Producers of Hollywood blockbusters including The Batman and the next Fantastic Beasts film have been given the go-ahead to restart filming after the UK government and health bodies signed off on new coronavirus safety rules.
The approval of the new guidelines paves the way for the UKs film and high-end television production industry, which includes series that cost £1m-plus per episode, to get cameras rolling again – potentially as soon as July.
The resumption of production, which ground to a halt in the face of the spread of the coronavirus, will be warmly welcomed by broadcasters, streaming services and cinema owners facing a possible future content drought.
It will also be welcome news to tens of thousands of self-employed freelance film and TV workers, from directors and camera operators to prop makers and makeup artists, who have been ineligible for government financial support and struggling to make ends meet.
The guidelines, drawn up by the British Film Commission and the British Film Institute, include rules on physical distancing, safety training and temperature tests.
The document has been signed off by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive. However, it will still be up to each individual production to decide how, and when, to restart filming.
Warner Bros, which is filming The Batman – starring Robert Pattinson in the title role – and the third instalment of the Fantastic Beasts franchise in the UK, is understood to be keen to resume production as soon as is safely possible. Other major productions in the UK include the live-action movie Little Mermaid, which Disney halted filming at Pinewood Studios, and Netflixs big-budget series The Witcher.
“This is a green light that signals that the UK is open for business again for film and high-end TV production,” said an industry source. “Many productions have to get up and running again in the next two months or they wont get made this year as they rely on summer weather and conditions.”
The production of major films and TV shows has been shut down since mid-March, when Line of Duty and Peaky Blinders, two of the most popular shows on British television, were the first UK productions to suspend filming.
Last month, the UKs biggest broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky, agreed guidelines endorsed by the DCMS to resume filming popular programmes such as Coronation Street, EastEnders, Emmerdale and Top Gear. Stocks of episodes of the nations favourite soaps were rapidly running out, despite broadcasters rationing them since the lockdown began in March.
The UK is one of the most important film and TV locations in the world with a record £3.6bn spent on making more than 300 movies and high-end TV productions last year. The amount spent on film production in the UK hit £1.95bn, the second highest on record, on 188 productions. The lions share of this, £1.4bn, was spent by major Hollywood studios on making just 21 blockbusters, such as James Bond: No Time To Die and Sam Mendes 1917.
The streaming wars, led by Netflix, are proving to be the main driver of a new production boom. High-end TV production – shows costing more than £1m an episode to make – surged by 29% last year to £1.66bn.
Last week, Cineworld, the worlds second-largest cinema chain with 128 venues in the UK and Ireland, said it plans to reopen in July as the government eases coronavirus lockdown measures.
Cineworld, which has 787 venues globally, is hoping to reopen in time for Christopher Nolans Tenet, scheduled for release on 17 July, followed by the Disney blockbuster Mulan.
The theatre chain has acknowledged that the cinema-going experience will change dramatically with physical distancing and hygiene rules.
“Cineworld has put in place procedures to ensure a safe and enjoyable cinema experience for its employees and customers,” the company said.
Vue, one of Europes largest cinema operators, has also said it intends to reopen in July with measures including physically isolating family groups and staggering film times to reduce crowding.
Vue has previously said other measures would include controlling entrances and exits and reducing the overall capacity of each film screening.
In Berlin, one theatre ripped out seats to ensure safe distancing between members of the audience. Some cinema operators have installed plastic screens between seats.
A small-scale reopening of cinemas in China in mid-March was abruptly halted by the government amid fears of a second wave of coronavirus infections.