INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE OF CORONAVIRUS
As the coronavirus began to have an impact on our country, I contacted the international community of Editors that I met last October in Cologne to get a feel for how things were affecting our (mostly) European colleagues.
There were stories of festivals being switched to online overnight, Editors having their work terminated with no notice, and a very common and shared experience of uncertainty about when this will end and if our industry and jobs will be the same again.
Here are some of the experiences relayed to me over the last month:
SPAIN: The situation is quite dramatic. Hotels have closed to become field hospitals, as well as exhibition centres and city fairgrounds, the national health service is absolutely overwhelmed. Everything seems like a bad dream and going out on the street at times is similar to 'The Handmaid’s Tale', 'The Omega Man' or 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'.
Some Editors have managed to continue working from home but for many others it has meant dismissal, and the group of film and television professionals is one of the most affected. The government has not provided any specific aid for either the self-employed or cultural professionals.
Irene Blecua, AMAE
FINLAND: As if the corona wasn't enough, just a few weeks back the directors', screenwriters' and actors' guilds teamed up to announce that they try cut down the copyright compensations of all other groups: Editors, cinematographers, sound designers, production designers and costume designers. Editors' compensation is 3% for a fiction film now. So, this means we at F.C.E. might have to start organising ourselves in that sense too.
Joona Louhivuori F.C.E
Chair, Finnish Cinema Editors
AUSTRIA: The first days were really a mess in our industry because there was no clear "interpretation" for the creative sector. Basically, filming was not prohibited as long as you follow the rules of distancing, which is illusory. So every production was acting on its own behalf, but by now all filming has stopped, sending a lot of our Editors into unexpected unemployment.
Some of us can edit at home, some still edit in post houses respecting all measures as best as possible. But it still is difficult for some to take the risk and go to work every day. It is still at the company's will, to decide if the work is necessary.
The government introduced a "short-term work" model for open-ended contracts. Companies can pay 10-20%. The Public Employment Service takes over the remaining percent up to 80%. This way companies are not forced to dismiss their workforce, and employees are guaranteed to keep their jobs. This of course not working for project-based jobs.
For our profession, we basically have three social security nets that we can take advantage of now: For everyone who works on contract and has collected enough working hours, can benefit from payments for the time between projects. For those who cannot utilise that service, they can go to our Collecting Society. They have increased their fund for freelancers and regular employees. You can only apply for a specific amount of financial support, like rent and financial support to compensate the unexpected financial loss. As the very last option, there is also Social Security Fund for Artists (including sculptors, musicians and other fields of art). You also have to apply there, but you have to strip down completely: bank status, living situation, partner/family finances. It is the last resort.
FRANCE: We were advised to lockdown mid-March. Since then, our government never ceased to send mixed signals to the population (for starters: pubs, restaurants, movie theaters were abruptly closed the night before an election was held and maintained in the whole country).
The cultural sector, as many others, was severely hit by the crisis. The government promised every business to take over most of the partial unemployment costs during the lockdown, but since most of us are contractually employed by a production at the last minute (or worse, never signing a contract before the production ends), we are very exposed and will most likely not benefit at all from this measure
For now, it seems like our employers are counting on the specific unemployment system of our sector, which usually covers a part of our income between jobs, as long as we worked enough hours each year. We obtained to "freeze" these unemployment benefits as long as the lockdown will last.
ARGENTINA: In EDA we are paying attention to the psychological part of the quarantine (the isolation). This weekend we have been doing virtual meetings via Zoom (for beers, having lunch, breakfast, etc) with members of EDA. And we are all the time taking about how are we are feeling.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus brings a worldwide economic crisis. The good thing is that we are connected and inspiring each other.
Part of the presidential decree declared mass media production as an ESSENTIAL SERVICE to the population, so the TV Channels and many TV production houses are still open and working normally, but with strict health guidelines.
Mercedes Oliveira (EDA)
SWEDEN: We've been noticed for taking a little different route in dealing with the pandemic so far and we are still free to meet in public, government has offered financial support to businesses and employees in the cultural sector specifically naming freelancers and artists as beneficiaries.
The window to decide to shoot new movies are closing down rapidly (partly because of we also have such a short summer here when many films have to have their outdoor scenes shot) and of course that means less jobs in post in a few months time.
