Asia’s stuttering film and TV production outlook stems in large measure from the relative caution with which the region’s governments have approached the coronavirus outbreak.
Calling on experience garnered with several recent bouts of epidemic disease (SARS in 2003, Avian Flu in 2013 and recurring waves of Dengue fever), governments around the Asia-Pacific region quickly urged their populations to mask up. Then they locked the borders. Most of Asia has remained that way since March.
The more-developed territories in Asia have achieved far lower COVID-19 infection and death rates than countries in Europe and the U.S., and some local production behind mostly closed borders has resumed.
New Zealand’s decision to go “hard and early” against the virus quickly shut down the “Avatar” series, which was already shooting, Amazon Prime Video’s epic “The Lord of the Rings” series and Jane Campion’s Netflix-bound “Power of the Dog.” That they have all since returned is testament to self-isolation, quickly established post-virus production protocols and some flexible application of immigration rules for big-name film folk.
“It has been a busy period. We’ve been repurposing a lot of our funds into development, so that they are ready to go when possible,” says Chris Payne, head of international relations at the New Zealand Film Commission. “We are seeing a lot of co-production interest, either for shooting
or for shooting and post. There is interest in co-directing, or remote directing. Some American independents are looking at hiring New Zealand directors for their projects or New Zealand above-the-line talent, in order to qualify [on content rules].”
Australia’s similarly tough border controls and imposition of stay-at-home order since March devastated the airline industry, but largely banished the virus, until Melbourne and Victoria blew up again in July. Large international films including Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” project with Tom Hanks, which was in pre-production, were shut down, and major studios in Sydney and the Gold Coast went quiet.
Well over 100 Australian films and TV shows were also halted. Some, notably “Dark Noise” (pictured) and “Children of the Corn” and Fremantle’s “Neighbours” soap opera, found creative ways to work through the shutdown. But others found themselves stuck with the problem of trying to get production insurance at a time when insurers are unwilling to provide cover for an ongoing disease.
That is now on its way to being solved. Since August, the federal government provided a A$50 million ($37 million) funding pool that can be drawn on for COVID risk payments until mid-2021. Local production is now expected to accelerate through September and October. Whether international ones can restart is less clear. The government is permitting only 4,000 passenger arrivals per week, and priority is given to returning Australian nationals.
Michelle Yeoh is understood to have landed in Sydney for Marvel’s “Shang Chi,” but “Elvis” is currently without a start date.
For months, South Korea seemed a paragon of disease control. Behind closed borders, its rigorous contact tracing and isolation measures quickly quelled the first wave. In April, Netflix’s co-chief Ted Sarandos boasted that South Korea and Iceland were the only places it was able to shoot.
Since then, the country has managed to hold film festivals with live audiences, and box office swelled to $13 million a week as audiences returned to cinemas for local blockbusters “Peninsula,” “#Alive” and “Steel Rain 2: Summit.”
But a new wave of virus infections, this time centered on entertainment production hub Seoul, caused multiple TV shows to suspend their shoots from late August. Netflix halted all its ongoing productions, and said it has enough in stock that schedules won’t be disrupted.
Local broadcasters, who typically shoot and edit simultaneously, may be worse hit. Productions known to have been halted include variety and live music shows at CJ ENM, as well as its “Flower of Evil” for tvN and “Missing: The Other Side” for OCN.
But once again, the country’s quick and cautious response may be successful. The latest spike appears to be being quickly suppressed.
For more information:
Korean Film Council (KOFIC): koreanfilm.or.kr
Seoul Film Commission: english.seoulfc.or.kr
Busan Film Commission: bfc.or.kr
New Zealand Film Commission: nzfilm.co.nz
Screen Australia: screenaustralia.gov.au