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Cross-border travel crucial to film industry in B.C. fully resuming: executive

Last Updated May 13, 2020 at 11:28 am PDT

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Anyone coming into Canada from the U.S. needs to self-isolate for 14 days, which complicates cross-border collaboration

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — How soon B.C.’s multi-billion dollar movie and TV industry gets back up and rolling may depend on when American workers are allowed to cross the border –without having to self-isolate for two weeks.

Pete Mitchell, the president of Vancouver Film Studios, says requiring actors, directors, and producers to quarantine is a problem.

“We just need some recognition that this is a difficult issue for us, and that the industry won’t restart as it was unless the border is more easily crossed than it is today. The opportunity is there to have quick movement and rational movement that’s not going to put people at risk, but it will allow us to restart.”

He says it’s difficult to ask people to self-isolate for two weeks if they only need to be on set a few days.

“As we get it under control in B.C., these other issues which are part and parcel of return of work become more important, and that’s where we’re aiming a lot of our efforts at this point.”

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Earlier this week, we learned domestic film production could start up again in June, but foreign-based projects may have to wait until the end of summer.

Mitchell says the rules in the Czech Republic are different, so that country already has a competitive edge over Vancouver.

“If you have been tested in the previous 14 days and you’re negative and come in and you get tested again and you’re quarantined for two days, and the second test comes back negative, then, you’re free to go to work. It’s those kinds of mechanisms that we’re looking forward to, to make the border as they say, thinner.”

Mitchell says no formal request has been made, but he’s confident Ottawa will agree to lift more industry-focused border restrictions over the next few weeks.

“If you look at the way that the federal government moved –how quickly they moved– to get money out to people out of work, it’s unprecedented.”

He adds 80 per cent of more than $3-billion worth of investment in B.C. every year is foreign-based.

Right now. he quarantine order impacts about 300 workers.

“Guest stars in a series or people who come up for a feature for maybe just a week or two. A two-week hold-up period in BC is going to be prohibitive. In one sense, it doesn’t matter because if your key actor from a series is unable or unwilling to come to Canada, that’s a problem and even more so, it’s kind of the guest stars that come and go for different episodes of a series, they need to be able to come and go, as well.”

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Mitchell says producers suffering most are streaming services like Netflix and the makers of popular TV series like The Flash which was forced to stop filming with two episodes of their season left to shoot.

He says the priority remains ensuring the health and safety of all workers, as well as making sure there’s a strong supply of personal protective equipment for every crew member, so it’s easier to shoot a music video which only requires a crew of five people, but a major series normally has hundreds of people on set.

Mitchell points to a recent report from the Canadian Media Producers Association which predicted more than two billion dollars worth of production and 172,000 jobs will be lost by the end of June with B.C. accounting for 40 per cent of that business.

He adds more than 40,000 jobs are directly linked to the industry in B.C., not to mention thousands of other spin-off jobs in construction and catering, as well as dry cleaners and hair or makeup artists.

He can’t say exactly when full production can resume, but he’s optimistic it can happen by the end of the summer, “We’re going to get there. There’s no question we’re going to get there.”