Exclusive: sign-off on Covid-19 guidelines reboots UK’s £3.6bn film and high-end television industry
Producers of Hollywood blockbusters including The Batman and the next Fantastic Beasts film have been given the go-ahead to restart filming after the UK government and health bodies signed off on new coronavirus safety rules.
The approval of the new guidelines paves the way for the UK’s film and high-end television production industry, which includes series that cost £1m-plus per episode, to get cameras rolling again – potentially as soon as July.
The resumption of production, which ground to a halt in the face of the spread of the coronavirus, will be warmly welcomed by broadcasters, streaming services and cinema owners facing a possible future content drought.
It will also be welcome news to tens of thousands of self-employed freelance film and TV workers, from directors and camera operators to prop makers and makeup artists, who have been ineligible for government financial support and struggling to make ends meet.
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The guidelines, drawn up by the British Film Commission and the British Film Institute, include rules on physical distancing, safety training and temperature tests.
The document has been signed off by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive. However, it will still be up to each individual production to decide how, and when, to restart filming.
Warner Bros, which is filming The Batman – starring Robert Pattinson in the title role – and the third instalment of the Fantastic Beasts franchise in the UK, is understood to be keen to resume production as soon as is safely possible. Other major productions in the UK include the live-action movie Little Mermaid, which Disney halted filming at Pinewood Studios, and Netflix’s big-budget series The Witcher.
“This is a green light that signals that the UK is open for business again for film and high-end TV production,” said an industry source. “Many productions have to get up and running again in the next two months or they won’t get made this year as they rely on summer weather and conditions.”
The production of major films and TV shows has been shut down since mid-March, when Line of Duty and Peaky Blinders, two of the most popular shows on British television, were the first UK productions to suspend filming.
Last month, the UK’s biggest broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky, agreed guidelines endorsed by the DCMS to resume filming popular programmes such as Coronation Street, EastEnders, Emmerdale and Top Gear. Stocks of episodes of the nation’s favourite soaps were rapidly running out, despite broadcasters rationing them since the lockdown began in March.
The UK is one of the most important film and TV locations in the world with a record £3.6bn spent on making more than 300 movies and high-end TV productions last year. The amount spent on film production in the UK hit £1.95bn, the second highest on record, on 188 productions. The lion’s share of this, £1.4bn, was spent by major Hollywood studios on making just 21 blockbusters, such as James Bond: No Time To Die and Sam Mendes’ 1917.
The streaming wars, led by Netflix, are proving to be the main driver of a new production boom. High-end TV production – shows costing more than £1m an episode to make – surged by 29% last year to £1.66bn.