International

The Impact of Covid-19

Global Editing Perspectives: The Impact of COVID-19

By Edgar Burcksen, ACE, NCE

 

A year ago in the U.S, our industry was hit hard when due to the novel coronavirus studios stopped production and theaters shut down, robbing the industry of a major platform for their releases.

I was in the final phases of editing a documentary and although we did not stop work, facemasks, rubber gloves, hand sanitizers and social distancing were strictly implemented. We wiped down the keyboards and other equipment after use and a more or less careful normalcy let us continue until we came to a stop when we had to do the color timing and mixing, until the facilities reopened. The production shut down the editing room and the Avid sits now in my home office from where I can take care of business remotely.

With remote working now an irreplaceable part of our professional lives, I was wondering how our colleagues abroad fared with the pandemic in their work place. (For the latest number of cases per country, CNN is regularly updating figures: https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-maps-and-cases/

Australia

Australian Screen Editors President Fiona Strain, ASE reports that their government was quick to set in place travel restrictions, while everyone entering the country must go into supervised hotel quarantine for two weeks and be tested after ten days and again after 14 days.

Still, she reports that the Australian government was slow to offer support to the industry, with its initial packages aimed at businesses and workers who were employed for a minimum of 12 months by a single employer. This meant that the majority of film industry workers who are mostly freelance were not eligible. Later the federal government introduced specific packages to film industry funding bodies to enable COVID safety measures to be implemented on set, and to encourage film-making generally, she said.

“Individual Australian states have funding packages for the Arts in general, but not much is aimed at the motion picture sector. However, in a move that the editors are incredibly disappointed about, the federal government relaxed Australian local content regulations on broadcasters during the pandemic,” she said. “The broadcasters argued because of production shutdowns they would not have the content needed to put on the screen.  This means that broadcasters are no longer required to produce Australian children’s content, and they have also relaxed requirements on Australian drama and documentary production. Streaming services such as Netflix have no obligation to produce Australian content anymore.”

However, the country’s no-nonsense approach to containing the virus is paying dividends. Postproduction facilities have reopened up more with a combination of work from home and on-premise arrangements.

“The film industry here has picked up strongly,” Strain says. “There are predictions of a boom for the next year or two as we have COVID mostly under control and we are seen as a safe option for offshore production plus our exchange rate is favorable. Australian cinemas have re-opened with reduced seating capacity, but there is a feeling that there will be more streaming releases ahead of cinema releases.”

Canada

The federal government stepped in with income support initially to replace lost income for all freelance workers (including film workers).  “When that program ended it was replaced by Unemployment Insurance that is actually easier to access,” says Stephen Philipson, CCE, president of the Canadian Cinema Editors. “In terms of the industry measures, the unions and other stakeholders collaborated across the country to create ‘back to work’ safety standards, however it is up to provinces to decide whether film productions can continue to shoot and the exact measures taken vary by province (for example in British Columbia more testing is required).

He adds, “A significant amount of post production has been happening remotely and many producers are encouraging it whenever possible, however some labs have reopened recently with safety measures in place.”

India

While countries including Canada, The Netherlands and Israel locked down early and were able to contain major damage, in India the lockdown resulted in disaster. Hundreds of thousands of workers employed in the big metro cities had to walk back or hitchhike home to their native state without public transportation, explained editor Kiran Ganti.

“All production was forced to stop by March 25 as a nationwide lockdown was announced,” Ganti related. “Work on a few projects even in Mumbai, continued through April and May and some web-series were released in July. The situation remained the same till early July when some postproduction work was allowed in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Kerala and Chennai with studios opening their facilities.”

By November, post-production work on many films across India has resumed. Shooting of some of the biggest films in Mumbai began although that wasn’t the case in the other three major film producing centers of Southern India, which account for 70 percent of the nearly 1000 films that are made in India annually, Ganti said.

