COVID-19 impact on Australian international film trade: Filmmaker Anupam Sharma discusses recovery, priorities and new opportunities

Cinema Australia Original Content:

Anupam Sharma.

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Anupam Sharma is a filmmaker and founder of TEMPLE, a film production and consultancy firm based out of Fox Studios in Sydney.

In the last 22 years he has led his team on over 300 projects including feature films, TVC, film festivals, and been widely credited with pioneering diversity and Australian film links with India.

In 2011, Sharma launched the Australian Film Initiative with Peter Castaldi to market and promote Australian screen culture in non-traditional markets, resulting in India’s first annual Australian Film Festival with support from Hugh Jackman in 2011, a Baz Luhrmann retrospective in 2012/2013, and Phillip Noyce retrospective in 14-15. 

In 2015 he directed the romantic comedy unINDIAN with Lisa Duff as a producer and starring Australian cricketer Brett Lee and internationally acclaimed actress Tannishtha Chatterjee, he then directed award winning documentary The Run and is currently directing a thriller titled Honour with producer Jannine Barnes in post with his feature doc Bollywood Downunder with Producer Claire Haywood.

A strong supporter of diversity in Australian screen content and screen industry and having conceived and advised on a number of film funds Anupam has a slate of diverse Australian films for a global audience. With development investment from Screen Australia and Screen NSW, as a producer Anu is also developing a slate of high profile Australian film projects with Australian filmmakers including Bill Bennett and John Winter.

Here, Anupam writes exclusively for Cinema Australia about working through a global pandemic.

“The best choice I think we can make is to find that person within us who stepped into this industry and decided to blow it’s socks off. Remember that person, hungry for films, full of energy, ready to take risks in order to create magic on the screen. Yes, that was you.”

Written by Anupam Sharma

Under the shadow of the magnificent Grain Corp silos in Newcastle, over 155 cast and crew including Oscar winners, a French director, a DOP from Hong Kong, and clients from India, were working tirelessly for a global brand’s major international ad. This was a picture perfect setting for what would be the last day on set for my team, a microcosm of the diverse screen sector of Australia. 

As we wrapped up the shoot, none of us knew that the coming days would bring grim news of project cancellations over future months. International travel bans meant all global clients cancelled their Australian shoots and projects. 25 Australian cast and crew were due to travel to India for a major Bollywood film – now swiftly cancelled. A Location and Tech survey from Spain and the UK – also cancelled. The domino effect continued.

Within days the most lucrative sector of the Australian screen industry came to a standstill, literally. The production sector, which produces high-end TV commercials and screen content for foreign clients, creates substantial employment for our film services with no government grants, no subsidies – this is pure investment – straight into our economy and our film industry. These international projects also provide an opportunity for a lot of us to play Robinhoods, using our profits from international TV commercials to develop our Australian screen projects both drama and factual. Cashflow, income, export, crew employement, development….everything just stopped within hours.

However, I am not here to take everyone on a guilt trip for not taking care of us artists, or play the violin about how depressing things are in the film industry. Tragic as it may be, this tale will not end tragically. 

This pandemic is a traffic light forcing us to fix our speed, slow down, change direction and stop to take stock of the situation(s). Being part of the film industry, we are used to feast or famine. We are used to working and living without a security net or a protected job. We are used to the nerve-racking feeling of not knowing when or how the next project would come in, or if our funding would come through…so if any industry is experienced in dealing with tough times it is us film folks. 

All we have to do is make the right choice, which of course, is easier said than done. We could either choose to fight the facts or embrace them, including them in our individual plan through the storm. 

The facts are clear – we will not be on a big set for a while, we will not be in production for a few months at least, we will not be able to welcome international clients or be welcomed by them as their Aussie crew until the borders open up, whenever that may be. It is a long list. 

We can choose to wait for the storm to be over or choose to prepare for the day it is.

We can choose to complain, arguing over social media and feeding the negativity which will only spiral us down a black hole. Or we can be grateful that we are in the Australian film industry and a country where there are many financial and professional benefits to help us continue developing during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

We could up-skill, write, develop, network electronically, pitch and be ready for production when the pandemic passes. Or we could get lost in mindless social media feeding vanity to garner more likes and comments. 

