Last updated: 14 April 2021

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to have a huge impact on our sector and everyone working in it.

Our COVID-19: screen sector Q&A sets out the information and guidance on COVID-19 and its impact on the sector at large. It also signposts to the Government’s significant programme of fiscal support for individuals and businesses.

Please use the covid-19.queries@bfi.org.uk email address, as a centralised point for all COVID-19 related enquiries, and from where we can also signpost you to the most relevant advice if necessary.

Update 16 January 2021 - Film and Television Production

The UK Government has tightened travel restrictions to prevent and suppress the spread of new variants of coronavirus into the UK, such as those first identified in Brazil and South America.

This means the quarantine exemption for film and high-end television production has been suspended from this date. All international arrivals to the UK from any country (including British and Irish nationals) must now take a pre-departure test and self-isolate for 10 days. Passengers must continue to fill in a passenger locator form and have a negative test before travelling to the UK.

The Government’s Test to Release scheme will remain in place, giving passengers the option to shorten the mandatory self-isolation period to as little as 5 days. However, they will still need to adhere to national restrictions in place upon release from self-isolation. More information.

Full information on travelling to the UK is updated on GOV.UK including details on the exemption list, the passenger locator form and COVID testing requirements.

Recovery plan for the sector

We continue to be in constant communication with colleagues in Government and other organisations and funders across the sector, ensuring we all fully understand the ramifications of the most critical issues, and can help shape measures to address them.

As part of this work we lead an industry-wide BFI Screen Sector Task Force, a cross-industry group representing the breadth of the screen sector – from production to distribution, international sales, exhibition, skills development and bodies representing television, animation, VFX and skills – tasked with the recovery plan for the sector on behalf of the UK Government.

In order to help the sector in returning to work as quickly and safely as possible, the Task Force has developed sector specific codes of practice for both film and high-end TV drama production, and for workers and customers in cinemas and exhibition venues as well as contributing to and supporting other measures.

Support for independent cinemas

Culture Recovery Fund for independent cinemas

The UK Government has provided an unprecedented £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund to help Britain’s culture, arts and heritage organisations including independent cinemas hit hard by the pandemic.

The fund allocation for independent cinemas in England, administered by the BFI so far supported 209 independent cinemas across England with £27.6 million in grants through two rounds of the fund.  In addition cinemas which operate within mixed arts venues have been funded via the Arts Council England.  The Government has announced £300 million for a third round of the fund, with details to be published in due course. Find out more.

Similar funds have been made available in the devolved nations, run by Screen Scotland, Welsh Government and Arts Council Northern Ireland. Cinemas should check the websites of these organisation for the latest on such funding.

HMT has also confirmed that all cinemas benefit from a cut in VAT on tickets to 5% as of 15 July 2020 until the end of September 2021, followed by a 12.5% rate for a further six months until 31 March 2022.

BFI FAN Film Exhibition Fund

The BFI FAN Film Exhibition Fund made over £630,000 of National Lottery funding available to exhibitors across the UK. It supported activity to re-engage audiences with collective, big screen film experiences at film festivals, mixed arts venues, and both community and traditional cinemas. Applications have now closed.

The BFI Film Audience Network (FAN) is a unique collaboration of 8 Film Hubs managed by leading film organisations across the UK, which each distribute the funding in their region or nation. The BFI FAN Film Exhibition Fund will enable FAN Members to deliver a broad range of programming once they restart, ensuring British and international independent cinema is available to audiences all over the UK. Other priorities of the fund are incentivising exhibitors to embed inclusion and environmental sustainability into their approach both prior to the national restriction shutdown and upon reopening.

More details on BFI FAN’s Bigger Picture website.

Safety guidance for cinemas

The UK Cinema Association (UKCA) has published guidance for the exhibition sector, Cinemas – keeping workers and customers safe during COVID-19, in consultation with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, with input from the BFI, the Screen Sector Task Force, the Independent Cinema Office and BECTU, and in consultation with Public Health England (PHE) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

It provides advice on steps to be taken by cinemas to ensure the continuing welfare of both audiences and staff during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Guidance for cinemas and drive-in venues

Film and TV Production Restart Scheme

The Government’s UK-wide £500 million Film and TV Production Restart Scheme was set up to help domestic film and TV productions struggling to get insurance for Covid-related risks in order to get back into production. The scheme offers productions confidence if cast member and crew illnesses and filming delays or disruptions are incurred due to Covid-19.  It has successfully restarted more than 800 productions to date, ensuring the ongoing production of content. The scheme has state aid clearance and is open for applications via Marsh Commercial’s website.

On 5 October 2021, the DCMS announced a six-month extension to the scheme, with applications open until 30 April 2022 and providing cover for productions up to 30 June 2022. To support the transfer of risk to the market when the scheme ends, the fee will increase to 2.5% from 1 November 2021. Productions applying to the scheme before that date will be charged a 1% fee.

The Government and industry will be working closely together to ensure an appropriate exit from the scheme over the course of the extension. 

This extension will support an additional six months of film and TV production in the UK, protecting around 34,500 jobs and £1.2 billion of production spend.

Find out more

Since its announcement, the scope of the Restart Scheme has been extended so that cast and crew over the age of 70 can be included in the cover provided by the scheme.

Further changes came into effect from 1 April 2021 and subsequently on 5 October 2021. The deadline for productions to register for the scheme has been extended until 30 April 2022, extending to cover costs incurred until 30 June 2022.

The DCMS publishes aggregate data and information about productions covered by the scheme such as the total value of productions and jobs created through the Marsh website.

