During the COVID-19 pandemic, several, if not all, industries in Malta were hit and affected in one way or another – and the island’s burgeoning film industry found itself in a precarious state.
With major projects like Jurassic World: Dominion having to scale back in the middle of production, with some of the crew even testing positive for COVID-19, serious questions were raised about what could be done to ensure the industry continues as smoothly as possible.
“COVID-19 has increased the costs of production – but we kept working. How many industries in Malta can we say are still generating millions right now?” Film Commissioner Johann Grech told Lovin Malta.
Over the last year and a half, Grech and his team have had to work to ensure that things continue as smoothly as possible. Working hand in hand with Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci and Malta’s health authorities, a number of regular COVID-19 measures and tests had to be rolled out for the film industry to ensure everyone remained safe while the industry continued filming.
“Over the last 13 months, we’ve had 21 productions in Malta, generating €75 million during a global pandemic,” Grech noted.
“What we’ve achieved, we are proud of.”
When it comes to productions, some are undergoing daily Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests on the crews.
“And we are emphasising on these protocols, while working closely with Charmaine Gauci and her team.
Saying the film industry needed to be “a key motor for the economy”, Grech said that the international and local crews understood the need for precautions.
“They understand the protocols, and we are working very well with them and the health authorities – we only got here because we worked so well together,” he said.
Currently, there are three big productions taking place on the island.
“One of them is a big project that I can’t reveal just yet – but one of the companies involved is Amblin Partners, which is associated with Steven Spielberg,” Grech said. “Filming is expected to start in August at the Malta Film Studios and Fort Ricasoli.”
The second is a Canadian and Maltese co-production feature film named Hounds of War, with filming expected to start in September. The third is a Swedish production on a live action TV series.
“And these come after we had the flagship Apple TV production shot in Malta, with over 1,000 jobs created for that alone.”
He noted that though the smaller productions often don’t make the headlines, they can be major contributors to the economy. One production employed Maltese carpenters for months to create a 60 metre boat; another booked an entire hotel for their crew.
“We have been working for three years on this – and to build something sustainable like this, you need to travel for this, and I’ve been reaching out for years.”
Grech had recently come under fire after being accused of spending an excessive €600,000 on travel abroad over two years. However, Grech believes that this is outreach that is important for the island.
“Constructive criticism is fair, but these projects don’t come about by themselves,” Grech said. “We travelled extensively, and under my administration we’ve brought around 60 different projects, which generated €130 million into the economy – €75 million of that during a pandemic.”
With three productions underway right now and more in the pipeline “that we are already working on”, Grech and his team are looking towards 2022 with bright eyes.
Cover photo: Pre-pandemic image from filming of ‘Murder On The Orient Express’
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