Coronavirus conundrum for filmmakers
Updated: Oct 7
Like many people I've been amazed at the speed of change over the last couple of weeks. I thought I'd seen it all with the 2008 economic crash - that happened at lightspeed but nothing quite prepared me for the global holistic event that has been the COVID-19 outbreak.
COVID-19 says hello
Filmmaking is all about problem solving - it's why my studio is full of back-ups - I was on a shoot in January and my headphones failed on set (as I was monitoring audio) I then remembered I packed a pair of back-up headphones just in case. Back-up cameras, lenses, lights, power supplies and stands are the norm - preparing for all eventualities is a big part of my job. I used to carry a back-up C-stand knuckle but now have decided that's a little much. The COVID-19 outbreak has no precedent (note - I didn't want to say 'unprecedented' as Rishi Sunak owns the patent on this word.) As a filmmaker I've gone into project management mode to try and navigate these very choppy waters. My day consists of making assumptions, validating those assumptions while logging all risks that seem to be in perpetual motion. Like many, I'm tracking my project against the daily briefings of the Prime Minister and even though I didn't vote for his party - I think he's doing an admirable job and embracing scientific expertise.
The Girafingo offices are based in Bussey Building in Peckham, London - the creative hub of London. I share my studio with my wife Izzy who is a set designer - and our dog Mango. I've been busy in pre-production for a documentary project I've been commissioned for which is due to start shooting in September. Me and Izzy were also booked on a filming project with a psychology department at a London university to film a series of art installation workshops - and coupled with some personal projects of our own - it would be fair to say we had some exicting projects ahead of us.
Our studio colleagues come from a wide range of backgrounds; an eclectic mix of filmmakers, costume designers, artists, graphic designers and illustrators; it's always nice to get a knock on the door or have someone poke their head in to say hello. It's one of the best parts of studio life as it gives you a chance to learn about other crafts and collectively moan about late invoices and nothing else (promise!). Since the COVID-19 outbreak, our happy studio existence has now become a place of crippling anxiety as jobs and commissions which seemed secure have now been put on hold. Things have fared worse for our colleagues with many having to literally close their businesses down overnight. Both myself and Izzy have also had to deal with cancellations and projects going into indefinite hiatus. It's been incredibly hard and not in a character forming way - just hard - in a crappy nihilistic way. So far we've been fortunate enough to still keep our businesses running - we are the lucky ones.
At Girafingo we specialise in colour grading and film production. One advantage of colour grading is that the work is remote by nature so this has not been impacted as such, especially in relation to projects that have been filmed in their entirety - we expect these to come through the pipeline; the future is slightly more precarious as colour grading is dependant on production and as productions have ceased all over the world - we'll have to wait and see how this situation develops.
Good news ... for now
One good piece of news is that we managed to re-format our filming work with the aforementioned University. While we can no longer film the installation workshops with students, we're now creating a series of 'How to' videos and will activate them via the University's social media channels. We found that our client was open to ideas as to how to keep the project alive and I think that's a good way to treat the challenges of this time. I'm currently working on ways to ensure I can film my documentary in September - based on everything being in total lockdown. This may now include doing the interviews on Skype/Zoom and working with the client on utilising their stock footage assets. Just the act of being creative and working on solutions has kept the project alive - for now.
One big caveat is that this is not the norm - it's not always possible to re-format your existing projects - social distancing and self-isolation means no crew, no locations, no filming with people outside of your home environment. On hearing that our pitch to re-format our documentary shoot was back on - my first instinct was to contact my main camera assistant and grip - only to be told by Izzy that this was not possible due to self-isolation. Doh!
My advice to anyone who's had projects cancelled due to this virus is this; don't be too hard on yourself. If you can find a way to keep your project alive that's great. If not, don't see it as a failure - these are hard times.