It must have been music to their ears when the Toronto branch of ACTRA, the union representing Canadian performers, announced to its more than 15,000 members that “Ontario is getting ready to roll!” Anyone looking to make a film or TV production in the province is now free to do so — as long as they don’t do it in Leamington.
For content-starved Canadian viewers, this must be good news as well.
There’s only one problem: there’s currently not a single rated insurer in the world that will provide coverage to film and TV producers without a COVID-19 exclusion.
Unless government steps in, the situation won’t improve anytime soon.
Fortunately, the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA) has tabled a proposal that could solve the problem. Specifically, it’s asking the federal government to provide a $100-million backstop for COVID-19-related insurance claims.
The CMPA plan is not a handout. Producers would be required to pay an additional premium for the coverage. However, unlike the policies offered by large global insurance companies, whose COVID-19 exclusions are being driven by the out of control outbreak south of the border, this Made in Canada solution would be designed to address the specific risks of producing in this country.
It would allow the industry to get back to work. If the government decides to act.
Canada’s production industry is a highly fragmented web of small business owners (producers) and independent service providers (writers, directors, actors, composers, crew and others). Most producers have small full-time staffs and hire the bulk of their workers on a project-by-project basis.
This model applies equally well for a cooking show, a dramatic television series, a Telefilm-funded Canadian movie, or one of the many American films that are regularly seen shooting around Toronto, Vancouver and other Canadian locations.
In normal times, all this adds up to big business, supporting more than 180,000 direct jobs and adding an estimated $12.78 billion to the nation’s GDP.
Until there’s a safe and effective vaccine the biggest risk to any production is a COVID-19-related shutdown. That may take the form of a lead performer or director becoming seriously ill or dying, or a government reimposing lockdown in the middle of filming.
The TV networks, lenders and equity financiers who fund productions are not willing to assume that risk and require insurance coverage without any exclusions. Without such insurance, there can be no production.
Allowing this situation to continue is bad policy for several reasons.
Most obviously, a sizable industry that governments across the country have deemed safe to reopen is effectively prevented from doing so. In provinces like Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, which have active production industries and three diagnosed case of COVID-19 between them, the case for returning to work is especially compelling
Since writers, directors, performers, composers and crew are not full-time employees, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy provides no relief.
Some in the industry are eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which is a direct financial cost to the government and provides a bare subsistence income in the costly urban centres where production talent is most concentrated.