ITV Studios: 80% of Productions Resumed But Travel Restrictions Limit Scope of Filming

ITV Studios has said that 80% of its productions impacted by coronavirus have now resumed shooting or have been delivered, but that international travel restrictions have limited the scope of filming.

Broadcaster ITV said in its August earnings call that 70% of the 230 productions impacted or paused by lockdown had resumed. That figure has now risen, with around 23 more shows back in business or pushed through in the last month. However, in an interview with Variety, Lisa Perrin, managing director of international production for ITV Studios, said “most countries are staying where they are” in filming new shows, as multi-location shoots are rife with challenges due to shifting quarantine orders.

In Europe especially, shoots are increasingly complicated by changing regulations around travel, particularly for the U.K., which has been steadily plucking countries such as France, Spain and Croatia off its safe travel list.

“’Love Island Germany’ is happening in Mallorca because the Germans can travel to Mallorca safely so their restrictions are different from ours. We’ve done a ‘Love Island’ hub for Holland in Gran Canaria, [Spain], and they’ve created a bubble for themselves. But mostly…they’re not travelling,” said Perrin.

Julian Bellamy, managing director of ITV Studios, noted that “every single aspect of production is more complicated than before.”

“Travel is on top of the list in terms of complexity. [It is] one of the challenges for those big international dramas that involve multi-location, multi-territory shoots; they’re the ones that have been facing a really tough challenge, and finding some way of working through.”

Bellamy highlighted a “huge amount of creativity” being deployed by producers, particularly those in the U.K. who are “finding a slice of the home counties to make it look like deepest, darkest Eastern Europe.” Shows making good progress or delivered include “Line of Duty” (pictured), “Vigil,” “The Serpent,” “Summertime” and “Balthazar.”

Both Perrin and Bellamy are bullish about maintaining a pipeline of shows, and particularly scripted titles, for ITV’s distribution arm. “The distribution pipeline from the international side has been really good,” said Perrin. “Yes, there’s been a bit of a hiatus in the U.K. but some international companies [have continued].”

Additional COVID-19 safeguarding costs for productions have “totally varied,” according to Bellamy, though new tax break systems have eased some of those financial pressures. “Italy increased its tax breaks from 25% to 40%, so COVID-19 costs were underwritten by the tax breaks. In some other countries, they’ve done clever things to help our producers carry on. But the costs really do vary across the piece,” said Perrin.

ITV has faced intense scrutiny this past week around the debut of its colonial drama “The Singapore Grip.” As revealed by Variety, British East and Southeast Asian media advocacy org BEATS hit out at the series — which focuses on a British family living in Singapore at the time of the Japanese invasion during World War 2 — ahead of its premiere, calling it “harmful (non)representation” and “deeply upsetting.”

Asked whether the reaction to the program, which has now been scrutinized on a national level, will impact ITV Studios’ decision-making around representation across its drama pipeline, Bellamy initially fell back on writer Christopher Hampton’s response to BEATS, which was the only comment provided by the broadcaster on the issue, noting he had been “very clear and articulate.” However, Bellamy later allowed that changes should be made in the future.

“For me, the core of this is we need to accelerate this not just because it’s quite obviously the right thing to do, but also because in order to be a successful and flourishing global studio going forward, you need to be able to have diversity in storytelling, and diversity in thought in all of its different ways. It’s something we take quite seriously, whether that’s through relationships with writers, through to executive producers and senior leadership,” said Bellamy.

“If you ask that question in a year’s time, I’d like to see us at a significant step forward from where we are today.”

The production and distribution powerhouse hosted a virtual showcase event on Tuesday to kick off its digital TV festival for global buyers, held this year in lieu of attending the Mipcom market in Cannes, which is no longer a physical event.

The distributor presented a short clip of new spin-off “The Voice: All-Stars,” which reunites top winners and semi-finalists from the show’s 10 years and features special guests such as Boy George. ITV Studios also revealed that hit format “Love Island” would next be adapted in Spain and Nigeria, with the latter edition marking the show’s first undertaking in Africa.

ITV is standing by its decision to rest the U.K. edition of “Love Island” for an entire year due to the complications of travel, reiterated Bellamy.

“[‘Love Island’] takes months in advance to assemble, so realistically we had to make a call this summer about the likelihood of being able to make it or not,” the executive told Variety. “Think about the logistics of trying to fly hundreds of people from the U.K. to Mallorca at the moment. It was the right call and continues to be the right call. And it’ll be back next year.”

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