SQ News

SQ On Air #1: Queensland screen industry response to COVID-19

Aimee Lindorff
SQ On Air Host Aimée Lindorff
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AIMÉE LINDORFF – Welcome SQ On Air, a podcast presented by Screen Queensland. Sharing the issues and news affecting the industry and culture of the Queensland screen sector.
I’m Aimée Lindorff, and in this episode we discuss how the Queensland screen industry has responded to an unprecedented global shutdown, and the impact on creative businesses across the state.
We’ll hear from EVP of Content of Screen Queensland, Jo Dillon, about the response to the shutdown, and how Screen Queensland is supporting creatives and businesses to keep production rolling and embrace innovation during this time.
We’ll also talk about what the shutdown means across the Queensland industry, featuring guests including CEO & Festival Director Lucy Fisher of Gold Coast Film Festival, Producer in charge of Finance & Strategy at Ludo Studio Daniel Schultz, Co-CEO & Co-Founder of Like A Photon Creative Nadine Bates and Executive Producer and Principal of WildBear Entertainment Veronica Fury on how these organisations are working within the new normal.
And with a new way of working, what does the future hold for the screen sector?
So stay tuned as we explore a changing screen industry with SQ On Air
But first, a little context, in 2016–17, Queensland’s screen industry contributed an estimated $981 million to the Queensland economy. In this same period the industry supported approximately 7180 full-time equivalent positions across the sector, from content creation to final audience consumption – and that’s not to mention the Queensland creatives working across Australia and the world.
According to Advance Queensland Screen Industry 10 Year roadmap, the sector was in a strong position to continue its growth.
But working in Queensland has some unique challenges. Floods, fires, cyclones, drought, we’ve experienced it all – life-altering events that dramatically impact communities and industries for extended periods of time.
Queensland is also the most geographically dispersed state in the country.
But through it all, our local industry has proven to be innovative, creative and resilient – showing continual growth and excellence in what is already a challenging industry.
Co-CEO & Co-Founder of Like A Photon Creative Nadine Bates describes the industry as feasts and famine.

NADINE BATES – In the normal kind yearly rhythms and ups and downs of production scheduling and cycles, you often say productions completely collapse and go away and that’s kind of par for the course, you see money being pulled or you see insurances collapsing, but COVID itself is an anomaly because the people that are usually employed on those productions will then scooch over and take a contract with somebody else. And there’ll be a flow on effect of employment.
But what you’ve got at the moment is an entire industry that’s paused. You’ve got people that are unable to be in a space to create content together.
AIMÉE LINDORFF – But a global pandemic was something quite different and had some unique considerations for CEO & Festival Director, Lucy Fisher, as they planned the 2020 Gold Coast Film Festival program.
LUCY FISHER – Towards the end of February, COVID certainly became on everyone’s radar. I think it was when Queensland WorkSafe were obviously issuing guidelines and that’s when we started crisis management planning. If something happened during the festival, what was the procedures? How would we respond if one of our major venues was shut down? Would we continue the festival running it? Because 14 different venues. How we would continue, what happens if we wouldn’t have access to our office? So we had contingencies is in place for an alternative office location that would need to be run, if we had that in the middle of the festival.
So we started developing these contingencies at the same time as finalising our entire program. So it certainly did add another layer of complication to how we were responding. I think at that time we just assumed we were going ahead.
AIMÉE LINDORFF – And then on March 13, the Australian Government issued new restrictions limiting non-essential organised gatherings to fewer than 500 people
The state and federal requirements were wide-reaching, it was devastating decision for the Gold Coast Film Festival who had just launched their program only 4 days prior.
LUCY FISHER – When we cancelled the festival on that March 13th, we were four and a half weeks away from the festival beginning. So we had actually just launched our full program, all tickets were on sale.
We had sold like tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of tickets already for events. So yeah, we then had to work with our venue partner, HOTA, to refund all of the tickets that had been sold. And go through that sort of process of unpicking everything.
Once that announcement was made, and, I think it was about 3:00 PM, we activated our crisis management plan and cancelled the entire festival and informed every single stakeholder, every single filmmaker and wrapped up that process by about 8:00 PM. So we did it all in about five hours. And yeah, the whole team came together, and it was an awful day. It really was.

AIMÉE LINDORFF– Whereas the 2011 floods demanded delays of days and relocation requirements, social distancing legislation saw every production and event in Queensland on notice. And as a global health risk, it wasn’t just Queensland feeling the pinch, but the industry as a whole was affected.
Screen Queensland’s EVP of Content Jo Dillon explains.

