When our industry grounded to a halt.

2019 was my busiest year to date with repeat projects, new projects, a firsthand insight into union labour in San Francisco even.. All was going swimmingly smoothly and 2020 was more or less all mapped out. Then Covid-19 appeared far far away at first, reported on the news but with no major sense of urgency for us in Europe. 

At the end of January social distancing was not a concept that anyone would imagine becoming part of everyday life as I walked around a 15,000+ people event in Barcelona. It was held one last time at the Fira Barcelona, which now hosts a temporary hospital, in a similar way as ExCel London is now one of the Nightingale hospitals. It seems unreal when only a few months back I was navigating through the halls of ExCel with a team of photographers and videographers and thousands of conference attendees.

We started February still fairly oblivious to what was really about to hit us. I picked up a project filming trains and people working with trains – which was so insightful and interesting. During pre-prod we heard of industry peers being told to drop their tools as they were just starting to set up one of Europe’s largest annual event in Barcelona. That was a big deal. And there was no avoiding the feeling that things were about to change. The notion of herd immunity was all over the news here in the UK however, so we continued business as usual. By the end of February we were filming on location around the UK, in busy train stations, on busy trains, at Gatwick airport even. Not yet grasping what was around the corner.

In March, we started editing. Simultaneously I was working with hotels in Düsseldorf for an event in May. By then, the idea of travelling to central London – or anywhere really – had become uncomfortable, so home working had become the norm for all, and it didn’t disturb me much as I do most of my pre and post from my home office. My first May event was cancelled by the organisers and postponed to 2021, so we worked frantically with our fabulous contacts at the Düsseldorf hotels to negotiate new contracts before the city shut down. 10 days later on 23 March, the UK went into confinement. Cancellations started to cascade, another May event, a June one postponed to December. All work stopped. Soon after, August, October and November work disappeared in a puff of smoke as the respective event websites announced the physical events were cancelled and going digital instead. 

0010Photography by Alick Cotterill

By April we had no other choice but to furlough, the future looking bleak. On a personal note, Easter was marked by the death of my grandmother who lost her fight against the virus, she had been planning to celebrate her 100th birthday with us all in the summer. So that month was a dark time both on a human and economic level for so many. But April also showed us the best of humanity: from events teams and army building temporary hospitals in record times, to people at local levels volunteering to help those in need, teachers re-inventing school lessons so that our children could carry on learning while the country had come to a stand still, and all other essential workers making it possible for our society to keep going. We are forever grateful. 

I feel strongly that May will be a better month for everyone and I trust I will be able to adapt to the new – and of a more virtual nature – short term requirements in our industry, until we are in a position to interact face-to-face again in some way, as there are no substitute for in person interaction.


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