In March this year, SIGN launched just as the world was adjusting to the first few weeks of the coronavirus lockdown. At the same time, the screen industries were reacting as the extraordinary implications of a global pandemic unfolded. For some, this meant a complete halt to production and business. For all, it meant severe disruption. No one was sure what the immediate future held, let alone what the long-term impact would be.
The SIGN team were, at the time, being recruited to design a slate of programmes to help the industry and individuals face uncertainty and navigate the “new normal”. Practical support was undoubtedly needed, and our workstreams tackling skills and training, business support, diversity and research were all re-examined to reflect the almost un-chartable needs.
In parallel with this work, we continued to talk to significant industry players, being part of the Screen Industry Task Force and sharing regional views with both key industry organisations, trade associations and the Government. Picking up on early discussions with one of our partners, C21Media, we started to discuss the implications for our sector in the context of global industries: film, TV and games.
As a market leader and home to international content and media community, C21 has reach and reputation throughout the global content market. They do this by ensuring they inform and reflect all new and emerging formats and content development issues, including factual, drama, kids and perhaps most significantly, future media. Through publications and events, they have direct contact with the most senior players in the global content world, including production companies/producers, studios, commissioners, financiers and broadcasters, distributors and SVOD (subscription video on demand) executives.
Given that most events and forums for public debate were on hold and many of the previously busy senior executives were now potentially very available, we discussed how we could work together to access views from senior players in the content and entertainment world. We drew up a plan to develop a series of interviews about the implications of coronavirus, the future landscape, and the responsibility of media and new business models in a changing world.
Called Coming Up Next, the series of 12 interviews took place over the summer months of 2020. The interviews were carried out by C21 CEO, David Jenkins, and captured views from creatives, writers, showrunners and executives from studios and production companies across the world. The participants shared personal reactions and reflections, demonstrated an intimate understanding of how the industry works, discussed their views on storytelling, and talked about how content might change (or not) going forward. Some participants talked about changes to business models and the broader world of the content landscape as it became clearer that content, distribution and audience appetite were shifting. The interviews also demonstrated a clear focus on diversity as the Black Lives Matter movement bought a new and urgent perspective on inclusion and equality.
The interviews were, of course, carried out remotely, but were often intimate and personal. We gained access to the homes of creatives and executives, who often spoke about how the lockdown felt for them and their families, as well as their professional reflections. All of the participants were optimistic about the future, and many described the period as a chance to reframe personal priorities. They anticipated changes to the way we work and how they would, as individuals, balance work and life in the future. There was also positivity about the future for content; an excitement about new ideas and possibilities, as well as about sharing global experiences. Good storytelling was seen as an exciting way to enrich lives in lockdown, as well as offering the chance to shine a light on issues through drama and factual programming, helping us make sense of the world we live in, and challenging us to see things differently.
All the participants talked about the impact of Black Lives Matter and the importance of diversity and inclusion. It’s certainly refreshing to hear senior executives talking enthusiastically about the need to tell diverse stories in diverse ways to diverse audiences: “There has to be more diversity … we have to change the wheelhouse” – and in many respects, the new kids on the block (the streamers) are setting the pace by producing such good diverse content. It’s refreshing too to hear senior execs talking about the sense of social justice, the core set of values and the commitment to community that infuses their work. “[We’re] creating an industry of equality and opportunity”, in which the diversity push needs to be “woven into the fabric of business as usual”.
These interviews are all available on our videos page. Although the interviews represent a moment in time, they also reflect the fundamentals; a focus on the universal and central role of the content makers in an industry that has grown even more important during this period.
New ways of working safely have meant that production has gradually resumed, whilst audience demand for new and engaging content remains high. Support for restart programmes and off-site working, as well as virtual production, will mean more changes and more challenges, but we are optimistic that the industries and individuals in this sector will meet them with tenacity.
Although we don’t know what the future may hold for the screen industries, it’s clear they will continue to support employment and business development in the UK and globally, but most importantly in our region, Yorkshire and the Humber: home to creativity and storytelling.
Watch the video series now.