JO DILLON – At the end of March, the production sector, the screen industry in Queensland, in Australia and around the world essentially shut down. It went into a state of shock, the like of which that we hadn’t seen before. Hundreds, thousands of people lost their jobs overnight. And at the start there seemed to be no real way forwards. We simply had to respond to the threat of covert 19 and put production completely into hiatus.
AIMÉE LINDORFF  – According to the Screen Producers Association, 119 productions alongside 35 film festivals were shut down across Australia, affecting over 30,000 jobs, and forecasted to cost the national market approx. half a billion dollars. With Queensland comprising approx. 12%of the national industry, this would have a substantial impact on Queensland story makers and the economy.
JO DILLON – So as this crisis unfolded, we needed to know what support our industry actually wanted, what steps they wanted screen Queensland to take, what would be meaningful for people who’ve been hard hit by of at 19 in their businesses, in their working lives. What could we do that was going to be the right fit for what people needed?
AIMÉE LINDORFF – Across the Queensland sector, businesses were navigating what the shutdown meant for their productions, their employees, and their future.
For Ludo Studio who were in the midst of delivering season 2 of ABC Kids hit series Bluey, it required a considered change in their workflow.
DANIEL SCHULTZ  – It took us about 3 weeks to get everyone actually working from home, just due to the nature. We all work directly on the server in the office, so just the logistics of one, getting people to work from home, and then how we actually keep working while people are at home. So that was the main priority, just keep things going.
And then we could start adding on all the little things you need to do to make it as good as possible. And that meant talking to the broadcasters and talking to all the partners about saying like, “Look, we might need another week at the back end to fix this little bit, or we might need to double check something. So, can we have a little bit more time just in case?
AIMÉE LINDORFF  – Like A Photon Creative were able to accommodate work from home orders quickly but were concerned about the impact on their crew and project delivery. 
NADINE BATES  – Just before all of this happened, we hired a really phenomenal COO called Rachel Bauer. Rachel comes to us from the tech industry and so she came in and basically looked at our servers and our infrastructure because we are a digital company and because we do rely very heavily on our internet and on our servers. She kind of did this really fantastic audit of where we were at and what would happen if we had this kind of situation come up. So we were able to roll out a work-from-home strategy, not just for our production staff, but also for our animation company staff.
We were incredibly concerned about what productivity and production would look like because we had two productions that were due this year. One was due end of March and one is due end of October. We were immediately concerned that we wouldn’t be able to meet the deadline for the March production because we didn’t know what productivity levels would look like, we didn’t know who’d be able to access the compositors, we didn’t know if our post-production facility would be able to do it on time. And there were those kinds of extenuating external circumstances that we didn’t have immediate control over that was scary. So we kind of said to ourselves, “Look, if we are able to maintain even 80% productivity throughout this period, we’ll be really happy.”
AIMÉE LINDORFF  – It was a different story at WildBear Entertainment as Executive Producer Veronica Fury describes.
VERONICA FURY – COVID sort of struck right in the middle of our production cycle. And, because it came at the time, a lot of shows were finishing coming into the end of financial year. So it meant that we had a lot of shows in post-production in the edit process. So that’s meant there’s been still work to do albeit from home.
In saying that, the projects that we’ve had currently in production have still managed to move on, but we’ve had slowdown of commissioning editor input and stakeholder input, slowdown of delivery, slowdown of payments. It has impacted us in that everything’s slower and harder.
AIMÉE LINDORFF  – And Gold Coast Film Festival had filmmakers on their mind.
LUCY FISHER  – I guess obviously in those early days, no one really knew. It was just like, are we locking down for two weeks or what’s happening? So I think early on we sort of came to the decision that we would prioritise rescheduling films that had filmmakers from the Gold Coast or Queensland. And I think that really, that was part of our early discussions was around, okay, what is most important, as the Gold Coast Film Festival, to us, is around supporting our local industry and really investing our money in supporting those filmmakers.
AIMÉE LINDORFF  – The proximity restrictions on Queensland events and productions were new territory for the everyone. Screen Queensland turned to the sector for their immediate and long-term concerns about this unprecedented threat to the industry.

