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AFM: COVID Costs Continue to Plague Indie Sector

Vaccines are up, hospitalizations are down and, as evidenced by the throng of international shoppers at the Lowes Hotel for AFM this week, global travel is back. But for the industry, COVD and the complications it brings to financing, insuring and producing independent films are here to stay.

“The financial impact of COVID, logistics, COVID insurance, testing costs, etc., will last a long time,” notes Erica Lee, partner at Thunder Road Pictures (john wick, Hitman), speaking on AFM this week. “Which is frustrating, because that’s more money that’s not on screen.”

Well-established COVID protocols, from regular testing, mandatory masks for off-camera staff, and “bubble” systems that isolate different sections of a production to contain any potential outbreaks, have been standard practice and have greatly reduced risk. of a complete closure. . But the associated costs, which can amount to as much as 10 percent of a movie’s budget, can be crippling. And that’s before often-expensive COVID insurance policies are factored in.

“When it comes to insurance, it’s getting better,” says Kirk D’Amico, president and CEO of Myriad Pictures. “A year ago, bond companies required at least $1 million in COVID coverage. Now for the same type of project, maybe you can get away with $500,000 or so.”

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But in the US, a lack of insurance market regulation means COVID insurance prices can vary widely. Myriad began filming his western directed by Walter Hill Dead for a dollar starring Christoph Waltz and Willem Dafoe just as new strains of COVID were on the rise, driving up insurance premiums.

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Even if you have COVID coverage, collecting those policies can be tricky. In September, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by the morning show producer Always Smiling Productions v. Chubb National Insurance Company, claiming $44 million in COVID-related damages.

The insurer had agreed to pay only $1 million. Courts have dismissed similar claims by Creative Artists Agency and United Talent Agency against their insurers, ruling that their policies did not provide the coverage the agencies thought they did. Paramount’s successful settlement with Federal Insurance Company for COVID costs in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Onewhose financial details have not been disclosed, remains the exception.

In several countries, including Canada or Australia, governments have stepped in to provide support to cover COVID-related costs if an actor falls ill or production is cancelled. Efforts to get similar legislation passed in the US have so far stalled.

Last year, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) revived plans for a federal Pandemic Insurance Act (PRIA) that would require insurers to provide COVID coverage (many still refuse) and would see the government to take control of 95 percent of insurers’ pandemic-related claims. . But the PRIA remains in limbo, a victim of Washington’s partisan gridlock.

“Regulation would help stabilize the market,” says D’Amico. “It’s not like it would save the industry, but it would make things less volatile.”

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Without the legal clarity that federal legislation would provide, independent producers continue to hedge their bets.

“Looking at the packages here in the market, you’re looking at key attachments, like the top leader, that comes with COVID exceptions,” says John Freidberg, president of the Black Bear International production, sales and distribution team. “So you’re guaranteed Star X. Unless… COVID.”

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This story first appeared in the November 4 daily edition of The Hollywood Reporter at the American Film Market.


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