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Working in the screen industry during COVID-19

Advice, guidance and support addressing the COVID-19 crisis.

Last updated: 25 June 2020

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 we have so far 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.

Watch an interview with BFI CEO Ben Roberts talking to Screen International on 29 April about navigating the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and discussing how the organisation is working with partners across the screen sector to develop a strategy for recovery. In a statment, the BFI Chief Executive outlined a package to support UK industry on 9 April.

Please use the 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.

Recovery plan for the sector

We are 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 are leading an industry-wide BFI Screen Sector Task Force, a cross-industry group, representing the breadth of the screen industries – 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 been developing sector specific codes of practice for both film and High-End Television drama production, as well as developing plans for reopening for cinemas and exhibition venues too.

New 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).

The guidance will initially only apply to cinemas in England with discussions ongoing with the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  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 outbreak, including:

Further support for implementation of the guidelines – for example around PPE, training and accessibility – will be provided in coming weeks.

The guidance for cinemas and drive-in venues can be found here.

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 today by the British Film Commission and produced as part of wider BFI Screen Sector COVID-19 Task Force 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 follows 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.

Now the guidelines have been endorsed, the BFI and the British Film Commission will be working with ScreenSkills to develop an on-line training programme to guide people on how to implement them. ScreenSkills is working with Skills for Health, a not-for-profit organisation already delivering COVID-19 crisis training for the NHS, and industry safety consultants First Option. Basic level training, delivered free and online, will be rolled out in June supported by the ScreenSkills High-end TV Skills Fund and the BFI through its National Lottery-funded Future Film Skills strategy. Read more here.

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. 

The working safely guidelines can be found here. 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, which are available to read here.

The British Film Commission (BFC) Film and High-End TV Drama Production Guidance (Coronavirus COVID-19) guidance can be found here.

Film and High-End TV Drama Production Guidance (Coronavirus COVID-19) FAQ can be found here  

Emergency funds


Now closed: BFI COVID-19 Film Continuation Fund

We opend 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. 

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 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 recently awarded to 28 recipients of Audience Fund Organisational Awards, across independent exhibitors, major UK festivals and distributors.

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.

Where to find latest guidance

BFI Working in the Screen Industry during COVID-19

Cinemas – keeping workers and customers safe during COVID-19

Working with COVID-19 in Drive-In Cinemas

British Film Commission (BFC) film and high-end TV drama production guidance (Coronavirus COVID-19)

ScreenSkills training on using safe working guidance

UK Screen Alliance COVID-19 Guidance for safe working for Visual Effects (VFX) and Post-Production

TV Production Guidance: Managing the Risk of Covid-19 in Production Making

The latest information from Government can be found here:

In addition, more information on specific areas can be found here:

  • Measures to ensure social distancing at every point during a visit to the cinema, with a particular emphasis on auditoriums;
  • Enhancing cleaning and hygiene regimes, including the provision of anti-bacterial gels stations for cinema-goers throughout each site;
  • The use of PPE by staff, in particular the installation of plastic screens at key contacts points;
  • Encouragement wherever possible of online booking, e-ticketing and contactless payment
  • Revised scheduling of films to allow time for cleaning of auditoriums between screenings and to avoid crowding in corridors.

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