by Bobby Amm. On Friday, 27 March 2020 (a day we’d often speculated about but never thought would actually arrive) happened. Our industry has been put on indefinite hold; the future completely uncertain. Nevertheless, here are the five pillars of the Commercial Producers Association of South Africa’s strategy for the coming months. There’s a lot of work ahead and details are still scant but, if we work together, we believe we can prepare ourselves for recovery.
The shock started as a ripple with the presidential announcement of the coronavirus lockdown on Monday evening, 23 March; soon it escalated into a tsunami rushing towards the shore and bleak reality set in.
We’re not alone, of course; the shockwaves reverberate around the world as we come to terms with covid-19 and its impact on every part of our lives. It’s something we never expected and our future suddenly looks very different. For commercial producers, who thrive on finding solutions to every challenge imaginable, the havoc caused by this invisible stealthy virus is particularly jarring. Aside from the tragic loss of lives, the challenges it’s created are of such enormous proportions it feels impossible to even know where to start on the long road back.
As daunting as the task is, we need to take the first steps towards normality; this is difficult to do when nobody is certain when normality will return, or if it ever will. Will three weeks turn into three months? How long can we continue in this holding pattern with no work? How do we contain the fear and panic that’s already starting to set in?
Perhaps our first step is to act as if…
It requires a leap of faith but perhaps acting as if everything is going to be ok is the way to focus our attention on what needs to happen for us to get there. Let’s sit down and make a list and start to work on what we can do now to plan for the future.
#1. Support our members
We’re currently looking at ways to best support our members and also to create solutions to their challenges. The biggest stumbling block at the moment is that we simply have no idea when work will commence again.
In the local industry, we hope that clients and agencies will continue to invite genuine pitches (even in a very limited capacity) so that, when the isolation period ends, work can resume without additional delays. We promote the concept of “postponement over cancellation” and anticipate that work postponed following the outbreak of covid-19 will pick up again.
Although the timing of the outbreak was fortuitous (in that we managed to have a season lasting four months), there may be long-term challenges for our service sector as international clients may be barred from entering the country for some time. We’re currently looking at increasing capacity for remote streaming and promoting South African directors and DOPs to international clients.
#2. Assist our supply chain
Covid-19 has hit our supply chain of small businesses and freelance crew and talent extremely hard. The resumption of shoots is key to getting everyone working again, although there’s no doubt that this pandemic will change the industry in drastic ways.
The CPA will be interrogating how we may best assist the industry supply chain. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes here but we’re encouraged to see the formation of support groups and the drafting of industry petitions. It’s important that those affected initiate their own solutions but their efforts can certainly dovetail with ours.
The CPA intends to motivate to government for support for our members and supply chain. We’ll also assist suppliers, where appropriate, with letters to creditors.
As we know there’s going to be a short-term need and to meet it, the CPA has launched a crowdfunding platform to raise funds for freelancers who’re in dire need of assistance: cpasa.tv/covid-19. We request that everyone who is able to make a contribution (no matter how small) do so in support of the industry’s invaluable freelancers.
#3. Pool resources & increase communication
It’s very important that we work as a community during the months ahead. At the CPA, we’re looking at ways to engage members and other groups during the lockdown period. Communication will be more vital than ever before and, fortunately, technology gives us the tools necessary to facilitate this.
Unfortunately, technology may also create panic as we tend to feed off social media and inadvertently share fake news as the industry comes to terms with what’s happening. At some point, we need to shut out these distractions so that we can start to focus. In order to facilitate more meaningful communication, it makes sense for interest groups to appoint specific people who they trust to carry their message forward.
In the weeks ahead, we also need to begin to consolidate and share information and also to pool our collective resources.
#4. Coordinate a cogent request for assistance from government
While we know that many industry sectors have already been in touch with government agencies and departments, the CPA is still in the process of coordinating a cogent request for government assistance on various levels. While it’s tempting to look to government for immediate financial relief, we think it’s likely that it may initially prioritise other sectors. (although we do support the push for immediate assistance to freelancers).
We want to put forward proposals that won’t necessarily cost the government money but may present solutions that assist with tax, cash flow, debt management, capital investment etc. For this we need the assistance of experts in those fields and so we plan to consult with them on what’s possible and what we should request to ensure a positive response and, we hope, the delivery of a raft of measures specific to our industry.
This will be a process and we’ll need to resist the urge to become impatient and frustrated.
#5. Make plans to work again
We encourage everyone to use the lockdown period constructively. Catch up with admin, pay outstanding invoices, file your IRP5s, work on pitches and proposals etc. It’s important that we don’t see the lockdown as enforced isolation or a holiday but, rather, as an opportunity to consolidate and do work you may have been putting off now —free up your time for the months ahead.
Working over this period will help us to remain focused and feel positive that we’re doing all we can to keep our industry alive. It may seem obvious but we need to make plans for the future to ensure we have a future. Let’s not be put off by uncertainty or anxiety but, rather, continue to develop and implement the plans required for us to work again. At the CPA, we’ll be brainstorming ideas and looking at new technologies and opportunities that can facilitate our return to work.
As we move into this period of great uncertainty, we’d like to appeal to everyone working in our industry to proceed with integrity. Times like these test our character and our response to them will ultimately define our future. We hope that, when one day we look back on this crisis, we can say we took the highroad in the long journey back.
We wish all Martini Shot readers and their families well over the next three weeks and in the months ahead.
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Bobby Amm has been chief executive of the Commercial Producers Association of South Africa (CPA), the trade association of production companies that produce television, cinema and internet commercials for the local and international market, since 2003. She contributes the regular column, “The Martini Shot”, covering developments, trends and insights into the commercial production and film services industries in South Africa, to MarkLives.com.
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