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ZURICH 2020 ZFF Industry

Film production struggles to deal with the pandemic


- At the Zurich Summit, the burning issue of film production during the pandemic was discussed by European professionals, who nevertheless also looked to the future

Film production struggles to deal with the pandemic
Cecile Gaget, Tommaso Marzotto, Katrin Renz, Christophe Barral and Wendy Mitchell during the conference (© Micaela Lopez for Zurich Film Festival)

With the future of the film industry remaining uncertain, one of the key topics discussed at ZFF Industry’s Zurich Summit was film production during the pandemic, and how to move forward. As the moderator of the panel, Wendy Mitchell, mentioned, everyone’s belief is that everything will start up again in March, but is this really the case?

Producer Katrin Renz (Tellfilm) offered her experience from her upcoming period drama film Monte Verità [+see also:
film review
interview: Stefan Jäger
film profile
by Stefan Jäger (see the news), which she is planning to carry on shooting in Vienna. The initial plan was to be there in June, which proved impossible, so after the shoots in Ticino, Italy, and more recently in studios in Cologne, Renz now has to persuade her cast and crew to visit a city that is currently a red zone due to the pandemic. For a film set in 1906, the situation is even harder, as the costumes create more complications and the higher number of extras makes procedures more difficult. A COVID supervisor must always be on set, and because of this plus the need for regular testing, the budget has increased by 10% to allow for these measures, which translates to €700,000 and brings the total budget to €7 million. The producer has already applied to Switzerland’s governing bodies to receive the necessary support.

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Cecile Gaget, president of ANTON, focused on risks and the fact that insurance is now necessary for all sets. She also mentioned that the CNC has launched a special plan to enable all independent French producers to re-evaluate their budgets and include the presence of a COVID-specific doctor on set. On the other hand, Tommaso Marzotto, co-founder of Texit Films, mentioned that he is sceptical about the situation, so he is protecting his investors’ money by not participating in any new production since April – and he plans to do so at least until October. With everything stalled and productions being cancelled or delayed, the future is uncertain. Also, Italy’s move to increase the tax rebate on films of €4 million to 40% represents a positive effort to keep the industry alive. Although, when productions do restart, will the priority be films intended for the cinema or streamers’ content?

Christophe Barral (SRAB) reported that all projects have been delayed and that the 10% increase (or more) to budgets owing to the heightened security measures is having a serious impact on smaller-budget films. Furthermore, available slots for starting up again will be limited when the estimated time to return to sets could be as late as May 2021. The different insurance laws between different countries also make co-productions virtually impossible, as Renz mentioned – for example, in Austria, the minimum amount of the budget required to be spent on insurance is lower, standing at 5%, and Germany also has its own regional regulations.

Regarding the genres that can currently be produced fairly easily, Marzotto argued that pandemic-themed films won’t be the focus, and safer bets revolving around entertainment, such as musicals and feel-good movies that can be shot as simply as possible, will be the top priority. Even post-production seems hard, as Barral stated, because if a director and an editor can’t even be in the same room together to work on something jointly, then it’s impossible to finish a film on schedule. Renz added that financial insecurity, psychological pressure and other urgent problems are piling on more anxieties for producers to deal with.

Thomas Benski (Pulse) looked to the future, when people will still want to go to the cinemas, but they will not feel particularly encouraged to do so. He also focused on the 17-day window separating films’ theatrical releases and their availability on digital platforms, which is restrictive, but it is possible to adapt to this. Gaget also mentioned that, for the most part, local productions have done the job they were supposed to do and kept the industry alive. She remains positive and believes that the blockbusters will also make a comeback.

As for the next steps for Monte Verità, Renz was also optimistic, as she is hoping that the film will be ready by the end of May. If everything goes to schedule, it could possibly premiere at the Locarno Film Festival and later be distributed in cinemas, as per the original plan.

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