Zurich Summit: European Producers Debate Pandemic Shoots

The ever-moving targets of setting up film production in Europe during the pandemic was the focal point of a session at the Zurich Film Festival’s industry-focused Summit, where producers shared their concerns — and hopes — for the sector.

Cecile Gaget, president of international production and distribution at Anton; Christophe Barral of SRAB Films; Tommaso Marzotto, co-founder of Texit Films; and Katrin Renz of Tellfilm were among the speakers gathered for the panel “Production During a Pandemic and How We Move Forward.”

Renz described the work on feature film “Monte Verità” by Stefan Jäger, which marks the most ambitious Tellfilm undertaking to date. “We wanted to start shooting in the middle of June, and then it became clear it wasn’t possible. Now the big task is going to be the shoot in Vienna, because it’s a risk area,” she said, also mentioning the extra costs attached to strict COVID-19 measures.

For some, even post-production has taken much longer than usual. “When the lockdown started, we had three movies in post-production. We were confident we could finish them, and the truth is that we are only doing it now,” said Barral. “When the director and the editor can’t be in the same room, you can’t finish the movie.”

Fears of a second wave are also influencing many decisions, said producers. “We are focusing on things we know we can do, things we can shoot in a specific number of days, with a specific number of actors,” explained Tommaso Marzotto. “We need to think differently about production, which is something we are doing right now.”

With the co-production landscape changing significantly as well, different kinds of projects are now getting traction. Texit Films has an ambitious period film in the works with numerous extras, but the timeline is getting pushed “as late as possible.”

“In terms of the movies we are doing now, we are focusing on the ones that are easier to make,” said Marzotto. “We don’t want to overflow the public with films about the pandemic. The idea is to make the shoot as simple as possible, so smaller budgets and feel-good movies are preferred, at least on our side.”

All panelists agreed that there’s a need to be flexible and adapt to change — and sometimes right away, as Barral detailed, providing an example of a DP friend who had to change his whole crew a day before shooting after an assistant tested positive.

“We need to understand that this period is complicated,” said Barral.

“It’s certainly not going to be like it was before. Christopher Nolan’s movie [‘Tenet’] might not be considered a huge success at the box office, but it doesn’t mean the numbers are not encouraging,” added Marzotto. Meanwhile, Gaget also highlighted that in France most local films did the level of business they were supposed to do this summer. “It was not crowded with all the blockbusters, and some of the comedies did well. Let’s stay positive.”

Asked to discuss the practical hazards and challenges of shooting in this period, Tellfilm’s Renz was quick to point out that part of her job is now calming general anxieties about the virus among her team. “[The challenge before] was the insecurity about whether we were going to get the money; now, it’s the psychological side. I am not worried about travelling to Vienna, but people are different. It’s not exactly annoying, but it’s difficult to have all these conversations with crew members, trying to calm them down or find solutions.”

So, can you actually make a film during the pandemic? “In general, I would say: ‘Yes you can,’ but looking at the figures at the moment, I am quite happy we are going to finish quite soon,” said Renz.

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