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Hollywood sends its love, but damage may be done to Qld film industry

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The local film industry may be the latest coronavirus casualty after the news that Hollywood star Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson tested positive while on their visit to Australia, experts fear.

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With the world’s most high-profile case of coronavirus confirmed in Australia, experts are concerned the local film industry could become the next casualty.

Hollywood star Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson remain in isolation on the Gold Coast after contracting COVID-19 while filming Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic in Queensland.

Hanks took to Instagram today to “thank everyone here Down Under who are taking such good care of us”.

“We are taking it one-day-at-a-time,” Hanks said.

“There are things we can all do to get through this by following the advice of experts and taking care of ourselves and each other, no? Remember, despite all the current events, there is no crying in baseball.”

Warner Bros Pictures confirmed in a statement it was “taking precautions to protect everyone who works on our productions” and that authorities had spoken with the film’s producer Baz Luhrmann, who confirmed production was temporarily on hold.

Australian singer Amy Shark today tweeted to Hanks “I am away but I have a house on the Gold Coast you can borrow for 14 days of isolation. Leave your germs everywhere I don’t care. Netflix n wifi password on kitchen bench”.

Tim Allen, who plays Buzz Lightyear in the animated film series opposite Hanks as Woody, tweeted a picture of his character and said: “Woody, I should have made you two wear my space suits!

“You and Rita rest and get well!”

Julia Louis-Dreyfus tweeted: “Love and get well soon and come home soon to you and @RitaWilson.”

Ellen DeGeneres tweeted: “Wishing you both a speedy recovery, and sending lots of love.”

American comedian Whitney Cummings joked: “I mean Tom Hanks is who would play the guy in the movie about Coronavirus.”

She said in another tweet: “It’s like it picked the celebrity we cared the most about to make a point.”

Actress Jameela Jamil praised Hanks for the announcement he made on social media.

“A calm and sensibly informative note from the man I wish was president,” she tweeted.

“Hope they feel better soon, and glad they are in good, sanitized hands #Hanks2024.”

Griffith University film and screen media production lecturer Sue Swinburne said the film industry was far from immune from the worldwide pandemic.

“Beyond the experience of what’s happening to Tom Hanks, the film industry is really made up of hundreds and hundreds of workers who are freelance and there is a contraction, there’s reports of productions being postponed, or cancelled altogether,” Ms Swinburne said.

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Professor Damian Candusso said it would be a tough hit for local production crews.

“If a film like this goes on hold, then potentially people could be without money for those weeks,” he said.

Professor Candusso worked in sound production on Luhrmann’s previous films, Australia and The Great Gatsby.

“We know they’re always quite big productions, so it could potentially push back months,” he said.

This latest production, starring Hanks as Elvis Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker, had a tentative release date of October 2021.

Professor Candusso said there could be a risk of financial penalties for not meeting the release date deadline.

Hanks’ son Chet took to social media on Thursday to tell fans he had spoken with his parents, saying they were “not even that sick”.

Even still, Warner Bros Pictures confirmed it was “working closely with the appropriate Australian health agencies to identify and contact anyone who may have come in direct contact with [Tom Hanks]”.

Professor Candusso said the cost involved would be huge.

“You’ve got people that are potentially being accommodated up here, big star actors that are over here relocating to Australia, and the big crews that have travelled in to work on a production like this,” he said.

The Elvis production is predicted to inject more than $105 million into the local economy, creating about 900 jobs for locals in set production, catering, and costume design.

Ms Swinburne was also set to travel to Austin, Texas in the US with seven Queensland film students to the South By Southwest Film Festival this week, which has been cancelled.

‘There are huge implications both for the event itself, but also for the filmmakers who are going to be premiering their films at the festival,” she said.

“Festivals are a really significant part of the business model for the film industry, especially independent filmmakers.”

Cinema attendance slumps

Ms Swinburne said the impacts on the film industry were not immediate.

Coronavirus started to make itself felt in the industry when China shut down 70,000 theatres in January as part of efforts to contain the spread.

“Instantly that cut-off a really significant revenue stream for Hollywood,” Ms Swinburne said.

Several films have also pushed back their release dates in Australia.

The latest James Bond film No Time To Die was set to premiere in Australia in April, but that has been postponed to November.

“Closer to home, Peter Rabbit 2, which is made by Animal Logic in Sydney, they’ve shifted their release date as well to August later on this year,” Ms Swinburne said.

It is having a roll-on effect in cinemas too, with operators reporting a 50 per cent reduction in patronage since the pandemic began.

The owner of Brisbane’s Blue Room Cinema, David Taylor, said like many other small business owners, he was struggling.

“We had a great February — sales were up 20 per cent on February last year, and then just went off the cliff — now we’re tracking about 50 per cent down the entire region,” he said.

“I think it’s just people’s sentiment really — their mindset is that they kind of need to bunker down a little bit and the movies are all about a social experience and going out.”

– ABC / Brittney Kleyn

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