HOLLAND: Editors are showing a collaborative spirit, helping each other work out remote learning systems as all shoots were paused or postponed. The guild is part of a larger arts and cultural organisation called the Creative Coalition. This coalition is currently in close contact with the ministry in an effort to try and set up additional emergency funds for the arts.
Job ter Burg
DENMARK: Editors in collaboration with other arts organisations wrote a letter to their Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen:
"Despite negotiations for support for cultural players, the basic dialogue with the Ministry of Culture about our real needs has not been achieved. All important industries have now been helped, so why are we the ones who need to keep up?
"We do not want special support schemes, we just want a very ordinary salary compensation equal with all other relief packages that you have established long ago. We make our own money and, like every other citizen of this country, we need a compensation scheme that takes into account our income situation. The difference between us and the regular employee is that most of us freelancers live on a cloth blanket income. We do not have a permanent employer, but many job vacancies, which we each get ourselves established every month to be able to make a monthly salary together. Such is our terms and we live with it, this is how Danish cultural life looks.
"…we as professionals are proud of how our members are adapting even after several years of major cuts. That is why it is so sad to find that exactly those of us who do not have the same job security, but who work and pay taxes on our wages every month, do not get to be compensated."
ITALY: In Rome there is a silence never heard, day and night, and the police pass through the streets with loudspeakers saying not to leave the house: it seems an apocalyptic movie!
The government is taking a number of measures, for now we consider them a little weak. In principle, they are reducing the number of working days needed to access the subsidy between jobs and they are increasing the funds made available for the entertainment industry. But all grants will be granted until the funds are exhausted. They have set a quota of €600 for entertainment workers for the month of March alone. Something similar for small businesses also.
Maria Grazia Pandolfo
HUNGARY: On the 12th March, after Trump's speech, all of the US films’ crew left Hungary within 24 hours. In the next days, UK and German crews also left Budapest.
Every single foreign film and commercials which was to shoot in Budapest has been stopped or postponed. Most of the Hungarian films were in preproduction but they postponed them.
ILDIKÓ PICUR SZŰCS DR
BELGIUM: Our film business is partly based on a tax shelter system. If this collapses (which is now) it might take some time to recover.
95% are stopped in their activities while shooting: 35% on TV series, 30% on feature film, remaining on various including commercials.
80% are losing ALL of their revenue, 11% are eligible get some unemployment revenue
25% thinks that the shooting will not start again or is lost for them because of other commitments, 25% are hoping for the reboot, 5% are sure, it will start again.
So we all hope the virus will be defeated as soon as possible.
NORWAY: The government has changed the rules for social security support. That means that everybody who are laid off, permanent or temporarily, freelance or self-employed, are secured with 20 days of full payment. Also people with child support responsibilities have got a longer period of support. The government also gave additional funding for the cultural branch since it’s a specially vulnerable sector. But the amount is by far too small to last long.
CANADA: Just like many of you, we are now in an almost complete lockdown, and have been since the last two weeks. People here are taking the COVID-19 situation very seriously, as our free health care system is working at capacity in the best of times.
Those of us who were already working on a project are in general able to continue from home. For those of us who are out of work, the government has just announced a special emergency fund to help pay the basic needs.
We foresee that the next few months will be a test of our solidarity. As work starts to slowly come back, we know the temptation will be there for everybody to take on as much as possible to make up for the lost revenue. We are advocating for everybody to respect their own health, and share the work with colleagues who will also be hungry after this period of self-imposed isolation.
Annie Jean, CCE
UK: The UK film and TV industry was going at 100mph (“a golden age!”) until very recently, and then it hit the coronavirus brick wall.
But right now, nobody is thinking about work. It is all about the health workers and those at the front-line (although we are all on the front-line with this virus). I know that many of us are considering what we can do to help as auxiliary workers.
Our government has been slow to recognise the plight of the self-employed. Petitions have been signed, surveys filled out and letters written to the Chancellor.
Wherever possible, we have referred to the extraordinary support that exists for freelancers elsewhere in Europe.
The UK has since introduced the concept of “furloughing” for people who were on the payroll on Feb 28th. If you are furloughed the government pays 80% of your salary to the company you worked for but you MUST NOT work. This is all up to the employer and not compulsory.
(Photos by Fiona Strain ASE.)
Fiona Strain ASE,
President, Australian Screen Editors Guild
(eNews 97 - May 2020)