The best choice I think we can make is to find that person within us who stepped into this industry and decided to blow it’s socks off. Remember that person, hungry for films, full of energy, ready to take risks in order to create magic on the screen. Yes, that was you. You may have lost touch with that person over the years under all the social, financial, and professional pressures. Now is the time to revive the old you. Remember we are the fortunate few who made our passion a profession in spite of the volatile nature of this industry. We are used to making choices under pressure. From picking the story we may want to write and develop, without knowing if it will ever see a screen and audience, to making decisions on set in every department. Now we are faced with the most important choice.

Think of our enthusiasm and dreams on the first day we embraced this industry. Many of us faced opposition from our families and friends telling us how insecure and unpredictable the film industry is with no guaranteed future. It is ironic that many of them are now in the same boat but we have an edge over them. We are used to this and have had practice with each of our films which started with a germ of an idea with no guarantees, no crew, no script, no money, no sureties. We have developed an amazing amount of resilience and creativity which has become part of our DNA. 

This pandemic will come to pass. Yet the decisions we make right now will set us up to be in either one of two positions. Will we be the person lamenting the fact that we wasted these few months or the person who is ready with scripts, a look book, and hopefully a greenlit project. Pitching is still open. State and federal agencies are accepting development applications and have in fact more money allocated for development than before the pandemic. International borders have become less distinct over cyber-space, we have more options to be in touch with others. No one is expecting physical meetings at markets and film festivals so we have a much better chance of receiving email replies. 

Fresh graduates and those new to the industry have more options for internships, offering their research and writing skills to clients around the world, It may be your best bet to make connections with filmmakers you could only dream of. With social distancing, the world is just a click away from free registrations to global webinars and master-classes, from discounted memberships to Zoom writing groups. We have more options to develop more films for an industry which will be hungry for new content after this break in production, unprecedented in the history of the film industry. 

Remember, we are the creative lot. But our creativity does not center only around the stories we have to tell. We can be equally creative in how we live through this pandemic, how we can reinvent ourselves for the new world and be creative about our business of creativity. 

Anu’s Top Ten Tips:

  1. Spring Clean Your Projects – remember all those projects discussed over numerous coffee meetings? Projects you thought were great but didn’t develop or developed but then hit a writer’s block? Now is the time to make a spreadsheet, prioritize them and work on the ones best suited to this new film landscape.
  2. Take a Financial Snapshot – you cannot concentrate on your projects if you have nagging financial issues. So take a deep look at your finances including what benefits and government aid programs are available to you and work out a cash flow. Now is the time for a Zoom session with your accountant.
  3. Mail a Mate – you will be surprised how many contacts you have not been in touch with recently. Reach out to them, especially if they are outside Australia. In terms of “getting back to normal”, we are fortunately quite ahead of the rest of the world. International contacts may get you to produce or direct that TVC or corporate video they can’t because of strict lockdowns in their country.
  4. Schedule – we are all used to schedules in our industry. Make one, not for a film shoot but for your project slate for the coming 6-12 months.
  5. Make a Daily Timetable – As basic as it may sound, it helps so you do not feel “out of work” or “at home.” With a set routine you can continue to tick off your to do list everyday and that is always a morale booster.
  6. Exercise – Ensure you keep active. If you run or cycle, make sure you don’t take your headphones. Listen to natural sounds and connect with your environment, be mindful. 
  7. Cut Down on Social Media – The pandemic has seen a marked increase in social media, the harmful effects of which have been studied and chronicled. Now, more than ever we need to make sure we are maintaining a healthy relationship with social media. You can switch off notifications, or put all social media apps in a separate folder on your home screen.
  8. Watch Content – Watch screen content which inspires you, gets your creative juices running, and makes you excited about creating and working, the main reason you cam to the film industry.
  9. Meditate – Nothing better to reduce stress and invigorate creativity.
  10. Start Something New – learn a new language, an instrument or take up a new hobby. Ever wanted to learn the piano? Or knit? Now’s the time to give it a go.

Top Freebies:

  1. YouTube Crash Courses
  2. Member Webinar or Master Classes on Sundance Collab
  3. SPA Takeaways on Facebook
  4. ACMI Webinars
  5. AFTRS Tuesday Talks on Facebook
  6. 40 Days to Learn Film on Vimeo
  7. EDX Hollywood: History, Industry, Art course
  8. Future Learn introduction to Screenwriting course
  9. MIT Film Course
  10. Connect with creatives on Booooooom’s Slack Community
  11. Social and financial support for creatives offered during COVID-19
  12. Class Central Film-Making Courses
  13. Online classes presented by Nikon

ADVERT: Bizarre, twisted, brilliant. Watch Blood Orange now.

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