3:05 AM PDT 6/19/2020 by Scott Roxborough

In a global first, the Austrian government has created a $28 million fund to compensate local and international productions if shoots have to be delayed or interrupted because of coronavirus infections.

Austria has introduced the first government-backed fund to compensate film and television companies if they are forced to shut down or delay a production due to COVID-19.

The program will pay out grants of up to $2.8 million per production to cover losses incurred if, for example, a lead actor tests positive for the novel coronavirus and is forced to go into quarantine. International productions will also be covered under the program, with the fund paying up to half of the additional COVID-19 related costs.

The Austrian government has set aside €25 million ($28 million) for the program. Applications for the COVID-19 grants can be submitted until the end of this year. Austria re-opened for film and TV production three weeks ago under new health guidelines. The country, one of the first in Europe to introduce a strict lockdown, has emerged from the coronavirus pandemic comparatively unscathed. There have been just over 17,000 reported cases of COVID-19 and 688 reported deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

Producers across Europe are pushing for their governments to create similar support funds to cover COVID-19 risks. At the moment, because insurers have not yet stepped up to provide coverage for coronavirus, producers bear all the risk if they are forced to shut down production.

In the U.S., the film industry is calling for legislation akin to the Terrorism Risk Insurance 
Act (TRIA), brought in after the 9/11 attacks, which required insurers to make terrorism coverage available to policyholders. TRIA was was instrumental in getting film production to return to New York City.  But equivalent COVID-19 legislation is a long way off.

Government-backed COVID-19 protection funds on the Austrian model could go a long way to reassuring international producers, as well as their financial backers, that it is safe to get back to work. Producer bodies in several European countries have called for similar rescue funds.

There are no international producers currently shooting in Austria but several television productions are underway, including Ich und die Andere, a six-part mini-series from famed writer-director David Schalko (Braunschlag) for Sky Deutschland starring Tom Schilling, Lars Eidinger and Sophie Rois.

SCOTT ROXBOROUGH