Screen Yorkshire CEO Sally Joynson says industry will be back but not the same

AT a time when the public is being told, often literally, to stay at home and watch TV, it might seem a little counter-productive that those who make the programmes we watch are being told to do exactly the same thing.

Yet the indiscriminate nature of coronavirus means just that, and the industry, like so many others, has all but shut down.

New drama, in particular, has been hit hard, and all planned productions are stuck in a static pipeline, waiting for the all-clear before production can start again.

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“It’s such a dreadful time for everybody,” Sally Joynson, chief executive of Screen Yorkshire, told The Yorkshire Post.

Sally Joynson.

“Like so many things, production has just stopped and it’s not clear at the moment when it will start up again – but it will start up again eventually. There are varying opinions about when that will be – and that ranges from summer to September, through to December – but it will start up again, and the key thing for us is to help that recovery when it starts and make sure that we are doing everything we can to deal with the issues that fall out of coronavirus to get production started again.”

Screen Yorkshire was one of nine regional screen agencies set up by the UK Film Council in 2002 in an effort to restructure England’s TV and film industry.

That network was closed down in 2011, but the agencies in London, the North East and Yorkshire are still standing. Of these, Screen Yorkshire has arguably had the greatest impact, and its stated aim is now to “make Yorkshire and the Humber a world-class hub for film and television”.

In 2011-12, Ms Joynson led the relaunch of the Leeds-based agency and secured £15m of EU money for a new Yorkshire Content Fund, which could part-finance productions at a time when cash was hard to come by.

The results included Peaky Blinders, Dad’s Army, Official Secrets, Ackley Bridge and All Creatures Great and Small, which comes out later this year.

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Last year, Screen Yorkshire opened a new film office to provide a one-stop shop for all filming enquiries in the region.

It was also instrumental in persuading Channel 4 to move to Leeds – a development which, says Ms Joynson, is a “massively important vote of confidence” in the region’s screen and digital sector.

Of course, when an industry powering ahead at full steam comes to a juddering halt, as has been seen in recent weeks, sparks will fly, and some of the hardest hit have been freelancers.

A survey by the Film and TV Charity found that 93 per cent of them are currently out of work, and although the government has said it will pay grants of 80 per cent of average monthly income to self-employed people affected by the crisis, the survey also found that three quarters of freelancers are not expecting to be eligible for help.

“There’s been a massive hit on freelancers,” says Ms Joynson. “This is an industry that is dominated by freelancers and some of the steps that the Government has taken to help freelancers and the self-employed will help some of them, but it certainly doesn’t address all the issues that all the freelancers will deal with, and that is something of enormous concern to all the industry – not just in Yorkshire, but across the UK.”

In fact, the industry sees protecting the self-employed from financial ruin as so important to its future that the Film and TV Charity has launched the Covid-19 Film and TV Emergency Relief Fund, which has attracted major donations from Netflix (£1m), the BBC (£700,000) and Sky (£500,000).

In part as a result of such efforts, Ms Joynson is cautiously upbeat about the sector’s prospects over the longer term.

“The industry will sort itself out,” she says. “It may look different at the end of it, it may have a different shape and scale, but people will still enjoy and want to watch things. This industry will come back, but it certainly won’t look the same as it is now.”

One reason for that may be a change in viewing habits. Lockdown has seen a shake-up of many daily routines, and our screens have not been exempt.

Ms Joynson says: “I had a meeting the other day with a number of very senior people from a number of different countries, and one of the conversations was actually ‘what is it that people will want to watch after this?’ Will it be dystopian stories, or will it be something that is at quite the opposite end of the spectrum? I think it’s really difficult to judge that at this point.”

In the nearer term, she fully expects the lifting of restrictions to mark the onset of a period of frenetic activity.

“The focus really is on keeping across what is happening now and preparing for when production picks up the game, because when it does it’s going to be really, really busy,” she says.

“If all the production that’s been put on hold starts up at the same time, that’s going to be a really busy period – but we’re still taking enquiries for productions looking at 2021.”

Whenever, and however, the current crisis ends, Screen Yorkshire is sure to be at the heart of the screen industry’s resurgence – at least, if Ms Joynson has anything to do with it.

“The only thing I want is for there to be a healthy sector in Yorkshire at the end of this,” she says.

“And I hope that Screen Yorkshire will play its part in making that happen. That’s all I want, really. I just want the industry to survive, to bounce back, and then when some kind of normality sets in, to start to grow again.”

If past performance is anything to go by, she should be successful – and that might just mean we all still want to stay at home and watch TV. Even when we no longer have to.