Scandinavian Films’ first webinar explores new shooting strategies in the time of COVID-19
- CANNES 2020: The Marché du Film webinar, entitled “Pandemic Production: Lessons Learned in the Nordics”, saw the participation of four filmmakers from the region
During this year’s Cannes Marché du Film (22-26 June), Scandinavian Films organised five webinars on producing films in the time of the coronavirus, all moderated by Screen International journalist Wendy Mitchell. The first of the five panels, “Pandemic Production: Lessons Learned in the Nordics”, took place on 22 June and saw the participation of four Nordic filmmakers – namely, Nina Laurio (producer from Finland’s Dionysos Films), Lars Bredo Rahbek (head of production at SF Studios’ Danish division), Sara Young (writer-director of the Swedish flick Most Unwanted) and Kristinn Thordarson (head of production at Iceland’s TrueNorth). In the midst of the pandemic, audiovisual production restarted earlier in the region than it did in the rest of the world. The participants disclosed the main obstacles created by the emergency, how they’ve implemented safety and social distancing measures, and their strategies when dealing with new insurance and financing challenges.
Following a quick introduction, Mitchell played a video interview with Aage Aaberge (Nordisk Film), the producer of Erik Skjoldbjærg’s international war drama Narvik (see the news), production on which was interrupted in March. Nobody could have expected this emergency: “We had 60 extras, a fantastic location just two-and-a-half hours away from Oslo, and everything was ready for filming; then the crew had to face a ten-week shutdown,” said Aaberge. Speaking about the strategies that were put in place, the Norwegian producer explained: “This an incredibly extreme situation. We’ve done a lot of things to secure our filming. First, we were monitoring the development of the infection on a weekly basis and know full well that, once we were ready to be back on set, the pandemic could have brought us to a second shutdown. Secondly, we tried to understand how to finance the extra costs incurred, on top of a €6.9 million budget. The national film institute gave us positive signals and covered 65% of these extra expenses. Third, the industry set up a committee to prepare some proper guidelines, which we followed to the letter. Among these, the real challenge was to provide sufficient decontamination equipment.” Aaberge later added that the crew was downsized and that they used a large (and unused) office complex that allowed crew, extras and actors to keep social distancing and to significantly reduce the number of people present on set.
Meanwhile, Rahbek spoke from the set of the historical epic Margrete – Queen of the North. “Our problem is that this is quite a huge production for Scandinavia. Our budget was over €9 million, and the COVID-19-related expenses added a further €1.2 million. This ‘hugeness’ means that our cast and crew are international, and they come from nine different countries.” In fact, during the pandemic, the drama was being filmed in the Czech Republic, and at a certain point, travel was banned and gatherings of more than ten people were prohibited, leading the producers to halt work for three months. Insurance remains a major issue, though: “There’s no insurance coverage for us. Some opportunities are coming up now, but we haven’t signed any of those proposals yet. The reason for this choice is that the crew and cast would need to be in full isolation, and could only be either on set or in their hotel rooms. The actors are staying with us all the time, in order to reduce the risks related to air travel. But staying in a hotel, in a basement without any windows, for at least seven days would drive them crazy!”
Next, Laurio highlighted the fact that the health crisis in Finland seems to have been brought under control. “We’re shooting a comedy called 70 Is Just a Number. In March, we managed to shoot the winter and romance scenes before the beginning of the lockdown. Our plan was to resume filming in early May, but the coronavirus forced us to start in late May, following a careful risk analysis. Now we have just four filming days left.” Laurio’s biggest headache was “to keep the environment safe”; to do so, the crew filmed far away from Helsinki and chose an area with very low infection rates. They also implemented a rotation system for crew on set, modified the shooting plan and the original locations (including for scenes to be filmed in a retirement home and in a large concert hall), and digitally added extras in post, among other things.
Later, filmmaker Sara Young shared her experience on her low-budget action-comedy: “We started right at the beginning of March. Every day, we felt the risk of a shutdown. It was quite hard and stressful, and we used a lot of bottles of hand sanitiser [laughs]! Half of the team contracted coronavirus, including the lead actor and the set designer. We had to rearrange everything. Flexibility beyond!” Young added that the most critical part was related to social distancing, which made her work with the players very complicated. On a more positive note, it was easier to arrange filming with them, as everyone was free and glad to get out of the house.
“As of today, the country is open,” said Thordarson. However, restrictions are still in place on Icelandic sets, too, although they’re now gradually being lifted. In this respect, the producer mentioned the limit of 20 crew permitted to be working around the camera, compulsory testing before every filming session, the presence of an extra person on set reminding people to keep their distance, and “individualised” catering services to avoid multiple contacts.
Finally, the speakers acknowledged their pioneering role in creating a safe environment for shoots and agreed that the extra expenses caused by the outbreak increased production costs from 5%-15%, on average, although this percentage may vary depending on the production type and budget.
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