UK filmmakers have reacted with relief to the details revealed in the UK government’s £500 million Film & TV Production Restart Scheme, which will provide Covid-related insurance to independent productions, which was finally published on Thursday (September 17).
“Without it, we wouldn’t be filming,” said Elizabeth Karlsen of Number 9 Films on the day Eva Husson’s romantic drama Mothering Sunday has started shooting in the UK. ”Unless you can self-insure, which independent productions 99% can’t, it would be impossible to proceed without Covid insurance.”
The industry is unanimous in welcoming the move as a sign the Restart Scheme will soon go “live” and that UK independent production will revive as a result. It has been four months since the government confirmed film and TV production could resume within social distancing guidelines created in tandem with the UK industry.
John McVay, CEO of producers’ body Pact, described the scheme as “the single biggest indemnity fund in the world in the audiovisual sector. We are the only sector of the economy to have got this.
“We wanted the guidelines to be published in order to give information to the market,” added McVay, one of the main architects of the Scheme. “All productions which went into production or re-commenced since the end of July are able to claim against this fund.”
McVay said publishing the draft regulations now allows “every single producer to know what they have to do, to know what the costs are, to know what the criteria are, so they can plan accordingly. It means that everybody who is already in production knows what the process is as well if they do have to make a claim.”
Karlsen said once the Government plans for the Scheme were announced in July, “we felt that was enough of a security to proceed with all of the financing and putting the production [Mothering Sunday] together. We have a bank involved…we realised they had confidence in the Government announcement. Obviously, if it hadn’t come, we wouldn’t have been able to start.”
Mothering Sunday has the ”normal production insurance” , said Karlsen, and is bonded through Film Finances. However, any costs incurred for Covid-related reasons are excluded by the production insurer and bond company, and therefore production would have stalled without the government scheme.
“If we had lost our cast, which was conditional on the financing, then everything would have unravelled,” Karlsen said of the “nerve-wracking” weeks before the scheme was announced and when it was still touch and go whether Mothering Sunday would go ahead.
Mothering Sunday is a romantic drama set in 1924, based on the novella by Graham Swift and adapted by Alice Birch. Josh O’Connor, Odessa Young, Olivia Colman and Colin Firth star in the film which is backed by Film4 and the BFI and being sold by Rocket Science.
“You’re so lucky”
Harriet Finney, the BFI’s director of external affairs, summed up the importance of the scheme in jump-starting UK film and TV production following the lockdown.
“In working on a recovery plan for the sector, it quickly became evident to the BFI’s Screen Sector Task Force that securing coronavirus-related insurance was the biggest hurdle for independent producers in getting productions back up and running,” said Finney. “The government’s support in formulating this £500 million scheme is welcome news for our production business, jobs and for the economy.”
Phil Hunt, managing director of prolific production and financing outfit Head Gear Films, was among those consulted by the DCMS earlier this summer during the drafting of the regulations.
“On the positive side, everybody I am talking to now [outside the UK] is saying, ‘You’re so lucky. Your government has stepped in. You are going to get production up and running. We don’t have that,’” Hunt said. “Certainly, the impression in the business is that it’s a really good thing the UK government is doing and it is putting the UK film industry back to work.”
Some wrinkles still need ironing out. The first paragraph of the draft document states that the rules are “subject to change” and that the contents are “therefore not legally binding”. The DCMS is also yet to receive confirmation from the European Commission that the EC is not opposed to the scheme. Although the UK left the European Union in February, EU laws will still apply until the transition period ends on 31st December 2020.
If the UK is found to have breached EU state aid requirements, participants may have to repay any aid they have received to the DCMS, together with interest.
However, Pact’s McVay was quick to reassure the industry the EU state aid requirements should not hinder the scheme.
“That is a statutory statement,” McVay said of the EU stipulations. “It was exactly the same when I worked on getting the film tax credits through in 2007. Until [the scheme] had full approval, although the applications were open, it has to carry that health warning.”
“I want to say thank you”
Covid insurance compensation terms now available are for 20% of the production budget in the event of interruption or postponement and for 70% in the event of abandonment, subject to a maximum value of compensation, per eligible production, of £5m.
“More would be better but you can’t have everything,” said Head Gear’s Hunt. “I don’t think it is too bad in terms of that headline number. It would be crazy for the studios and Netflix to be underwritten by the British government but I think [for] the smaller movies, it is very appropriate.
”What hasn’t worked is that it has taken a bloody long time to get out,” Hunt noted.
Finney underlined the “huge joint effort on the part of government and industry”. There have been extensive consultations not only with producers but with insurance brokers and insurance companies to refine the regulations.
“It has been a detailed and lengthy process, longer than I would have liked,” admitted McVay. “It is government money, £500m of tax payers’ money on the books ready to be claimed. Quite rightly, you have to go through processes with public money that takes longer than anyone would like.
“It’s credit to both the DCMS and Treasury how engaged and supportive they’ve been in trying to get this over the line.”
Karlsen also applauded the DCMS, Pact and the other industry bodies involved in putting the regulations together. “I know they’ve been locked away in rooms for long hours, sacrificing their summers and working under really tough conditions. I just want to say thank you.”