JO DILLON  – So we surveyed our industry and hundreds of people came back to us and they were really very, very candid about how much this had hurt and what they needed us to do to respond. We set up a task force, a group of people from various different parts of the industry who could bring expertise and perspectives to the work that we were going to do to try and take on the challenges that COVID-19 had presented to the industry. And through that work with the survey and the task force, we began to be able to develop a program of initiatives and that formed the $3.3 million initiatives program that we were able to roll out to try in some way to meet the challenge that adjust before in our industry.
AIMÉE LINDORFF – The $3.3M Support Package, announced on 8 April 2020, was a new strategy to sustain the state’s screen industry through COVID-19.
It focused on five key areas of concern
1.     Continuity of production – to maintain jobs
2.     Creativity for screen practitioners – using this period to develop new projects
3.     Skills for industry practitioners – professional development and training
4.     Business development and resilience – how can businesses innovate and pivot to ensure their sustainability during this time
5.     Screen Culture activities – supporting the events and programs that engage with screen culture in Queensland
JO DILLON  – The first one of them was continuity. There were a number of productions that had had to shut
So we responded to that by providing some continuity grants, some production continuity grants to those affected productions so that where people couldn’t work, they at least had some ability to continue doing business and to meet the additional costs because there were additional costs of shutting down and looking forwards, starting up again once we could get back into production. So that was the first thing that we did to look at production continuity.
AIMÉE LINDORFF  – Maintaining employment and workflow was of critical importance during an economically unstable and potentially dangerous period. For many companies this was the first time they had explored work from home on such a scale.
VERONICA FURY  – One of the key things was getting people into safe work from home environments. And that was a major operation just to get people at home, working safely and still able to deliver the projects that we had in production and in the pipeline, but also starting to work on new shows that were coming through.
For Wildbear under the COVID conditions I’m noticing that staff are juggling family commitments now working from home safe and sound, but there’s also the whole family around. So we’ve got employees managing home-schooling for instance, which can take hours and I believe is really stressful.
AIMÉE LINDORFF  – But having the resources to support a work from home strategy was new for a lot of areas of the sector. Digital particularly workflow raised some previously unconsidered issues.
DANIEL SCHULTZ  – The animation pipeline we have at Ludo relies heavily on the backing up and reusing of assets, so we had to make sure everyone was securely sharing files while also guaranteeing nothing was lost. There was no way we could completely move online and keep working with all the varied internet speeds at people’s homes. We also didn’t want to be in a position that after the lockdown, when everyone came back into the office we had to spend a few months reconnecting everything and putting it all back together for the next season. This meant we needed everyone to be sharing safely while working from home and then also having our rotating crew in the office to assist with keeping everything filed properly. It was a bit of trial and error before we got there.
JO DILLON – The second thing that we did was to understand that while we couldn’t be in production, it didn’t mean that our industry had to freeze, that this was an opportunity for creative people to be creative. And we invested in our ideas fund, which through an uplift to the funding that goes into that fund every year, which invests in the development of projects for the screen. And we also started up a Creative Consultations program, which allowed really experienced senior figures in our local industry to provide mentorship to up and coming creatives who had great ideas so that they could work together in that. In a sense what we were trying to do was make sure that on the other side of COVID-19 that we had great ideas that were well-developed, that we could put into production
DANIEL SCHULTZ – So we were really fortunate in the situation that at the start of the year, we had decided that we would be spending a lot more time on development. And we do have two shows. So Bluey takes up a great deal of our time, producing that. We also just started the story rooms on Strange Chores season two in November last year. And so the writing has sort of been going through and we’re now contracting for season two. So that’s all happening. And we thought with both of those shows happening, that’s a huge workload, so we’re going to spend a lot of time developing this year.
And then when the shutdown happened and we all had to move home, we just thought, “Okay, let’s make sure we’re stepping up on this development”. Obviously, Screen Queensland, Screen Australia, there was a lot of initiatives going on and extra funding available. And so we thought we’d have to take advantage of that.
And so, yeah, we were able to move quickly on that and start getting that development rolling. It hasn’t really changed much other than where we’re keen to keep pushing because we know everyone else is going to be in development and it’s going to be a flooded market after this break. And there’s a lot of talented people all sitting at home, coming up with amazing new stories. So we thought we definitely have to make sure that we’re pushing ourselves as well to take this time to come up with some more great stuff.
