TORONTO — Reduced crowd scenes. Fewer people on set. COVID-19 testing. Handwashing stations.
Those are some of the health and safety protocols Canadian film and TV producers are mulling over for their projects as provinces including British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec ease pandemic restrictions that shut down the industry in mid-March.
But despite such measures, many independent producers can’t set a date to roll cameras yet because of a key issue: insurance.
The Canadian Media Producers Association says insurance companies that service the film and TV industry are excluding from their new production policies any coverage for COVID-19 on a go-forward basis.
That means a large number of Canadian productions that didn’t have insurance policies in place before COVID-19 — including the long-running series “Heartland” — can’t take the financial risk of starting up only to have the virus shut down the project.
The CMPA recently developed a proposal with a “market-based solution” to the problem asking the federal government to serve as a backstop.
The proposal says producers would pay premiums to access COVID-19 coverage, which would go into a dedicated pot to pay for potential claims. The government would only contribute financially, through a proposed $100-million backstop, if the funds generated though the sale of the policies were insufficient to cover the claims made.
“Everyone understands that there is huge urgency to resolving this issue,” CMPA president and CEO Reynolds Mastin said in a phone interview. “We’ve had good conversations with the government.
“They are asking a lot of very good questions and doing a very in-depth analysis of our proposal, and so we are working together to figure out the best pathway forward as quickly as possible.”
Producers across the country are working with government, guilds and unions to develop the proper guidelines and best practices for returning to production.
But without COVID-19 coverage in an insurance policy or government assistance, many independent producers aren’t able to shoulder the cost of having to halt a project due to a cast or crew member becoming ill with the virus, or a second wave of the disease.
There could also be added costs of starting up production during a pandemic due to longer filming periods because of increased safety measures, additional cleaning on set, and bringing in appropriate health and safety protective equipment.
“What goes through my brain when I think about a second wave? My brain explodes,” said Toronto-based producer Amy Cameron, who was in pre-production on the upcoming CBC series “Lady Dicks” when COVID-19 hit.
“The financial impact is enormous, the logistics of it are huge, and there are so many complications with it.”
Cameron, who serves as co-executive producer, said they secured insurance for the show around the time of the pandemic shutdown. The policy has many COVID-19 exclusions, but it does cover up to 10 cast members, so at least there’s some security.
She’s now drafting health and safety guidelines for the set with the aim of starting production prep in early July if government rules allow.
Producer Tom Cox had existing insurance policies in place for two series before the pandemic shut them down — the Calgary-shot “Wynonna Earp,” set for a season 4 on CTV Sci-Fi Channel, and the upcoming Vancouver-shot Global drama “Family Law.” He’s now making plans to return to production on both of those shows.
However he can’t move forward with shooting season 14 of another series, CBC’s “Heartland,” because he doesn’t have insurance for it yet.
“We really can’t take on the risk associated with starting production under the circumstances with insurance that has COVID exclusions,” Cox said from Calgary.
“So we’re waiting. And we’re certainly not alone. Most of the Canadian industry is in the same boat.”
Some studios may be able to proceed on the basis of self-insuring, Cox said, but many Canadian independent production companies don’t have the resources to do that.
Winnipeg producer Kyle Irving had insurance in place for the film “Esther” when it was in pre-production before the pandemic.
Using COVID-19 film and TV health and safety protocols he helped author for the entire province of Manitoba, he plans to start rolling cameras on the feature in August.
However, the partner at Eagle Vision says all of their other productions, which include CBC’s “Burden of Truth,” are delayed indefinitely until they’re able to resolve the insurance issue.
“If there’s no backstop for a producer’s liability on another shutdown, how do we work with our union partners to share the financial risk of another shutdown?” Irving said.
“There are going to have to be compromises made by everybody to make this something that, from a business perspective, is tenable.”