Saturday, 14 August 2021

Covid costs and quarantine costs

I don't like New Zealand's film subsidy regime and generally view it to be a good thing when an international film company chooses someone else's subsidy regime instead.

But it looks like Amazon's shifting Lord of the Rings production to the UK isn't just about the subsidy war. 

However, a crew member, who asked to remain anonymous, told Stuff they understood New Zealand’s Covid-19 border restrictions and the requirement that international cast and crew spend 14 days in managed isolation upon arrival was part of the problem.

...The crew member told Stuff that while there was “a general feeling of surprise” over the decision, some saw the Amazon project leaving New Zealand as an opportunity, because Amazon was holding up some of Auckland’s prime studio space for a year before season two was even planned to go into production.

But those opportunities would only eventuate if international productions decided to film here, and MIQ restrictions might turn them off, the crew member said.

“Unless we change MIQ, there’s no other productions,” they said.

Other production staff told Stuff they were disappointed, but not surprised, to be among the last to hear that production was moving to the UK. They said they heard about the move from media, and received confirmation via an email on Friday morning.

A year ago, I wondered whether NZ might be particularly attractive for international film production even without subsidy because the costs of set disruption with a Covid case can be substantial. Shutting down filming for a while because someone's turned up infected is costly. 

This crew member could just have been wrong on stuff reported here. Maybe the UK just offered a pile more money, and NZ really shouldn't be in those bidding wars anyway. 

But whatever advantage NZ has had in offering a Covid-free filming experience now seems outweighed by the combination of MIQ time costs and whatever the difference in subsidies might be. 

MIQ costs will not have changed substantially over the period, although expectations of ongoing MIQ costs may have - I do not know how much easier it is for film types to access rooms at their preferred times of travel, but I expect that it's easier for them than for the rest of us. They should be expecting that MIQ restrictions would be easing considerably next year for fully vaccinated and tested cast and crew, though there would always be risk of restrictions resuming. 

But the risks and costs of Covid cases among a vaccinated crew will be much different from the risks and costs of Covid cases in crews before vaccination was available. Running a tight ship - mandating 100% vaccination among crew and maintaining regular testing - may be sufficiently close to the experience of working in a Covid-free place that the certainty of two-weeks' delay in getting cast and specialist crew in just isn't worth it. 

All else equal, is the combination of MIQ restrictions plus low risk of Covid cases better or worse for international film productions than the combination of no MIQ restrictions plus higher risks of cases and outbreaks, now that vaccination is becoming the norm? We can't disentangle it from whatever's going on in relative subsidies. I would *love* to know more about this assessment on Amazon's side. It would be impossible to get a straight answer because it would get into subsidy detail that's probably confidential. But I still would love to know more about it. 

You can find the UK's arrival restrictions, along with everyone else's, at the IATA site. It looks like vaccinated travelers to the UK from the US only need to complete two Covid tests after arriving, on days 2 and 8, and fill in forms with location details - presumably so they can be found if someone on their flight turned up positive, or if they fail to show for their required tests. 

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