Screen Sector Task Force
Notes – 23 March 2020
- Ben Roberts, BFI Chief Executive
Challenging times, never time more need to work together on remedies and across all our communications channels to our various constituencies.
Ben outlined the purpose of the Screen Sector Task Force and this session; important to say that we are not trying to duplicate or speak for you all who are trying to work across the sector and doing good work. This task force was set up as a cross-sector group to bring industry together in looking at how we tackle the challenges for Brexit and would be a good forum to discussing the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis. The purpose is:
- To share and pool intelligence
- To eliminate duplication of effort as much as possible
- To give everyone access to our policy and research teams to ensure everyone has access to the best evidence, so everyone can make the best decisions
- To provide an interface between the sector and the DCMS
We have representation from across the industry and a call group of this size may not be necessary on a frequent basis; we may find it more effective to convene other groups and there may be other ways we can support the communications flow. Also want to just signpost that we have posted a Q&A on our website and a dedicated mailbox for Covid-19 related enquiries at
Q&A on our website (https://www.bfi.org.uk/supporting-uk-film/covid-19-answering-questions-screen-sectors), and a mailbox for Covid enquiries ([email protected]).
- Robert Specterman-Green and Vicky McCallum from DCMS.
Many thanks Ben, Harriet and BFI for convening this task force. As Ben has set out, this is fast moving and unprecedented situation. Guidance is moving quickly and we expect it to change over next few days. The focus of DCMS is on engaging with the sector so incredibly helpful for us that the BFI has taken this leadership on pulling people together and pooling information. From a DCMS perspective we would like to cover off a couple of substantive points on Government thinking and then talk about structural issues we are looking at.
First of all, on the substantive issues, the Chancellor has announced two big packages to help industry; a package for businesses with grants and loans for example and then a package for employees. Hopefully this will address some of the industry’s immediate concerns but it’s important to say that we are aware that it does not cover all issues and particularly around freelancers which is front and centre of your and our minds.
There is not a huge of extra detail at this point that we can offer on the issues for freelancers but I want to give you reassurance that the issue has landed with Ministers and with officials, been brought up with Caroline Dinenage and with John Whittingdale, we have brought up with HMT and DWP, including over this past weekend. We want to make it clear, that the reason that there has been little detail or support for freelancers so far does not represent any lack of concern over the specific issues on this part of the workforce but is a sign of the complexities that are being discussed.
In the DCMS we help to shape policy to try and mitigate some of the impacts and want to continue to work closely with all of you. The way that you can help us and therefore yourselves, is to continue to raise the issues as loudly has you can, whether in letters to Ministers or the Chancellor. Tomorrow there is a meeting with Caroline Dinenage and John Whittingdale, so please be as clear as you can in giving us information about the impacts and the figures and evidence you can provide the better arguments we can make for you.
On processes and structures within DCMS, want to emphasise that managing the Covid-19 crisis is the top priority in DCMS and we are focusing two particular elements. First, is engaging with the sector, so we can be aware of new issues, if the measures introduced are landing well, etc. The second is looking at potential policy developments, if interventions are timely and effective.
Both Robert and I are happy to talk about thinking in Government, but it’s important to say that it is moving fast, decisions being made rapidly.
I have been very struck by how fast everything is moving and it is important to understand your perspectives, your concerns and asks, but I would emphasise that whilst there is a willingness to do as much as we can, it is taking a bit longer on certain on issues because of operational and delivery constraints. On freelancers there is, as many of you has mentioned, a very straightforward way of delivery through tax but on the ground that is sometimes easier said than done so working hard with Treasury on what might be deliverable. We appreciate as every day goes past, colleagues are struggling but when dealing with the macro machine, we have got to make sure it works, so I would say please bear with us as we try to deliver the solutions.
- Industry speakers – key priorities
John McVay at Pact
Support for businesses through the job retention scheme is very welcome especially for SMEs, for all production companies across the UK who are worried about losing key staff which will make the key worker shortage even more acute.
I would echo comments about freelancers as the biggest worry for us but also with the studios. If we could see something around parity or the job retention scheme that would be very helpful. We’ve seen all input form colleagues in unions and share their concerns but to be clear freelancers have a separate status to employees.
Virtually all production has been cancelled with limited or no insurance to cover that Few Claims will be made and what there is will not cover full costs.
I have been glad to see many of our members have exceeded basis termination payments, but for some broadcasters this is going to take off from their bottom line and it will gobble up their reserves. Where we have smaller SMEs outside of London, the value of their reserves is very limited or low because it is a price competitive sector. They might be able to retain key staff but they won’t have the capital for development when the market comes back. I would like to talk to the screen agencies about what could be done, perhaps look at the R&D tax support.
