Armando Iannucci: COVID-19 crisis engulfing the arts is 'absolutely terrifying'
Armando Iannucci has told Sky News the crisis engulfing the arts is “absolutely terrifying” and says the creative industries should be a priority for the government during the coronavirus pandemic.
The producer, director, and writer of hits shows such as The Thick Of It, Veep and Avenue 5 says the sector is “a fundamental part of the economy” and protecting the arts should not be seen as “some kind of charitable” act.
Music venues, cinemas and theatres across the UK were forced to close due to the coronavirus lockdown, now in the 12th week, while festivals and other events have also been cancelled and production on TV and film sets halted.
Although lockdown measures are slowly being lifted, there are fears that jobs in the entertainment sector – particularly those at venues that rely on large numbers of people gathering – will be the last to return.
Iannucci says the industry “employs hundreds of thousands of people”, yet most are freelance and “have fallen through the cracks in terms of government support”.
He has been using lockdown to finish the second series of space comedy Avenue 5, which launched earlier this year, with other writers via Zoom.
However, he is at pains to acknowledge large parts of the sector have come to a standstill, which could have far-reaching repercussions for future generations.
“We’ve got to have something to come back to and if there is nothing there, if three quarters of our theatres are shut, if there is nowhere for music to be played, bands have packed it in because all their money comes from touring – then what will there be left?” he says.
“It’s important that we think about what’s ahead, to what the cultural life of the country will be like.”
Iannucci also warned of a potential artistic brain drain, despite having “a world-beating industry – to coin a phrase from Boris”.
The next generation of creatives may choose to do something else or go abroad, he says.
“If they are coming out of design or drama school to nothing, then the chances are they won’t stay in the industry,” he adds.
Iannucci says because the creative sector is a “nebulous” term it is not as easy to label as industries such as aviation or the automotive sector.
However, he says the arts “contribute more to our gross national product than the oil and car industries combined”.
As “one of the most important industries in this country” it should be considered as such when it comes to government support, he says.
However, there have been some shoots of recovery for the sector.
Some UK film and TV production has been given the green light to start filming again, under new safety guidelines from the British Film Commission.
Adrian Wootton, from the British Film Commission, says that while producers might be facing “extraordinary challenges” in adhering to new working conditions, “they are convinced they can make the movies they want because they’re adapting all the time”.
“There was a billion pounds worth of production suspended in studios across the UK,” he tells Sky News.
“Our guidance is intended to be an important step on the road to getting that production up and running because it really does mean an enormous amount of jobs for the UK and an enormous amount of money for the UK.”
Guidance will be updated weekly, he says.
“What they can do is extraordinary, so while there will be modifications to scripts and schedules and it’ll take longer to make things in this period, I don’t think there will be that radical a difference in terms of storylines or in terms of the things you expect to see on screen.
“They will be shot in a different way and they will use technology to suggest things that can’t be done at the moment.”
Twickenham Studios, which has been producing TV and film for the last century, is one of those businesses re-opening, adapting to the new working conditions.
Co-owner Piers Read says that as well as bringing in new safety measures – including temperature testing and intensive cleaning procedures – they have also looked at how best they can service the industry.
“This is obviously a film studio complex traditionally, but we are migrating our services to host multi-camera TV entertainment shows in this studio as a result of major broadcasters desperate, like the streamers, to produce original content,” he says.
Mr Read says that as a result of the lockdown there has been a demand for re-runs, and also for quiz and entertainment shows, and “that’s exactly what we can host here”.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, television and film production was one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK economy, employing hundreds of thousands of people.
Lockdown meant more than a billion pounds worth of business was put on hold – and the consensus is that the cameras can’t start rolling soon enough.