Securing a solution for insurance cover has been part of the work undertaken by the BFI’s Screen Sector Task Force and its working group on this area of work led by Pact.

In the UK, the film and television production industry supports more than 180,000 jobs and contributes more than £12 billion to the economy annually.

Ben Roberts, BFI Chief Executive, said: “Given the significant contribution of film and TV production to the UK economy, there has been a huge joint effort on the part of government and industry to get production restarted. The issue of securing coronavirus-related insurance quickly emerged as the biggest hurdle for independent producers – and a major priority for the Screen Sector Taskforce – so the Government’s £500 million scheme is really great news for our production business, jobs and for the economy.

New production guidance for film and high-end TV production

The UK Government has ratified the comprehensive Film and High-End TV Drama Production Guidance (Coronavirus COVID-19), published by the British Film Commission and produced as part of wider BFI Screen Sector Task Force COVID-19 recovery initiatives.

This support from UK Government for this industry-led guidance signals confidence in the  UK screen sector to safely restart production and help support UK economic recovery.

Publication of the guidance followed detailed industry consultation reflecting the views of UK and US organisations from large international franchises to independent production; studios; streamers; unions; UK-wide industry bodies such as Pact and the Production Guild; and unions such as BECTU which represents over 20,000 screen sector employees.

Senior representatives from the UK’s National and Regional Screen Agencies – Creative England, Film London, Northern Ireland Screen, Screen Scotland and Creative Wales, part of Welsh Government – also played a crucial role in the consultation.

The BFI and the British Film Commission have worked with ScreenSkills to develop an online training programme to guide people on how to implement the guidance. This free, basic awareness training is supported by the ScreenSkills High-end TV Skills Fund and the BFI through its National Lottery-funded Future Film Skills strategy. Find out more about the training to return to work.

The new BFC guidance complements production guidance by ITV, BBC, Sky, Channel 4, Channel 5, STV, ITN, the Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA) and Pact concerning wider TV programme making in every genre. Find out more.

The UK Screen Alliance has also published its COVID-19 Guidance for safe working for the Visual Effects (VFX) and Post-Production. This guidance aims to provide a framework for companies as they transition back to on-premises working, whilst ensuring the safety of their employees, contractors, and clients. Find out more.

Read the Government’s general working safely guidelines.

It is important to note that the individual production will still need to ensure that they satisfy any requirements put in place by insurers, financiers or completion bonders.

The new BFC guidance complements production guidance by ITV, BBC, Sky, Channel 4, Channel 5, STV, ITN, the Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA) and Pact concerning wider TV programme making in every genre. Find out more.

Film and High-End TV Drama Production Guidance (Coronavirus COVID-19) FAQ

British Film Commission – Working Safely During COVID-19 in Film and High-end TV Drama Production guidance

British Film Commission – Travelling to the UK for work in Film or High-end Television Drama Production during COVID-19: Self-isolation (“Quarantine”) guidance

Industry helpline

The Film and TV Support Line is always available, 24/7, helping people in the industry manage issues big and small. Call 0800 054 00 00 and access via live-chat. If the current situation is having an impact, the team offer a listening ear and help you to think through your options.

Our support

Opening funding programmes

A total of £21.9m of National Lottery is available this financial year, through the production, development and talent development funds. Across shorts and features, the funds continue to be active and fully open for business. Applications and funding decisions are being processed as quickly as possible, and payments are being accelerated to ensure funding can ease immediate cash flow challenges.

We are working to support producers to continue to develop projects, operate their companies and retain staff, including engaging writers, directors and other freelancers.

This includes introducing flexibility in the Development Fund, particularly in scheduling payments and front loading fees. Filmmakers who have an income share from previously successful BFI-supported projects held in the BFI Locked Box will temporarily be able to access funds to alleviate hardship. The Production Fund is continuing to make decisions on projects to give producers confidence that funds will be available when production can re-start.

Find details of all the funds currently open

Funded partners

We are continuing to support all BFI funded partners and projects during these unprecedented circumstances to ease immediate, critical financial pressures caused by the pandemic. We have therefore offered flexibility – and expediency – in getting funds to partners if there is need, and also the relaxing of KPIs if planned activity cannot be activated and/or delivered against.

This includes almost £4m awarded to 28 recipients of Audience Fund Organisational Awards, across independent exhibitors, major UK festivals and distributors.

Emergency funds

Production

Now closed: BFI COVID-19 Film Continuation Fund

We opened a £2m BFI COVID-19 Film Continuation Fund offering up to £150,000 for productions unavoidably interrupted as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting them in critical financial need. To help cover these unexpected additional costs, the fund aims to ensure producers are in position to restart when it is safe and practical to do so. The fund is now closed and is in the process of awarding funding.

Independent exhibition sector

Now closed: BFI FAN COVID-19 Resilience Fund

Exhibitors and festivals have faced immediate closure and cancellations, with many small and medium sized business at risk of permanent closure and making staff redundant. To alleviate some pressure, the BFI opened the £1.3m BFI FAN COVID-19 Resilience Fund. Repurposing the BFI Film Audience Network’s National Lottery activity funding, the fund is providing critical relief and business continuity available to exhibitors across the whole of the UK. The fund is now closed and is in the process of awarding funding.

Now closed: COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund for freelancers

We partnered with the Film and TV Charity to create a new £3m COVID-19 Film and TV Emergency Relief Fund. Established with a £1m donation from Netflix, with a further contributions of £500,000 from the BFI with National Lottery funding, as well as donations from the BBC, WarnerMedia, Sky and several generous individual donations. The time-limited fund is now closed. 

Where to find latest guidance