'They won't survive': Australia's film industry will change 'forever' after coronavirus outbreak

Marni Dixit
Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
What was meant to be an amazing year for the Australian film industry has been put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Marvel

This year was supposed to be an amazing one for Australia's entertainment industry with big budget Marvel films Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Thor: Love and Thunder, as well as George Miller's Three Thousand Years of Longing and Peter Rabbit 3 all set to shoot in the country.

However, all of these movies, which would have employed thousands of Australians, have been put on hold amid the coronavirus outbreak.

What could have been up to 18 months of work for some people has been reduced to potentially just three months.

And some people fear the industry will never be the same.

Speaking with Yahoo Lifestyle, Adam Kuiper, a Key Grip and Director of AJK Grips who has worked on a number of high profile films including Mad Max: Fury Road and Peter Rabbit 1 and 2 and was meant to be working on Three Thousand Years of Longing right now, saw this shut down coming a few weeks ago.

"It's all come down rather quickly... And it is a global problem... I think the arts were one of the first places to get hit, anywhere that involves crowds and masses of people were the first ones to get notice on that."

"I honestly believe, pushing this virus aside, 2020 was going to be a record year for projects in Australia. I saw this coming a year and a half ago and I basically made myself available for the projects that I was really interested in... It was going to be an absolutely cracking year, but unfortunately this has come in the middle of it all," he said.

He added: "It's definitely going to change filmmaking forever, if not most industries forever. I think we'll never be the same people again if you come out of it and some people will not come out of this at all, they won’t survive."

Speaking of the government handouts, Adam said that while it might sound like a lot of money, they could never provide dollar for dollar what people actually need. "It's not possible, but we just need to hope it's enough for people to get through."

Idris Elba, who was set to star in Three Thousand Years of Longing, recently contracted coronavirus. Photo: Getty

When it comes to Centrelink, Adam also pointed out that it's difficult for those in the arts, because they're on and off employment all the time and don't have just one employer.

While Adam believes the film and TV industry could get back on track once this is all over, he said there might not be many people left to do the work and they then might be left with a skills shortage where new people will need to be retrained to cover those who were forced out of the industry.

"I don't believe everything will be the same ever again, that's for sure," he said, also adding it's going to take a lot of time for people to financially catch up to where they were."

Reg Garside, a gaffer, has been working in the film and TV industry for over 40 years and has worked on a number of high profile films including Thor: Ragnarok, Aquaman and The Hobbit trilogy to name just a few.

Reg was one of the many Marvel workers who were forced into hiatus for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, due to the rapid spread of coronavirus in Australia.

He was also in talks for another high profile film being shot in Australia later in the year, but he's no longer sure whether things will move forward on that project given the current climate.

At this stage he has no time frame for when he'll get back to work on Shang-Chi, but said Marvel tried to keep everyone working for as long as possible.

"They tried to keep the picture going for as long as they could, but there was no mucking around and they gave us plenty of warning," Reg explained.

"I'm not too bad, but I do worry about a lot of the young guys in the industry who probably live week to week... I worry about a lot of them," he said.

Marvel tried to keep their crew working for as long as possible before they were forced to shut down production of Shang-Chi due to the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Getty

"You just don't know how long it's going to be before we go back, people say it's three months, I don't think it'll be three months, I think it'll be a lot longer. Especially with our film as we've got a lot of overseas actors working in it, so they'll all have to come back and the government is talking about six month restrictions on [people being allowed to enter the country]. So, who knows?"

Reg also revealed that Disney has provided those who were involved with Shang-Chi with professionals they can speak with about their mental health if they're feeling overwhelmed during this time, "They've been very good, in fact, they've been excellent."

He added that they've been in constant contact and have been sending emails to keep crew across everything that's been happening.

"There was definitely no running away from responsibilities or anything like that, a lot of good points were covered and they're very open to talk to and I was very impressed with them."

Dillon MacEwan, who was also working on Shang-Chi doing set construction, can normally find work elsewhere in the entertainment industry when things get tough, but this isn't an option right now.

"At the moment, I have nothing. It's a bit scary, given that so many of us are in the same boat. There were always a number of fallbacks available for when the film work was slow: theatre, festivals, as a technical fabricator for sculptors, venue fit out, or working on overseas production.

"All those options are gone, and for the foreseeable future. So, I'm trying to navigate this new situation now, with the likelihood that we will all be locked down, unable to even look for work, for a significant period of time."

Thor: Love and Thunder starring Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman was meant to start shooting in Australia later this year. It's unknown when this will happen as sets are shut down due to coronavirus. Photo: Getty

He, like Reg, said Marvel were very serious about making sure everyone on set remained safe.

"I feel they were trying to keep the production afloat as much as they could. There was a lot of uncertainty, anyone who was following the seriousness of the pandemic knew it was coming and was necessary. Marvel Studios is very particular about employee health and safety."

"It felt like everyone was expecting it, but everyone was still in shock when it happened. They are hoping to get some crew back in to finish the movie as soon as they can, but realistically I don't see that happening for at least a couple of months, probably longer."

Dillon added that he worried for the smaller production companies that he does regular work for. "There are so many smaller production houses in Sydney who have had the rug pulled entirely out from under them, and they are a vibrant community of independent local artists, engineers and technicians, many are facing bankruptcy having lost months of work literally over night. Sydney will likely be a cultural desert for a while after this."

He said that it'll be tough for the entertainment industry to get back on its feet. "Even when things start to normalise there will be a distrust of public events, so the arts sector in general will be feeling this for a long time coming.

"For film, local cinema is more likely to have a longer recovery time, as the bigger studios have more capital resources to weather the storm. I'm pretty sure Disney/Marvel are not going to cease making movies, so I know that will return. But it could take many months, meanwhile we all have families to feed, bills and rent to pay, in a globally depressed economy with the possibility of activity lockdowns being an ongoing occurrence.

Thousands of people are now trying to get access to Centrelink payments with many forced to line up at offices with very little social distancing taking place. Photo: Getty

"The real damage will be the devastation of the smaller production companies. I have no idea how they can get through this. I think many of them won't."

While Dillon believes the government is working to prevent serious disruption, he added that the arts industry has always been a "blind spot".

"The cultural sector normally employs over 300,000 Australians - the majority of them have all lost their work for the foreseeable future in the past 10 days, but the long term loss of the cultural wealth generated in this sector is something that doesn't show up in the market, and something that this government is particularly ignorant of, at the best of times.

"Germany is leading the way with its $50 billion package specifically for the cultural sector. In more general terms, this is going to continue for a while, there will be disruptions across the board, people are really going to struggle paying rent, bills, car payments, business overheads etc. These are the issues that really need to be addressed, and it can't be just pausing the payment of these things but allowing them to accrue to a future date, that will just leave us permanently in debt, permanently playing catch up."

Given how reliant the general population is on film and TV right now, with many people rarely leaving their houses, we seriously hope this shutdown doesn't last as long as predicted and people can get back to work.

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