noted that business was largely booming from coast to coast when the shutdowns occurred, with even more production set to ramp up as spring approached. Margolis said Manitoba was the last to shut down, with one major feature film rolling cameras until March 22, while working with public health to determine best practices, and a remote documentary filmed until the end of the month. The CMPA has already estimated that Canada could take a $2.5-billion hit if production remains down until the end of June.

During the shutdowns the film commissioners have looked to potential innovations in the production sector. Outside of building new protocols, the teams have provided film crews with online education tools and training opportunities for new crew members, and B.C. Reel Green initiative has been working on documents on how to build sustainability into the production model. Commissioners agreed that the view is not to look at it as a reopen, but “as a restart,” according to Mackenzie.

The commissioners also painted a picture of what early production might look like. Ontario, Quebec and B.C. are among the provinces looking at lesser-hit regions to start up production. Cutler said Ontario Creates is in talks with the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) on its regional incentives and how to best utilize the region’s stage space.

With the U.S./Canada border closed, it will be domestic productions that start up again with smaller crews that will adhere to the new safety protocols around COVID-19. Calgary’s Azevedo noted that by the time the big U.S. studios are ready to ramp up production in Canada, crews will be well-versed in protocols and ready to go.

Commissioners also noted that they’re curating local resources for provincial productions to ensure that the needed amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical staff will be available on sets, without taking away from medical professionals who need it. While major film studios have assured they’ll bring their own medical supplies, indie prodcos will need help to source the much-needed materials.

The commissioners are also taking a close look at each province’s social distancing guidelines, which will have a large impact on how filming can move forward. Certain provinces like B.C. and Manitoba still allow gatherings up to 50 people, while Ontario has prohibited public gatherings of more than five and Quebec has banned all public gatherings outside of essential services. Film production in Nova Scotia and Manitoba are exempt from public gathering rules, but a more concrete ruling is needed for film to ramp up nationwide.

“I think at some point [the federal government will] recognize the economics generated from this industry and put some measures in place,” said Mackenzie.

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