VERONICA FURY  – For Wildbear it’s meant there’s been a really strong focus on archival driven projects. We’ve always been known for those. That’s been already one of our main strands of production. But even now, we’re looking at feature docs that are archivally based.
For the Brisbane Wildbear office, moving forward under these conditions were looking to do more archival based shows. So we’ve got some of those in focused development ready to move forward, hopefully when that international marketplace opens up. So currently we’re working on Just Animals, season 2, which is an archive-driven natural history show that can continue with work from home work practices.
JO DILLON  – Another area of focus for us was skills.  It was obvious that one of the things that we could do was invest in skills development and we found that a lot of people in the industry really responded well to that. We set up something called SQ Lab, which was basically a new set of online workshops that were set up to respond to the opportunity to develop skills and experience, expertise, at a time when people couldn’t work.
We have this extensive program of skills development workshops that we intend to run throughout this period of time so that people aren’t really standing still so that people can still continue to develop their skills to develop their careers while they can’t work.
DANIEL SCHULTZ  – Now that everyone’s working from home, we are encouraging people to 1, take the time to draw or to some other creative outlet, to always tap into the resources that are available online. Be those courses in Adobe Creative Cloud, be those online discussions around writers rooms through the AWG, or Screen Queensland’s producer masterclass with Sue Maslin, all of those great things, in and around the work that we’re doing. Really just taking the chance to tap into the extra resources that are available right now.
JO DILLON  – We looked also at businesses, how businesses could take the opportunities here were essentially business as usual isn’t an option. So could we look at ways of supporting businesses that were able to pivot, that we’re able to diversify, that we’re able to look at new income streams that we’re able to bring in expertise and to innovate.
The Screen Queensland Enterprise program, which is currently open for applications and that was really a response to wanting to do something to help businesses get from A to B yes, but also to support those who were in a position to innovate. And we’re in a position to do something different to respond to this crisis and to respond to the threat, but also the opportunities that are created. And we twin track that with some resilience training so that businesses could actually learn how to do some of these things, how to plan for that, for that uncertain future.
VERONICA FURY – Our main focus now is keeping everybody employed and developing shows that can be made under these conditions. Shows we were good at doing. That’s the history projects, the engineering projects, the travel projects and the wildlife projects that we do that are all archived based. And they’re heavily constructed, made in the edit. So we’re using previously shot material, making them into new fresh packages. That’s what we’re focusing on for now.
And then the feature docs, moving forward I’m starting to explore feature docs that have a strong archival component. But moving forward, it’s a little scary, we’re rethinking that and working hard to make sure we can continue operating.
NADINE BATES  – Like A Photon not only has the TV and film, we also have all of our digital suite of products. What we’ve seen is a 10-fold uptake in users of Kindergo, which is our digital literacy program. So, on a daily basis, we have hundreds to thousands of new users kind of logging on, which has allowed us to explore all kinds of models and partnerships that we would never really thought of before. We’re just in the process of negotiating a contract with State Library of Queensland, being able to make that free for all Queenslanders, which is really exciting.
Whilst we don’t have that day to day beautiful connection, collaboration, being in the same spaces, it’s almost been a trigger-point for us to be able to move forward in a new way, which is great.
JO DILLON  – And then finally we looked at how we could continue to support screen culture.
Obviously film festivals that brought together hundreds of people to see screen stories. In one room wasn’t going to be an option, so we looked at a V Fest, which was a fund to support people who had great ideas around how to bring festivals, events, screen culture programs online where people could enjoy them.
LUCY FISHER  – One of the reasons we decided to reschedule SIPFest and the Screen Industry Gala Awards was actually around the very generous sponsorship support that we continued to receive. And what we realised was, if we can’t screen the films, the next best thing would be to at least recognise that filmmakers had achieved some really awesome results.
We only wanted to put things online that were going to be free at the festival anyway. That was a consideration because we didn’t want to be short-changing filmmakers.
It was a really interesting time to really shift. And we actually had to learn a lot of new skills and learn a new sort language, I guess, about putting things online and what the security was around that. How we were going to make sure that obviously votes weren’t rigged when they’re online. Things like that where we really had to work out a lot of new things very quickly. We also kind of then, because we didn’t have the resources that we previously had, like a graphic designer and a PR agency, and we’d kind of all had to do it just internally. So it ended up being a lot of work, but I think it was really worth it.