Thirdly, we also need to look slightly ahead at exports which are important and valuable – we might need to get some fresh thinking ideas around that.
The business rates holiday and business grants are only available to the holiday and hospitality sector are a good idea and I wonder if this can this be extended to all SMES. Like everyone else has said this is a fast moving situation and Pact will be holding webinairs with the sector.
Finally, on the employer retention scheme it would be good to have more details as soon as possible.
Philippa Childs from BECTU
We welcome the Government’s response to a number of concerns for the self-employed – mortgage holidays, delay of the IR35 tax reforms and the self-assessment tax deadline and income floor for universal credits. Income replacement for freelancers remains unanswered and we stand ready to work with Government on a solution for this. It is more difficult for freelancers than employees but believe they are deserving same level of support. We have a proposal that Government uses data from previous tax returns to get a picture and then make grant payments covering 80% of income with cap of £3,000 per month. We are suggesting a higher income for freelances for the main reason that there are no employers to top up, there is no guarantee of return to work as there is with employees and thirdly the nature of the work means that the missing period of production from March represents a higher proportion of lost income. We feel this could be a fair system that could be rolled out swiftly.
We also know from other unions that they share this concern and freelancers are feeling desperate and left behind.
Also want to highlight that already know that there are high levels of problems with mental health across the industry and this situation is not going to make it any easier. We need to talk about what support we can give to people in terms of mental health in this interim period of not working and isolation to help them use their skills and exercise mental health.
This unprecedented situation is also highlighting to people the precarious nature of their engagement conditions so they will also be asking questions about the future of working in the sector and we shall be thinking about what that means about their engagement in future.
Neil Hatton, UK Screen Alliance
We echo others on the business rates measure but that it needs to be for all business in the supply chain. With VFX, post-production and with some animation, we are able to do some work remotely but because the shut-down is global, nothing feeding into pipeline. So within a matter of weeks, possibly days for smaller businesses, they will be running out of work and as they are very overhead-led they will literally will bleed cash so the various measures being introduced by the Chancellor would be welcomed for supply business.
Job retention scheme has a lot of potential here. We got some pointers in a CBI webinar when the answer to putting people on short-term working to access the scheme would seem to be a ‘no’ but if it were working part-time, that might work for our sector. But at the moment there is a lack of detail which we are waiting for.
For instance for VFX specialist workers, how do you bring them back from being ‘furloughed’?
Asset finance, some of the brokers are calling on lenders to give holidays on payments.
On the CBI call there was call for consultations to be paused, i.e. funding bands on apprenticeships and the Home Office review of shortage occupation lists, which is completely unnecessary at this time. Can these be paused?
All our members will be suffering re cashflow and as a membership body, they will be less able to pay their fees, so membership bodies will have issues with cashflow which Government could look at regarding covering operational costs. Trade associations are excluded from the business interruption measures.
Importantly we need to look forward as to how we are going to jump-start the industry – John’s [McVay] comment was spot on. By the time that filming can result the summer period will be over and we shall be moving do darker evenings (key to shooting) and therefore we will see filming start in the in southern hemisphere first. If VFX business are ready to work, but it would be helpful to suspend measures such as the Cultural Text, the minimum spend threshold, having SPV ready 6 weeks early when we could be expecting to pick up work.
Phil Clapp, UK Cinema Association
We appreciate the work being done by DCMS, by Vicky and Robert.
Current status is that all UK cinemas are closed; most took decision post the Prime Minister’s statement last Monday but a few final companies took the decision following Friday. Most insurance policies don’t cover for loss of business regarding the Government mandate.
Business rates and grants for SMEs welcome but the job retention scheme is important and key for us; as much detail will be appreciated as soon as possible.
Our other priorities relate:
- a VAT holiday is welcome but anything on PAYE and insurance would be welcomed
- anything regarding businesses not being evicted on non-payment of rents, would be welcomed
- attitude of major lenders – many of our members have bank loans many of which are precluded from taking loans as suggested by Government.
Thanks to Andy and FDA members for their statement of support.
All of this is relative, we are conscious that we as a sub sector are in a slightly better situation than freelances or self-employed so we would support those sectors that are in a more parlous situation than others.
Adrian Wootton, British Film Commissioner
Concerns raised with us have focused on small to medium enterprises being able to continue to trade, especially companies on the supply side. The costume house Angels [biggest in the world] has laid off 160 people in last few days. The Government’s support has been welcome but clarity on the detail is key: we are being inundated with business which simply don’t know if job retention scheme applies to them and retaining their business and incredibly skilled staff is so important. Angels and the camera hire company Panavision feel these measures sound positive but are not sure if and how it applies to them, and if to so the time period for getting money, etc.
