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Manitoba film production poised to resume amid COVID-19 downturn, but cameras not rolling yet

In this photo made available Wednesday June 10, 2020 by ITV/Emmerdale, reduced production staff film a scene on the set of the television show 'Emmerdale' in Leeds, England.
In this photo made available Wednesday June 10, 2020 by ITV/Emmerdale, reduced production staff film a scene on the set of the television show 'Emmerdale' in Leeds, England. ITV/Emmerdale

Manitoba’s film industry is poised to ramp up in the wake of low COVID-19 infection numbers as one of the few provinces that has allowed production to resume.

As part of the province’s second phase of economic reopening, film and television production was given the green light June 1 — at first, provincial regulations allowed productions to begin if the cast, employees and public stayed two metres apart, barring brief exchanges.

Out-of-province or country producers, casts and crews are slated to be allowed to enter Manitoba to work without having to self-isolate for 14 days in the province’s third reopening phase on June 21 — anyone landing in Canada would still need to self-isolate according to federal guidelines.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Draft Manitoba Phase 3 reopening plan ends need to isolate after travel in Western Canada

But cameras aren’t rolling yet, according to the head of the local branch of the technical film worker’s union.

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“I don’t think realistically anyone thought June 1 we’d start shooting,” said IATSE Local 856 president Nicolas Phillips, who represents over 540 film workers.

“Everyone kind of realizes production couldn’t start… until there was some sort of base framework for knowing what would have to be implemented, according to the province in terms of safety measures — it kind of started the process.”

A number of Manitoba film and television productions are in the starting stages, Phillips said, with one slated to film in June while another is looking to do pre-production in July and August.

READ MORE: Manitoba film productions shuttered amid COVID-19 pandemic, but industry group points to future

“There is stuff that is tentatively looking to shoot or is actively actually talking to crew now,” he said.

Phillips pointed to the work industry groups, unions and guilds have done to develop protocols for safe production as promising — but still theoretical.

“Some of this stuff we won’t know until we actually get shooting — that’s part of the thing, we’re at this point where we’ve got these proposals and some of them are really great and if they’re all followed and executed they’ll be fantastic,” he said. “Is it actually going to be done, is someone actually going to say, ‘We aren’t following the COVID measures, stop shooting.’“

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However, Phillips said film workers in the province are ready to work, although some are hesitant.

“People are concerned, people are worried about going back to work, about getting sick, but there are also just as many people who are worried work not starting yet, economically they want to go back to work,” he said. “We have to find a proper balance of the two to get people back to work.”

Manitoba Film and Music’s CEO Rachel Rusen Margolis has past pointed to opportunities in the COVID-19-induced downtime and the potential for increased production once work could resume.

“We’re going to capitalize on this downtime and really be stronger when we come out of it,” she said in March, shortly after COVID-19 shuttered film sets.

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Resuming film production in Manitoba