This article was written by Frankfurt Kurnit for their Entertainment Law Alert on May 4, 2020. It is published here with permission from FKKS.
From pitch meetings to development and production, COVID-19 has changed the way creatives and their representatives do business. To help address the challenges, Frankfurt Kurnit entertainment lawyers Lisa E. Davis and Marcie Cleary participated in COVID-19 and the Entertainment Industry, a two-part webinar produced by Diverse Representation, a leading organization for agents, managers, publicists and other advisors. The panels, which included CAA agent, Erica Lancaster, ICM agent, Ava Greenfield and Metallic Entertainment manager, Rashidi Hendrix addressed the current production landscape, highlighted growth areas, and fielded questions from over 600 creatives from across the country. Here are some of the key takeaways from the series.
Remote. Davis and Cleary noted that with television and film production halted, productions that can continue remotely are succeeding. Creators and producers have focused their efforts on projects that can be produced at home, such as animation and podcast productions.
Animation. Animation projects comprise many different development stages, including treatments, story boards, animatics and pilot scripts. While animation projects have a long developmental timeline, in many cases creatives can execute the developmental steps from home using at home digital technology.
Podcasts. Similarly, podcasts, which were enjoying an upward trend before the COVID-19 pandemic, are very popular now. Podcasts can be recorded at home, where a microphone and recording equipment can serve as an in-home studio. While podcasts are not immune from the effects of the pandemic (listening time, which tracks commuting, is down; and advertising budgets have tightened) — podcasts remain attractive to creators and buyers alike. In addition to being inexpensive to produce from home, podcasts are a way for talent, A listers and up-and-comers alike to create new content for derivative productions such as television series, films and books.
Development. With production largely grounded, producers, production companies, studios and networks are using the down time to ramp up development – hiring writers for pilot scripts and screenplays, entering into attachment agreements with writers, and acquiring underlying intellectual property. As with animation and podcasts, many development services can be rendered at home, and writers are being paid market rate to render these services. This is a time producers can stockpile material to be developed when production opens back up, and a time when creators and writers can develop projects they may not otherwise have had the time to write. Virtual writers rooms for television series and late night television shows are working well. Creators are also using this time to acquire books, magazine articles, podcasts and existing scripts as source material to serve as the basis for projects.
Digital production. The panel noted that digital productions are happening. Comedy clubs are hosting stand up shows on videoconference platforms like Zoom, networks are ordering digital stand up series, and late night television shows are airing with recordings happening at home.
Insurance. Rashidi Hendrix and Davis discussed how producers’ liability insurance might change in the wake of the pandemic, noting the open question whether interruptions of production due to Covid-19 would be an insurable risk. Producers will have to weigh the increased costs of any policies and procedures that carriers will require.
Looking ahead. Davis cited expert predictions that the first productions to restart will be those that feature a smaller cast and crew that can be safely socially distanced. She also noted that sound stages will be in high demand, as talent may be reluctant to travel to locations due to safety concerns. Finally, the elimination of the theatrical release requirement by the HFPA and the Motion Picture Academy is a reflection of the reality that it may be a long time before movie theaters can safely re-open.
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