Mary McColl, Equity executive director

By Tribune Staff

The commercial impact of the numerous production changes and cancellations caused by the coronavirus/COVID-19 global pandemc is now starting to be assessed and felt. A widespread Hollywood Reporter story released Monday estimates that the initial damage has been about $7 billion dollars, and that if the current wave of cancellations and delays continues from now through May that the total could climb past $17 billion. If it things don’t change after that, no one knows how much damage will be done to the worldwide box office or domestic film industry.

Some recent examples include MGM pushing the upcoming James Bond outing “No Time to Die” to November. That will cost an estimated $30 million to $50 million  “A Quiet Place’s” abrupt cancellation eight days before release cost Paramount some $30 million.Insiders were also stunned by how fast the postponement happened. “As of [Wednesday], we were all systems go. In less than 24 hours, it was over,” a source said. One source pegged the total at less than $10 million.

A number of other big-budget films have seen production interrupted. On Friday, Disney announced it will “pause” a number of productions for “a short time,” including Marvel Studios’ “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” which is shooting in Australia, and the live-action “Little Mermaid” film in London. Warner Bros. halted preproduction on its Elvis Presley biopic — also slated to shoot in Australia — after star Tom Hanks tested positive for COVID-19.

The annual television industry upfronts in April and May have also been affected. All major companies are abandoning live presentations for streaming events. With many pilots having also shut down production, it’s unclear if there will be any new fare to present to Madison Avenue ad buyers who typically spend north of $6 billion during the May upfront period. Broadway has also been greatly affected. The month-long shutdown will result in lost revenues conservatively estimated at $100 million. What remains to be seen, meanwhile, is if cast and crew will be paid as plays, TV shows and film shoots increasingly go dark.

The story also reported that stage performers union Actors Equity called on federal and local officials to help affected arts and entertainment workers as they face lost income, health insurance and retirement savings.

“Equity members are dedicated professionals who earn their health care and pensions one week of work at a time,” Equity executive director Mary McColl said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s decision [by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo] means tremendous uncertainty for thousands who work in the arts…. Now is the time for Congress and local governments to put workers first to ensure that everyone who works in the arts and entertainment sector has access to paid leave, health care and unemployment benefits.”

In addition, SAG-AFTRA has also called for legislative action. They issued a letter detailing their suggestions in stories that ran in Deadline and other publications. Their statement read in part;

“This is a challenging time for all of us. Our lives and our industry are changing in many ways.  One of the things we are deeply focused on is legislative support and relief for SAG-AFTRA members worldwide who are in crisis due to the loss of employment in motion picture, television and live performance productions.

SAG-AFTRA, in collaboration with fellow media unions, is calling on city, state and federal governments to put forward emergency relief packages. We support any legislation that will cover members who have lost work, whether that happens in a targeted bill or as part of a direct cash stimulus for families. American media workers are being sent home, not knowing when or if production will resume.

Please email your senators and representative today to urge them to act now. Tell them union entertainment workers are a unique workforce and are not independent contractors or traditional full-time employees, and WE NEED HELP NOW.

The Trump administration and Congress are negotiating relief packages to respond to mass unemployment. Now is the time to act to make sure families in our industry are included in that relief. 

Due to the short-term nature of entertainment jobs, traditional emergency leave or unemployment benefits are less accessible to media workers. State unemployment insurance benefits can provide some relief but local, state and federal governments must do more to get money into the hands of our industry’s displaced workers.

Please act now to help all SAG-AFTRA members in need.