British Film Commission (BFC) and Film London chief executive Adrian Wootton has acknowledged the “short notice” given for the suspension of exemption from Covid-19 rules for film and TV workers arriving in the UK.
As of 4am this morning (January 18), film and TV workers arriving in the UK must self-isolate for 10 days; provide a negative Covid-19 test taken no more than three days before arrival; and complete a passenger locator form (with exceptions for travellers arriving in Northern Ireland from the Common Travel Area of Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands).
The change was announced on Friday, January 15, with the British Film Commission posting a series of tweets confirming the exemption tightening at 10.55pm.
Wootton told Screen the BFC had no advance warning of the government’s change in regulations.
“The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport were in touch with us on Friday; we’re redrafting our guidance and are waiting for that wording to be signed off,” Wootton told Screen, acknowledging it was “relatively short notice”. He expected the redrafted guidance to be published today (Monday January 18).
“We understand that these changes will come as a disappointment to the sectors involved,” a government spokesperson told Screen. “However it is important we take action in the interest of public health.”
“I understand filmmakers being frustrated that they are having to revise their arrangements,” said Wootton. “We are sympathetic to that, and we’ll do everything we can to support them and explain exactly what the situation is and how they can work with it.
“But this is a gigantic public health crisis, and we can’t really argue with government’s decision to try and be as secure as possible in terms of our public health.”
Wootton recognised the potential harm to productions that the exemption change could cause. “It won’t necessarily stop anything; it’s almost certain to mean that the schedule gets extended and some work has to be delayed and that will obviously add time and add cost.”
The late nature of the announcement has caused difficulties for filmmakers including UK director Joe Stephenson. The director of photography and gaffer for his latest feature – an untitled documentary about the history of psychedelics – were due to arrive in the UK from Germany this week.
“We’ve had to get them into London sooner and move the shoot two days later so there’s space for them to have their five days isolation,” said Stephenson. “That’s cost us money in having to get new flights and tests. On top of that there are availability issues, so we’re having to compress the shoot.
“It’s absolutely chaotic,” he said of the timing of the change. “I’m not opposed to these restrictions; I don’t know why they weren’t put in place when we went back into lockdown. It’s the last-minute nature of it, and that it’s announced on a Friday night when you can’t do anything for two days.”
Stephenson also criticised the lack of clarity in Friday’s announcement. “Having to wade through legislation is not helpful,” he said. “It shouldn’t be clear only three days after an announcement. I don’t think Test To Release has been clearly outlined.”
Without citing specific examples, Wootton confirmed major US productions filming in the UK had been making use of the exemption for film and TV workers prior to its suspension this morning. He also said production levels are up for this time of year, due to the backlog from 2020.
“An enormous amount of production backed up because of the hiatus of the summer,” said Wootton. “Normally at this time of the year you wouldn’t be seeing this volume of shooting because of light and the weather. We have got a much higher percentage of winter shooting in and out of the studios going on than we would have otherwise anticipated.”