According to Ganti, collaborative work in physical proximity is something that many are longing for. “Yes, precautions are being taken and aspects like social distancing, checking where to order food from and maintaining personal hygiene have become important. But it would be an exaggeration to think that remote editorial work will be the new normal. Technical, logistical, and social factors will limit the widespread adoption of remote editing.”

The Netherlands

The government quickly set up a help fund that carried lots of film professionals through the first months. But as the majority of film professionals there are self-employed and the measures were more set up for employees, many Dutch editors didn’t get much further assistance. The pandemic and the lockdown struck the Dutch cultural sector very hard as cinemas have been closed or restricted for the entire period.

Editors set up home studios and started working from home. The transition was smooth, helped by the fact that almost all Dutch editors work on their own equipment in their own edit room anyway.

South Africa

Nikki Comninos, SAGE of the South African Guild of Editors noted that although South Africa has had a high number of infections, their recovery rate is quite high. “Postproduction was badly affected by the lockdown and many editors didn’t have any income at all,” Comninos reports.

“The only editors who could continue working were those who were already in the midst of post production or those working in current affairs. There were measures to help with people in the film and TV industry. However, there wasn’t enough funding available for everyone and only those whose productions were cancelled and had contracts to prove this, received financial assistance. This meant the bulk of South African freelance workers who rely on the tenuous but consistent flow of work without contracts or much forewarning were left stranded.

“Producers are open to allow people to work remotely. But rates seem to be lower with producers even asking for ‘your best COVID rate.’”

South Korea

“The country handled Covid-19 quite well in the beginning,” explains editor Yang Jinmo, ACE (Parasite). “We were very quick to wear facemasks and practiced social distancing.” Yang set up remote editing by request from Netflix just to prepare for the worst case. This project, The Call, was released on Netflix in South Korea recently.

 

A big thank you to all our colleagues who contributed to this article.

Global Editing – India

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3rd Qtr, 2019

About 10 years ago I was invited by Indian production company Phat Phish to come to Mumbai to help them prepare Quick Gun Murugun: Misadventures of an Indian Cowboy, a feature that was already released in India, for the American market. Not knowing more than that India had a huge film industry and that Mumbai was one of the major centers of production, I was amazed by the sophistication. My editing room had a fully-equipped Avid Media Composer with all the bells and whistles. Because time was of the essence I did not have a lot of contact with editors in Mumbai. More recently, as I’ve been working to expand ACE’s international reach, I got in touch with Mumbai/Hyderabad-based editor Kiran Ganti for an update on this industry from the editors’ point of view.

Some history: The first feature-length Indian silent film, Raja Harishchandra, was produced in 1913 and was directed and edited by Dadasaheb Phalke, who is known as the father of the country’s film business. The most prestigious governmentpresented lifetime-achievement film award in India is named after him. It’s presented every year on May 3, the original release date of Raja Harishchandra.

Roughly 900 films are released theatrically every year in India. The industry is based in three major production centers: Mumbai for the Hindi language (about 140 productions last year), Hyderabad in Southern India for the Telugu language (185 films per year, including 50 films dubbed from other languages) and the Tamil language in the South Indian city of Chennai (about 140 productions a year). Films in Kannada language, produced from South Indian city of Bengaluru and in Malayalam, produced from the state of Kerala also contribute roughly 250 films each year. The rest come from Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi, Oriya, Gujarati and Bhojpuri language regions. Some of the South Indian films are dubbed and crisscross from one language territory to the other while some are specially dubbed in Hindi for television. It makes for a very diverse creative output that is, according to Ganti, selfsustaining and fascinating.

There are no honorary societies in India, such as ACE. In Mumbai, there is an editors organization called the Association of Film & Video Editors (AFE). Each of the South Indian film industries also has an editors association. AFE is also a part of the All India Film Federation that represents 24 other arts and crafts of the industry. The AFE has about 1600 members of which half are still active in the editing rooms across films, TV, documentaries and other types of content. Ganti explains that the AFE is strictly a union that solely deals with labor/organizational related issues and not with the technical/creative part of editing. He adds that there are no other organizations, professional or otherwise, that give a platform to editors who want to discuss, learn or study the craft and art of editing and in that respect, an ACE International Affiliate membership chapter in India could fill a large void.

