How COVID-19 is affecting B.C.'s arts and entertainment industries
Published Sunday, March 15, 2020 6:42PM PDT Last Updated Sunday, March 15, 2020 7:10PM PDT
VANCOUVER -- "Hollywood North" is big business for B.C. Last year, it’s estimated the industry contributed $3.2 billion to the provincial economy.
According to Keith Martin Gordey of the performers union ACTRA, 46 productions were being shot in Vancouver just last week.
“But somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25 shows are suspending for a couple of weeks or cancelling,” Gordey told CTV News Vancouver on Sunday.
Warner Bros. has paused production, saying in a statement:
“With the rapidly changing events related to COVID-19, and out of an abundance of caution, Warner Bros. Television Group is halting production on some of our 70+ series and pilots currently filming or about to begin. The health and safety of our employees, casts and crews remains our top priority.”
On Saturday, the Hallmark Channel followed suit. Its parent company Crown Media issued a statement saying it was “temporarily suspending production on its original movies, which are shot in various locations in the U.S. and around the world."
"We will continue to monitor the global situation with assistance from health officials," the company said.
The hiatus to local production will potentially leave thousands of workers in B.C. without a pay cheque.
“Our workers are precarious workers," Gordey said. "They’re in the gig economy. They don’t have one employer, they have several, so they have no sick pay. The CRA looks at them as independent contractors so they don’t qualify for EI (employment insurance).”
The Canadian entertainment unions have sent a letter to the federal government asking for help, saying production insurance is not covering cancellations related to COVID-19.
Vancouver’s music scene is also taking a hit. Major concerts – including Celine Dion's – have been rescheduled, and local venues like the Commodore Ballroom are postponing all events for March. The Vogue theatre is doing the same for the next week.
Barbara Bourget, co-producer of the Vancouver International Dance Festival, told CTV News free performances have been cancelled, but other shows are still going ahead as they’re gatherings of fewer than 250 people.
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra is finding a way to adapt.
Sunday afternoon, musicians performed in an empty Orpheum Theatre, live-streaming the performance online to 26,000 viewers who tuned in from around the world.
“Even though people cannot come to the concert hall, we want to give music,” said VSO music director Otto Tausk.
That could be the way forward for performers in an uncertain time.
“It’s something that we’re really going to be thinking about, how do we perform during this mass-gathering ban?” said Neil Middleton, vice president marketing and sales for the VSO.