Cameras have stopped rolling, book launches are postponed and actors are all “resting”. It looks as if nothing is moving in the world of entertainment and storytelling, yet from Hollywood to the major the publishing houses of London and New York, the talent scouts and production companies are working overtime to complete unfinished projects and find new tales to tell.
The frenzy of backroom activity is creating unusual opportunities for novice stars of the future. For once, aspiring writers and wannabe directors are in demand.
“We are scouring the internet looking for cool short films,” said Aram Tertzakian, co-founder of Santa Monica-based XYZ Films, the company behind Welsh director Gareth Evans’s recent action hits The Raid and Apostle. “We’ve been going back to filmmakers we have worked with before as well, like Gareth, and developing new projects with them. If we are nimble, then we can get them up and running before the other content providers gear up again.”
While producers are prospecting for talent they would not normally have had time to find nor develop, half-finished films and dramas are using CGI and other special effects to complete projects at speed.
“Productions with only 20% left to shoot have come to us so we can create the VFX [visual effects] they now need. Some directors have gone for animation, where they had planned a real crowd scene,” said Sofia Panayiotaki, chief executive of NEEDaFIXER, a company that has undergone a huge shift in the work it does for film and television producers. “At the point when the whole earth shut down, 70% of our work was arranging location shooting and 30% was VFX and post-production CGI. That has totally changed. Within a week, 400 shoots had turned to zero and we were doing 99% CGI and 1% location work. And that was in Alaska.”
Finding the raw material, the best new writing for books and filmed drama, is also being prioritised. Literary scouts, agents and publishers say they are reading more and looking ahead.
“We have been busy, as there is quite a lot of action out there,” said literary scout Catherine Eccles, of Eccles Fisher Associates. “It is really lively and major buyers, like Amazon, Disney and Netflix, are calling and saying ‘what have you got?’ They’ve had to close down their productions, so are putting everything into development. And, of course, subscriptions have spiked, so they have the money, too.”
Recent experience has shown the biggest hits, television shows such as Killing Eve or Stranger Things, can come from unknown writers. As a result, Independent Talent Group, one of the leading entertainment agencies, has urged its agents to get to imaginative writers before the competition does.
Eccles has also seen an altered emphasis in her work with clients in 20 countries. “There is quite a bit of corona-writing going on, of course,” she said. “Some publishers are being opportunistic, rushing out lockdown-inspired work, but generally agents are looking for something fresh.”
The reception of XYZ’s latest hit, Vivarium, directed by Irishman Lorcan Finnigan and starring Jesse Eisenberg, has benefited from the way its theme of incarceration chimes with audience experience but, on the whole, Tertzakian believes lockdown is not affecting his search for new stories. “Peoples tastes won’t change, but their viewing habits already have. They are used to watching high quality content at home and this will accelerate that. Our bet has always been on smart genre, that is sci-fi, horror and action.”
And if there is a sheaf of typed pages in your bottom drawer, now is the time to send in that screenplay or manuscript.
“At HarperCollins, we’re still actively looking for new submissions and the lack of commute has given some people more time to read,” said Phoebe Morgan, an editor at HarperFiction, who signed up a new author this month.
“At Avon HarperCollins we’re hosting an online book festival, and telling everyone that tunes in that we’re now open to unsolicited manuscripts. In other words, you do not have to have a literary agent to be able to submit.”
The company has also opened up its website so that authors can send in work directly. Signing a new author, to be published next year by HarperFiction, “was a lovely moment and a bright spot of positivity in a difficult time,” said Morgan. “We want new content and a full, exciting list for 2021/22, when this is all over.”