Also, we endorse BECTU that the freelance workforce at heart of all the production. We need to keep those staff, keep training them and retain them for when we do get back up and running. We are hearing individual cases of hardship with people not able to pay their rents, etc.
Our third point is in response to Neil Hatton’s which is although the BFC would want to take a look at a measure on modification of tax relief, we have to look positively at what kind of recovery package we are going to need to implement to fill our studios and draw on our talent – re-starting will not be like flicking a switch. We are going to have to work together to implement a recovery plan and it will be a miracle if we get going much before the autumn or the New Year and that will have a multi-million impact on the economy and on creating business confidence globally.
Vicky – huge amount of interesting ideas that have come up here, in particularly the ideas for jump-starting the economy on the other side, very important not to lose sight of that whilst we manage immediate crisis. Thoughts and ideas in that space would be great.
Robert – really useful seeing the comments being contributed and thinking about how my team is working trying to respond I would like to suggest that if the BFI could receive and collate everyone’s comments and send on to us, that would be extremely helpful.
- BFI Research and Statistics Unit – Julia Lamaison
Areas of business that the RSU is looking to track and gather data and intelligence around.
- Box office. Roughly our estimates say box office revenues is losing £3.5 million a day and when other revenues from concessions (confectionary, drinks, etc) that goes up to nearly £5 million a day.
When cinemas reopen, we looking at tracking titles that have been dropped and been rescheduled.
- The impact of the hiatus in film production because that follows through to exhibition.
UK film (and high-end TV production) is losing £9.9m a day. Further potential impact could be on capacity when production starts again with productions queuing up.
- Home Entertainment. Complicated picture. SVoD in some countries such as Italy is going through the roof. In the UK at the moment, supermarkets not restocking physical DVDs, etc. and if not in shops, people can’t buy them.
- TV audiences – increasing exponentially but there is decreasing pipeline of productions coming through and that has a knock-on impact on TV advertising.
- Impact on other public funders. The British Council’s revenues will be hit by the cancellation of courses for overseas students.
- We haven’t looked at this yet
We haven’t decided the best way to disseminate data and intelligence but we know you need data quickly and we know it need to be accurate so will come back on that.
BFI will look at the best ways to share information, other platforms we can use and which could work for the group going forward, perhaps a forum where people can share information, documents, etc.
Andrew Smith, Pinewood
Local Enterprise Partnerships have growth funds and we have a meeting on Friday to request releasing capital for revenue funding which is very useful for small and micro business – anything the DCMS can do will be helpful. We have about £8.3m we can release today if we can get revenue to capital over the line.
Ben Roberts, BFI
Everything is fast-moving as everyone has said and we are working on a fund that could be of some support to the sector. I am sure everyone read about Netflix launching a $100 million hardship fund and on Friday we started a conversation with Netflix about how they intend to distribute the $15 million available internationally. We have also been talking to the Film & TV Charity on how we could partner with them. The charity will fund raise from industry to build up that pot and Netflix will be first contribution to that pot. This has been happening at speed.
Alex Pumfrey, Film & Television Charity
Our Film & TV Support Line has been extremely busy; we have had as many calls in three days as in three months. We have been using our existing hardship fund to help people who are already at the cliff- edge. Whilst we support call for meaningful govern intervention, there is an acute and urgent need to help freelancers. I am delighted that a plan has come together quickly and even whilst on call, we are getting other pledges in from high-net worth individuals around the industry so hopeful we can get a fund up and running. It will take a little while to get it up and operational. In meantime the Charity’s hardship fund is there in the short-term.
A parallel priority is mental health and the charity has launched a Film and Television Task Force and a programme for change on supporting Mental Health. I think we have to also look at how we can best offset some of the mental issues that are impacting on people.
Gareth Ellis-Unwin, ScreenSkills
ScreenSkills has already in touch with the charity and are ready to help, either with bringing some person power or with our other initiatives.
Ben King, Netflix
I’m very happy to say a few words but would urge everyone to keep this confidential until an announcement is made. On Friday we announced a $100 million fund global to help with hardship. 85% of that going to workers who are the hardest hit on our own productions but hte final $15 million got to providing relief to crew in countries where we have a large production base and we have more production in the UK than anywhere else outside the US so we are excited to kick-start this fund. There are many details still to be worked through.
Christine Payne, Equity
I would like to say well done to Netflix. A question, ill this fund be available to actors to access because at the moment the Film & Television Charity is not available to actors. Will you be wanting to have separate conversation with the acting union?
Ben Roberts, BFI
In terms of the overall fund, for freelance professionals, certain allocations will have more criteria for below the line crew.
Ben King, Netflix
At the moment we are still trying to work out the scope of eligibility, so it’s a little premature at this stage.
Gidon Freeman, Universal
How much coordination is therewith film agencies outside the UK?
