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Independent Filmmakers Call on Federal Government for Financial Support Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

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Cheyne Gateley/Variety Intelligence Platform

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to halt film productions across the country, the Freelancers Union and a coalition of 25 independent film and media groups have called on the federal government to support its members.

The coalition’s request calls upon Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and congressional members across the country to ensure than any replenishment of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) includes stipulations that allow freelancers to qualify for financial relief.

“The PPP has the potential to offer a critical financial lifeline to America’s freelance and self-employed workers by providing forgivable loans to cover payroll and business expenses,” the coalition’s statement reads. “Unfortunately, with insufficient federal funds allocated and rules set up to favor larger businesses, freelancers have not been able to gain access to this essential funding.”

The coalition found that more than 80% of freelancers surveyed reported that they had lost thousands of dollars in wages due to shutdowns. While freelancers were allowed to apply for PPP loans on April 10, one week after applications opened to small businesses, the statement explains that freelancers were only offered a period of four business days before the Small Business Association announced they were closing applications due to exhausted funds.

During that brief window of opportunity, many freelancers struggled to connect with banks overwhelmed with applicants from larger businesses and new rules requiring the completion of a 2019 Form 1040, Schedule C, which many individuals have yet to complete due to the extension of the IRS’ filing deadline.

Over the past 10 days, over 2600 freelancers in the industry have joined the coalition’s online seminars on PPP, with many frightened by the difficulty of obtaining access to this financial support from the federal government.

“A significant number of independent media makers and documentary filmmakers operate as freelancers,” said Simon Kilmurry, executive director of the International Documentary Association. “We have heard from thousands of those makers that their businesses have been shut down and that they have been shut out of the initial round of PPP. It is imperative that any new federal aid under PPP prioritize freelancers.”

According to the coalition, 57 million freelancers make up the country’s workforce and contribute an estimated $1 trillion to its GDP.

Signatories include Film Independent, the Documentary Producers Alliance, Sundance Institute, the International Documentary Association, the Producers Guild and the Tribeca Film Institute.