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BREXIT and the NZ Cinematographer

24 Jun 2019 2:33 PM | Amber Wakefield (Administrator)

Marc Swadel muses on The Brexit Effect’ on shooting in Europe.

Brexit has been a very odd thing. Part reality, part fantasy, it’s best summed up by an English colleagues grandfather who says it reminds him of the ‘Phony War’  -   the time in late 1939 when Britain declared war on the Axis forces, but nothing started in earnest.. A sense of normalcy but also a background tension knowing that shit must hit the fan at some stage!

Brexit – is, like a dead rat rotting in a wall. A gift that keeps on giving. We have had the British P.M being forced to resign. We have had the Brexit Party – with no manifesto or policies (save ‘to leave the EU’) win 33% of the European Union election votes in the UK – being the biggest party – and both Labour and the Conservatives having the worst results of any election in their histories..

As it stands, U.K being in the EU – it makes Europe effectively one big country – freedom to travel, take your gear, work wherever. No visas, no hassles. European citizens with I.D cards (which the U.K rejected a few years ago) can travel on those – not even a need for a passport. Just put your wallet in your back pocket and jump on a plane or get in your car. 

Whenever I work in Europe – the general consensus on talking about Brexit is – WTF? 

General puzzlement and disbelief. The U.K has gone insane. Britain’s rep for being an intelligent, and fair democracy, of solid and steady governance – is in tatters. 

So to recap - the UK was meant to be out by March 31st(now the EU has enforced an October 31stexit date. ready or not!)  and the government had been preparing (badly) for this, and in the creative sector, like in the banking sector, a lot of back room work was being done.  In ‘Ad-land’, there has been a beefing up of European operations, as opposed to the past, where, for a lot of European brands, most of the agencies would have the vast bulk of the staff in London - now there are many more workers on the ground in Europe. Production wise, its been mixed – the dropping pound, plus the Spectre of cross border red tape, has made many productions look more towards domestic production, and on the flip side,  non EU European countries such as Ukraine and Serbia are seeing a rise in UK production interest. 

Productions have had 30 plus years of no red tape. Get your crew, get your gear, and get going. Brexit will mean, at the border, work permits, full checks on equipment, carnets. I recently did a shoot in Japan, where the production had a full carnet. 

The carnet: 96 items, described weighed, valued. All serials recorded. Forms carbon copied in quadruplicate. Ball-ache for myself and my crew. Extra work for the producer, and a good bit of coin for the export-broker.  The bleak future of post-Brexit production.

I was really interested to see how the operation would be, knowing that things had been ramped up in readiness for Brexit. We hit Heathrow – the nerve centre for international crews going in and out of the UK.

Monty Python would have been proud. We follow the signs to the customs area for carnets... to be met with a shuttered counter. OK... there is a phone. We pick it up. A Customs Official answers – ‘Hello sir – I am currently in the other terminal, will be over to you in 15 minutes.’ Obviously staff levels cranked up.

15 minutes later roller door comes up – the officer processes the carnet, and equipment. I ask him how many outward carnets does he process a day – he says maybe a dozen, but several times more that that inwards, into the UK from non-EU crews, both film/TV and music. I asked him how he thinks it will be after Brexit – he says that there are more staff coming on, but most customs staff were being diverted to seaports... he joked about early retirement just before Brexit..

To be honest, commercial productions will, like now, be hiring equipment, and most crew locally, possibly more so after Brexit to cut down on cross border grief. The one part of the creative sector that will find things really tough – will be touring musicians – as after Brexit – everyone will need work permits, and carnets for equipment, which will add another level of complexity and cost to the whole equation. I do a lot of music work – and talking with smaller promoters and labels I work with – it could break them. 

One odd thing about border control in the U.K – aside from the ferries and the Eurostar train – there are no outward checks and stamping of the passports. This was dropped in 1997 as a cost cutting measure, apparently. On asking Border Force staff if this may be re-introduced, due to Brexit... no one could answer me. 

On an ‘only discernible Brexit bonus’’ note - last week I got back in from a shoot in Sicily, flying into Gatwick, and I had the easiest entry into the U.K on my N.Z passport in almost 20 years of comings and goings here – they have implemented automatic passport scanning gates for EU, U.K, NZ/OZ/US/Canadian/Japanese/Korean and Singaporean passports – as well as the non-EU EEA countries (Iceland, Switzerland and Norway). This means no queuing in the ‘other’ lanes, no showing permits and visas and answering questions, just scan the passport, look at the camera, and through. Of course, as part of the Brexit riposte – I.D cards are not accepted, so the Europeans on my flight who had such cards, had to line up in a new ‘EU I.D Cards’ line. Ouch.

Brexit – if it happens, in my view, is the UK sleepwalking into a total, cultural, financial and social disaster. It could end up breaking the Union up – Scotland is pro-Europe, and narrowly voted not to leave the U.K in 2014 – a result no doubt influenced by the Conservative governments promise that  ‘a vote for remaining is a vote for staying in the E.U’ (a promise they broke in 2016 by embarking on Brexit).  Scotland could very well vote again in 2020 – and due to the younger generation coming through, and the general distrust of Westminster – could leave, and apply to join the EU.  Later down the track, Northern Ireland, who have option for a referendum on union with Ireland enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement,  may vote for that – which would leave a very much smaller, poorer, more insular union of England and Wales.

The EU has its faults, but it has stopped any war within its border for almost 75 years, and it has enabled so much cultural exchange and dialogue within Europe, as well as being a bulwark of tolerant, open and progressive values. 

As everything is up in the air, it’s a matter of ‘watch this space’…

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