Will COVID-19 slow down commercial productions?

With film productions such as MI:7 shutting down, South By Southwest cancelling, The One Club taking Creative Week online and other events across the country either cancelling, or considering, due to the growing Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the United States, one begins to wonder how ad agencies and production companies are faring when travel, both domestically and internationally, is an important daily function.

A spokeswoman for Santa Monica-based David&Goliath told Reel 360 that the agency has restricted all international business travel and are following all CDC and State Department guidelines for employees, or household members, who have visited the impacted COVID-19 regions.

For any upcoming production shoots out of state or country, the agency states it will evaluate on a case by case basis.

Joanna Shaw, one of the partners and Executive Producer of Los Angeles-based Unicorns & Unicorns told Reel 360, “I’m saddened for the filmmakers who would have debuted at SXSW. But we all have to live. I just landed in NY for production and my partners just got back from a sales trip in Miami. For us, the show must go on.”

At Dentsu, a spokeswoman told Reel 360 that the attention is focused on employee’s health and the agency has put in place a restriction on travel to business critical, and all travel must be approved by upper levels. Sick employees now work from home.  

mcgarrybowen reportedly is not feeling a huge impact on client operations or meetings yet, but that could change.

Cari Bucci, President of Marc USA, shared that the agency is looking to the federal government when it comes to travel or production affected by COVID-19.

“From a travel perspective what we’re doing is just looking to federal government, following CDC guidelines and sort of encouraging people to hand wash and do all the things that you would normally do to protect yourself from the flu.”

She adds, “One of the things that is actually unique about Marc is that we function as one agency across all of the offices. We really are one PNL. So if we needed to, for us to shift into a “remote” work environment, it would be a bit of a disruption, but it wouldn’t be crazy.  We’re set up for it here and we’ve been talking about it and I’m not concerned that it would disrupt operations from that perspective. “

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AICP’s Matt Miller advises agencies, “Be prudent wherever you can”

Matt Miller, president and chief executive officer of the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), has a taken cautionary, yet prudent approach and advises production companies and their agencies to follow suit in regards to COVID-19.

(Matt Miller, President AICP)

Reel 360 is based in Hollywood, Reel Chicago in Chicago and you’re in New York. All big cities that can handle big productions. What advice are you offering those agencies and companies there as well as agencies in smaller markets who do need to travel? You know, there are some things unique to each production and there are some things that are general to all businesses, regardless if you’re an agency, client or production company

Common sense. No matter who you are, we are advising companies to keep checking all the information out there and using that information to gauge the risk to their personnel. When it comes to production, it’s all about being prepared and ensuring that you have viable options in front of you.

The most important thing that we know at this point is there are a lot of unknowns. We still really don’t know what we’re dealing with. So, more than ever, we are advising production companies to make sure that the agencies are keeping their clients in the loop. All should be a part of the decision making as far as the approach goes into a production. When you’re carrying risk, whether it’s high or low, there is ultimately the potential for issues to arise.

For decades, we’ve had postponement cancellation policies that we’ve all known about. For various reasons, a client or an agency could push a production or cancel it but there were financial burdens and responsibilities which were understood and agreed upon.

But now we are in a unique scenario with COVID-19, a different kind of force majeure. We’ve certainly seen in history that are more force majeure-related. Events which are outside of what everybody can control or plan for. Those things are generally not insurable.

In those scenarios, the guidelines have always said that the client would bear those costs. So, now with this situation, the important thing is that the agency, the client and the production company enter into any production with eyes wide open.

The production company takes the role of laying out the various alternatives in front of everybody, planning accordingly and trying to mitigate as much risk as there might be.

At this point, we’re still in that zone of do we really know what this thing looks like? We have not really seen domestically any true disruption of production due to a city shutting down or barring production. With SXSW cancelling, that could change. It’s out of your hands when something this disruptive comes along..

So you haven’t  seen any real effect on the production companies having to delay? We haven’t seen the idea of a civil authority coming out saying you can’t shoot here. But now, we get back to the scenario I spoke about regarding general business practices.

You have corporate policy, which could be dictated by the client or the agency, which really comes down to prudent planning. Do we want people out traveling? It’s more of their own risk assessment about their personnel than not being able to shoot.

There’s a certain amount of knowledge of that’s lacking right now. So, I think people are trying to be prudent wherever they can and as they should.

On the flip side that can possibly cause a little bit of inflated panic. And that’s where we have to weigh out what do we know and how do we mitigate any risks without pulling the plug and totally disrupting the way the flow of business works.

AICP Week is coming to New York the second week of June. It’s a ways off, but not that far off considering the amount of planning that goes into it. How is the spread of COVID-19 affecting the planning? We’re lucky in that our Post Awards aren’t for a couple of months and the Week is in June, so right now we have a bit of a wait and see luxury.

Rocco Kopecny AKKURAT Studios Managing Director & EP of bi-continental production said, “It’s unpredictable times, certainly. Here in Berlin, we remain at the top of our game and on high alert.  Everyday we await the call from an agency we’re working with that production may be potentially behalted. Already, we’re aware of two other production companies in Europe where the client has cancelled some awarded projects. One in Milan, Italy, and another for one of the biggest German airlines who stopped pre-production because of Coronavirus.”

He added, “The fear and the risk in the industry is real, but we can only live day by day and see what’s developing each week.”  

If agencies, clients and production companies are affected, eventually some post-production houses could feel the affects of COVID-19 as well.

“It’s obviously real, between the stock market fluctuations and the cancellation of SXSW,  but I’m not one to panic so I think it will all settle down once competent people come up with a plan,” David Glean, Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Spot Welders, explained.

Colin Costello is the West Coast Editor of Reel 360. Contact him at colin@reel360.com or follow him on Twitter at @colinthewriter1