Disney Retains & Furloughs ‘Little Mermaid’ UK Crew After Coronavirus Production Shutdown

Tom Grater

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EXCLUSIVE: Disney has moved to retain and furlough crew working on its UK production The Little Mermaid, after previously serving them termination notice, and will utilize the government’s Job Retention Scheme, meaning they will receive 80% of salary up to a maximum of £2,500 ($3,100) per month.

In email correspondence seen by Deadline, executive producer Jeff Silver and unit production manager Russell Allen notified production staff yesterday that it will rescind prior termination notices that were handed out on March 20 when it originally shut down the shoot until April 3; crew will still be paid in full until that date. The furlough will last until at least the end of May, unless shooting resumes before then or the production does not move forward as originally planned.

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The move follows the UK government’s confirmation earlier this week that staff who were laid off after February 28 will be eligible for state-backed furlough if they are rehired by their previous employers.

The Little Mermaid, a live-action and CGI remake of the classic Disney movie, is being directed by Rob Marshall and has cast including Halle Bailey, Awkwafina, Javier Bardem and Melissa McCarthy.

Disney confirmed today’s news to Deadline. It is not immediately clear if crew on any further UK projects from the studio are being furloughed. Marvel pic Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness is in pre-production ahead of a June shoot here but was previously understood to still be progressing towards that date.

Yesterday, Disney announced substantial pay cuts to high-level staff as it looks to weather the crisis, including chairman Bob Iger who will forego his salary and CEO Bob Chapek who will take a 50% cut.  The studio has said it will continue to pay theme park staff until April 18 while the venues remain closed.

UK union Bectu also contacted its members today to notify them about Disney’s decision and to applaud the studio. The union said it has now written to nearly 300 film and TV production companies urging them to furlough PAYE freelancers.

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said: “Bectu welcomes Disney’s decision to furlough crew until the end of May when the government has said the JRS will run until. Disney is taking its responsibilities as an employer seriously and this is model behaviour that the rest of the industry should be looking to follow.”

“We are calling on all production companies to do the same where they can and if cash flow is a problem to consider using the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan scheme. There are many PAYE freelancers out there who have been waiting weeks for government help and one of their only options is to be furloughed. Employers must explore this option where possible to help alleviate the stress and anxiety that many are experiencing at the moment. Bectu will continue to highlight the range of hurdles freelancers and the self-employed are facing to qualify for financial support to the Treasury.”

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