In the end, our website views on the SIPFest page, we actually had just over 4,000 views across the four-day period, and we had 837 votes, for People’s Choice Award. So we were really delighted with that.
The Screen Industry Gala Awards, that was a really big learning curve as well. We’d never done anything live, online. The challenge was having, so we had, even as a team we were in different locations. So it’s not like we could be sitting next to each other and communicating. If I’m live on screen, the only way that I could communicate with my team was through my mobile phone propped up against a glass with Facebook Messenger on. So I could just glance down and see. We had to do a lot of rehearsals and we had to work through a lot of stuff to kind of get that live, but I think it was really worth it
AIMÉE LINDORFF  – Shifting the workforce and content online has opened up the industry to some interesting benefits, including expanded audience reach, flexible work situations, and importantly increased accessibility for industry practitioners and audiences previously impacted by domestic arrangements, distance or disability.
And for Screen Queensland this meant a new approach to how they engage with the sector.
JO DILLON  – We’ve seen some advantages in being able to put content online, to put festivals online, to put workshops online, to get online, to do our usual coffee morning and our networking events. By being in that online space, everything’s been much more accessible, and we’ve been able to reach people that don’t necessarily live in the same city as we’re working out of, who may not be able to for reasons of work or family get along to an event. So we’ve seen a much greater diversity of people coming to the workshops, coming to the events, coming to the networking than perhaps we had in the traditional ways of doing business that we were able to do when our doors were open.
At Screen Queensland, we have been looking at not just how our industry works, but how we work. There’s a lot of lessons we can learn from how we’ve been forced to work in this period of time which I think will be incredibly useful in the future.
AIMÉE LINDORFF  – While some social distancing requirements have been lifted, it remains to be seen how long the large gathering restrictions will remain in place. With projections suggesting September before full restrictions are lifted, the sector is learning from this period of industry disruption.
JO DILLON  – There have been some parts of the way that we’ve been forced to work, some parts of the way that we’ve been forced to look at what we do and how we do it, that will have positive impacts as long as we evaluate what this period has really been like and jettison those parts of the new ways that don’t really work and take forwards the parts of those new ways that really do work and really do allow us to be flexible and accessible in the way that we do business. All of those things have got to really inform our thinking as we move forward because I think we have been better in this period of time around making what we do accessible to a wider range of people. And I would hate to see us lose that.
AIMÉE LINDORFF  – And though the shape of the future is uncertain, the history of the Queensland industry has demonstrated we are nothing if not resilient.
JO DILLON  – We’re very, very conscious of how tough people are doing it at the moment. And we’re very conscious that we’re in a fortunate position where we have the people and the resources to make a difference. Resilience is hard. I think it’s so hard to do that alone, that’s where we as a team at Screen Queensland come in. Resilience is a communal effort. I don’t think it’s something that any individual can or should have to do alone. And I think as an organisation that is where in some ways we can add the most value just by being there and by being accessible to people and being willing to pick up the phone, have a chat, listen to what people have to say, and finding ways of helping that really truly respond to their needs.
We don’t have to snap back to business as usual. We don’t have to do things exactly the same way that we always have. We can learn, we can grow, we can innovate, we can diversify. We can take the lessons of a period of time, which has been incredibly difficult and, rather than give in to the devastation that can come from an event like COVID-19, that we can actually blossom in the wake of it.
Theme Music: Nice Memories Logo

AIMÉE LINDORFF  – Thanks for listening to SQ On Air.  Join us for part 2 of this episode where we dig deeper into how Queensland Screen sector is innovating and adapting during an unprecedented time of change.
I’m Aimée Lindorff and you can find out more about the initiatives and resources available to Queensland screen practitioners on the Screen Queensland website. Screenqueensland.com.au

Welcome to the first episode of our SQ On Air podcast series hosted by Aimée Lindorff.

In this episode we’ll discuss how the Queensland screen industry has responded to an unprecedented global shutdown due to COVID-19, and the impact on creative businesses across the state.

Hear more about our $3.3M support package and how businesses are working within the new normal.

L-R: Veronica Fury, Lucy Fisher, Daniel Schultz, Nadine Bates, Jo Dillon
  • Jo Dillon, Executive Vice President of Content, Screen Queensland
  • Lucy Fisher, CEO and Festival Director, Gold Coast Film Festival
  • Daniel Schultz, Producer in charge of Finance and Strategy, Ludo Studio
  • Nadine Bates, Co-CEO and Co-Founder, Like A Photon Creative
  • Veronica Fury, Executive Producer and Principal, WildBear Entertainment.

Production credits