Advertising productions have been thrown into uncertainty as the coronavirus crisis intensifies around the world.
The production sector is under increasing pressure to respond to a fast-changing situation, with a number of commercial shoots being postponed or cancelled, and companies putting additional measures in place to ensure the health of their staff and crew.
The Advertising Producers Association, the trade body for production, visual effects, animation, editing, music and sound design, has introduced an addendum to commercial contracts that addresses the potential impact of coronavirus on productions. The agreement requires agencies and their clients to cover any costs related to the relocation, postponement or cancellation of productions due to coronavirus.
Many of its members have already taken the APA’s advice and added the document to their contracts, chief executive Steve Davies said.
"It ensures the client can make an informed choice at the beginning," he said. "We’re trying to manage it. When the agency and production company are allowed to get on with it, they will find a solution – of course, that’s what production is."
But, in some cases, the decision to go ahead with productions is "out of our hands", Davies added. Clients are exercising greater caution, as in the case of one advertiser that cancelled a commercial shoot in Russia after implementing a company-wide travel ban.
A number of other shoots have been postponed to later in the year or, in a few instances, cancelled altogether, according to the production companies contacted by Campaign.
"March and April are generally quieter for shooting, and now coupled with the outbreak, it’s slowed down a bit as clients are just being cautious," George Floyd, head of sales at Academy, said. "The thing that affects the market most is uncertainty."
Production companies were also considering organising more shoots in the UK to lessen travel risks and disruptions, when they might have normally chosen cheaper locations such as eastern Europe. In some cases, this might require creative teams to rewrite scripts to be able to film in locations closer to home.
"If you can make something in London and use a UK-based director and talent, you’re reducing the risk – [but] not eliminating it altogether," Davies advised.
The challenge around big crews
Assembling large crews for shoots is also proving challenging at a time when more people are working remotely or deciding not to travel. "When we work with international talent, trying to pull big crews together is a challenge. Some people are freaking out and not getting on planes," Nils Leonard, co-founder of Uncommon Creative Studio, said. "If you’re in conception, you can do that from anywhere. The real tension is in production."
In general, "there’s an atmosphere of everyone being prepared and being cautious", Stephen Brierley, executive producer and managing director of Park Pictures, said. Park has a new employee and a wardrobe stylist who recently travelled to Italy and are taking precautions by working remotely.
Meanwhile, Stink Studios temporarily closed its London office last week and asked all staff to work from home for two days, after an employee's friend showed flu-like symptoms (the friend has since tested negative for the virus). The company used the time to test its remote working set-up ahead of a potential "social distancing" situation, managing director Jax Ostle-Evans said, adding: "All went to plan and it would appear we're ready… but let's hope it doesn't come to that."
For some, it has been business as usual so far. Biscuit Filmworks and Droga5 London are filming an ad in Prague this week, but Biscuit UK managing director Rupert Reynolds-MacLean said he had instituted additional safety measures for the shoot.
Much like in the UK, many Prague shops have run out of hand sanitiser, but there are more handwashing stations and medics on set, and crew members have been required to fill out self-assessment forms, Reynolds-MacLean said.
"It’s just about being responsible – not over-sensationalising anything but also not trivialising anything," he said.
Full impact yet to be felt
However, it is likely that the full effects of the coronavirus on advertising productions have yet to be felt. When Campaign asked agency creatives if their shoots had been delayed or cancelled, a common refrain was: "Not yet – but it’s coming."
"We need things to carry on," Davies said. "We had the end of Brexit uncertainty, where we at least knew the direction of travel and had one or two normal months when we were quite busy. Then we’ve gone straight into this."
Leonard offered these words of advice to agencies and their production partners that are feeling the pressure: "It’s a really sensitive time in the world. There’s never been a better time for hope and uplifting, brilliant work. The only thing we can do is look after people the best we can."