Ganti also conducts classes at Ramoji Academy of Film and Television, situated in the world’s largest film studio, Ramoji Film City, Hyderabad. On the professional front, he feels there is a lack of space for sharing of knowledge about editing and a crosscountry sharing of expertise/experience – and that this is the need of the hour. He says he is convinced about this because he once worked with Walter Murch, ACE, and recognizes the immense value that he got from the experience. He also shares that two of India’s biggest Hindi films from last year – Sanju and Padmaavat – were directed by Rajkumar Hirani and Sanjay Leela Bhansali, respectively, who have also worked as editors.

The creative recognition of editing is only acknowledged at award ceremonies that are organized and sponsored by the TV networks of each language region. The Indian government also presents yearly awards at the National Film Awards ceremony by the Directorate of Film Festivals, an organization set up by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The ceremony is divided in two categories: feature film and non-feature film; consequently there are two awards for editing. Ganti likens the prestige of this ceremony in India to the Academy Awards®.

Historically, due to technical, logistical and aesthetic reasons, the majority of the films produced in India were all shot with ‘unblimped’ film cameras and were dubbed. (A blimp is a housing that suppresses the loud sound of the camera, but makes cameras unwieldy and so, in India, filmmakers used unblimped cameras and post synced the dialogue.) Things changed in the Hindi film industry in early 2000 when sync sound picked up momentum, especially after the success of the Academy Award-nominated Hindi film, Lagaan (2001), that pioneered sync-sound shooting. But when the Arri Alexa, Red and later the Canon 5D and 7D cameras were introduced, everything changed. No more ‘heartbeat’ on set because these cameras were silent and no more shooting discipline because the recording material is so cheap. A majority of the films made in Hindi now are shot sync sound though that is not the case in South India. Ganti reports he is working on a motion picture in the Telugu language – Phalana Abbayi, Phalana Ammayi (PAPA), directed by Srinivas Avasarala and produced by People Media Factory – that is shot with sync sound, which he believes is a first in the region on a medium-budget film. This, he hopes, will help change movie making in his region.

On the distribution side, India has around 10,000 theaters; a majority of them have single screens. The digital revolution also brought new forms of distribution, and streamers like Netflix and Amazon Prime started to gobble up content. A movie acquired by Amazon is on its streaming platform six weeks after its theatrical premiere. Amazon also started to invest in and produce its own content in India. There are also Indian streaming platforms like Zee5, Hotstar, Jio, SonyLIV, etc, which are making original content. Considering India has 370 million smartphone users this isn’t surprising. The reach of Indian films around the world is extraordinary because of the huge number of expats that are living in the U.K., U.S., Canada, Australia and the Middle East. Because of this, the Indian film industry is shooting a lot of content in these countries and regions that not only cater to the expat community but also to the domestic market. On an average, 25 percent of an Indian film’s revenue can be recovered from these markets. There’s also more crossover to more traditional film markets in Europe and the U.S. For instance the two-part magnum opus Telugu feature Bahubali: The Beginning (2015) and Bahubali 2: The Conclusion, (2017), edited by Venkateswara Rao Kotagiri on an Avid, was a very successful crossover, especially in the U.K., Europe and China. Presumably, Indian films shot in expat countries will find a broader audience, with Amazon and Netflix hungry for more original content for their global audience. The Telugu film that Ganti is currently editing is a new-age romantic film of which more than 50 percent was shot in the U.S. Ganti had one more thing he wanted to share about the Indian film industry in Mumbai: They hate the ‘Bollywood’ moniker. Saying that ‘Bollywood’ was started as a joke many years back but it stuck, he says his industry thinks that the derivative of Hollywood denigrates the importance and creative uniqueness of their film industry. Says Kiran, “Every year, more films are produced in Mumbai than in Hollywood. ‘To be, or not to be’ is no longer the question. ‘What’s in a name?’ Quite a lot.