Harriet Finney, BFI
We are still part of the European Film Agency Directors group (EFAD) and there have been initial round robin emails between us but more from the Film Fund perspective. At this point we have not heard from Italy or Spain but having a fuller view from international film agencies will be an important part of intel we are gathering. The RSU will have some data that compares to other markets so we can look at providing that.
Chat questions and comments
Charles Moore, Wiggin: Job Retention Scheme.
Liz Bales, BASE: Echoing John – many requests as to how employers can access the employees scheme
John McVay, Pact: IR 35 should be delayed for 2 years as most production won’t start until next year anyway so it has little-to-no effect now.
We are stepping up webinars with international commissioners and buyers.
Seetha Kumar, ScreenSkills: Picking up on Phillipa’s point on activity and giving people things to do, we are putting together a package of skills support that is swiftly being repurposed and the response to date has been strong.
Sam Winter, Equity: Equity supports everything Phillipa has said on behalf of the unions and the urgent need for financial support for freelance workers.
Olivia Hetreed, Writers’ Guild: What prospects for a roll-out of testing so that shoots on location could be declared virus free or post-viral to speed up the return to production?
Andrew Chowns, Directors UK: Robert and Vicky from DCMS – can you post your email addresses so we can send you more evidence?
Catharine Des Forges, Independent Cinema Office: we’re currently doing a survey with those in our network/mailing list – one thing we want to find out is how many people have already lost their jobs. The time-lag for detail on employee retention will come too late for quite a lot of those working in the independent cinema sector. Echo what has been said before about companies with lack of reserves to keep going even with 80% of staff costs being covered.
From Richard Williams, Northern Ireland Screen: Could the agencies across the UK play a part in administering any support to freelancers? I know the scale makes it easier for us but we would be happy to do it for Northern Ireland or indeed wider.
From John McVay, Pact: Pact will be compiling financial information on UK independent production.
Charlie Bloye, FEUK: How do the business continuity measures for SMEs intersect with de minimis state aid rules still in operation during the transition period?
Neil Hatton, UK Screen Alliance: Important that customers throughout the supply chain pay their suppliers the normal rate for services. Don’t use this collapse in demand to be an opportunity to profiteer and don’t exploit desperate companies and freelancers. They will be needed on the other side so don’t destroy them short term.
James: Just to update point on replenishment with Grocery, BASE members are working with merchandisers and retailers to make extra store calls and ensure stock in stores is getting to shopfloor.
Gareth Ellis-Unwin, ScreenSkills: Are Netflix on this call? Do we have detail in unlocking the below and whether any of the support be available to the UK screen workforce? https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/mar/20/netflix-100m-coronavirus-fund-relief-creatives
Robert Specterman-Green, DCMS: Andrew S – noted on LEPs; we will take that back.
Adrian Wootton, BFC: It’s not directly a BFC thing but echoing Catharine [Des Forges] think the plight of independent cinema is notwithstanding Government SME support quite dire and it’s been suggested to us a lot will go out of business.
Olivia Hetreed, Writers’ Guild: picking up on Julia’s point about capacity – there will be a big problem with casting and therefore financing (refinancing). Any idea of how long support will be available to businesses through that difficult period?
From Phil Clapp, UK Cinema Association: Adrian – let’s take that offline maybe. That’s not coming through to me but always keen to hear more.
Neil Hatton, UK Screen Alliance: Bravo Netflix! Disney, Warners, Universal etc. please join in.
Sam Winter, Equity: Ben and Alex – will that fund be available to actors to access?
Ben Roberts, BFI: Sam I think we need a bit of time to figure out what is in scope.
Bertrand Moullier, Naval Media: Point of clarification, please Ben: is the $15 m from Netflix’s hardship fund specifically earmarked for UK workforce?
Ben Roberts, BFI: Bertrand as I understand it the 15m is for international markets. Of which $1m is for the UK.
Jon Wardle: Well done Alex and Ben! Sounds great. That was quick work and really needed.
Adrian Wootton: Echo everyone this is great news from Film and Television Charity and BFI and be great to see more information we can circulate as appropriate.
John McVay, Pact: well done Netflix.
jbarc: I would ask Netflix and others not to forgot about actors with many of their engagements already terminated
Catharine Des Forges, ICO: Phil/Adrian – coming through to us but will have more info on this once we have completed survey. We can share that when we have data.
Kate O’Connor, Animation UK/UK Screen Alliance: Great news from Netflix and good to hear other commitments coming through. On industry support it would be good if broadcasters could ease concern by addressing production in progress contract issues. Need their support also.
Alex Pumfrey, Film & Television Charity: Thank you again to Netflix for their exceptional pledge. We are working hard to clarify detail and will share more with you all as soon as we can. Any questions in the meantime do contact me.