EU Countries Make Film & TV Exceptions To U.S. Travel Ban In Bid To Get Big Productions Back Underway

By Tom Grater, Jill Goldsmith

'Dune' / 'The Falcon And The Winter Soldier' / 'Outpost'
'Dune' / 'The Falcon And The Winter Soldier' / 'Outpost' Legendary / Marvel / CW

Yesterday’s news that the European Union will not lift travel restrictions on the U.S. due to the scale of the country’s ongoing coronavirus outbreak prompted concerns about the re-start of American film and TV production based in Europe.

As of today (July 1), travelers from 15 countries including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and China can cross borders into the EU, but the U.S. remains excluded alongside Brazil and Russia.

However, Deadline has spoken to local agencies in numerous EU nations and it is becoming clear that exceptions will be made in many countries for U.S. film and TV crew.

Key countries with major production facilities including Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria have all confirmed that they will still welcome U.S. shoots this summer, as long as they meet COVID-19 safety stipulations, and some projects are already back underway.

In the UK, international films crews continue to be allowed to enter the country but must adhere to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. In theory the country is subject to the EU ruling as it is still within the Brexit transition period, but this is a non-binding directive so enforcement remains up to individual states. UK bodies continue to lobby government for an exemption to the quarantine for film/TV workers, though productions including Universal’s Jurassic World: Dominion are set to get back underway soon even if it remains in place.

As first reported by our sister publication Variety, the Czech Republic’s Film Commission was fastest out of the gate yesterday when it directly contacted Hollywood studios to assuage fears.

Projects including Amazon/Sony series The Wheel Of Time, Marvel Studio’s The Falcon And The Winter Soldier and series two of Amazon’s Carnival Row are understood to be set to roll cameras again very soon in the Czech Republic, while major European production Das Boot is also heading back to the country to shoot its third season imminently, as is Netflix’s German/English feature Transatlantic 473

“Czech Republic welcomes filmmakers from the U.S.,” read the note from Pavlína Zipkova, head of the country’s film commission. “In relation to the EU declaring a travel ban on the U.S., please let me assure you this is not valid for the economic workers but tourism travelers only. Filmmakers of all nations are welcome in the Czech Republic.”

Key to qualifying for the exception will be securing the necessary documents from local authorities that confirm both the economic benefit to the territory as well as the employment of a local production partner to help get the shoot in line with a nation’s individual COVID safety protocols.

In the Czech Republic, U.S. filmmakers will be ensured smooth “cross border transportation” if the Minister of Culture Lubomir Zaoralek signs off on a document evidencing economic benefit, and Czech Film Fund director Helena Bezdek Frankova signs off a doc confirming the international producer has delivered a list of names of those involved to the local producing partner. Both documents are issued by the Film Fund.

The situation is similar in Croatia, which has housed recent shoots including season two of HBO’s Succession and Lionsgate’s The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard. The Croatian Audiovisual Centre confirmed to Deadline that film/TV production is being considered a legitimate reason to make an exception to the travel ban, though producers will also need to employ a local production partner who will be responsible for the implementation of virus safety guidelines.

“The Croatian producer will coordinate the implementation of all measures necessary for cross-border entry and departure of all foreign members of film and TV crews, in line with the general guidelines of the Croatian Institute of Public Health on cross-border travel, self-isolation and quarantine,” said a rep of the Croatian Audiovisual Centre today.

Local production in Croatia is already back underway, and there are U.S. shoots imminent. Amazon’s Carnival Row is understood to be heading to Croatia, as well as the Czech Republic, to complete filming this summer, and the film office says there are more shoots inbound in the coming months.

Hungary, which as Deadline revealed recently will house additional shooting on Denis Villeneuve’s big-budget sci-fi pic Dune this summer, is similarly keen to emphasize that it is facilitating a return to production. Dune shot at Budapest’s Origo Film Studios in 2019 and is looking to return in mid-August.

“The National Film Institute has released COVID-19 guidelines for the safe resumption of filming to ensure health and safety for cast and crew, furthermore special exemption can be granted for non-EU residents to enter Hungary without mandatory quarantine,” the country’s film office reaffirmed.

Alongside Dune, Hungary is also poised to house the Netflix series Terra Vision, which has been building sets at the NFI Mafilm studio complex ahead of a mid-July shoot. The film office says many of its sound stages are booked up for the rest of the year and further productions returning include Amazon’s The Banker’s Wife, Sony’s The Nightingale and Showtime’s Halo.

Bulgaria likewise confirmed to us it will continue to allow U.S. crew to enter the country, though will enforce testing and a form of brief quarantining measures. Jana Karaivanova, Executive Director of the Bulgarian National Film Agency, said Bulgarian productions began prepping roughly two weeks ago and more recently foreign productions have started to build sets and transport crews.

“If nothing changes, I’m sure we’ll have four foreign productions that will start shooting here in July and August,” she said. “The idea is for travelers from the U.S. (and elsewhere) to test before flying in and again a few days after arriving, with a quarantine of several days pending test results.”

In Serbia, the third season of CW series Outpost has already resumed shooting. “Serbia has no restriction on film and TV production travel into the country, quite the opposite,” said Milica Božanić, Executive Director of the Serbia Film Commision.

Iceland, which is not a part of the EU but has close ties to the union, is also operating an exemption policy to its quarantining measures for crews entering the country. Like the examples above, producers need to submit information about those flying in and the financial importance of the project via a local production services outfit, which are then analyzed by the local film authorities.

In Estonia, exceptions to the ban are possible and special permits can be applied for in advance from the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board. The permits will be assessed and granted individually case by case and will again need to be procured with a local producer.

In all of these countries, foreign film/TV shoots will have to adhere to local COVID-19 production safety guidelines, which vary from country to country but cover similar territory including distancing, PPE and increase hygiene. Many of the crew employed on set will be hired locally so will not be subject to potential quarantining measures anyway. In most instances, production on local projects has resumed, or is close to doing so.

So far, no EU country has said explicitly that U.S. productions will be affected by the travel ban. While it wouldn’t necessarily appear to qualify as an essential business under European Union criteria, it’s often a key economic driver and in any case the EU directive is non-binding and ultimately up to individual member states. In Canada, despite closed U.S. borders, film and TV production in Vancouver and British Columbia is allowed if U.S. casts and crews quarantine for two-weeks on arrival.

However, while the door is open for U.S. crew to fly into these countries to get shoots back up and running, some of Deadline’s contacts questioned whether the real challenge for producers is more likely to be closer to home, where spiking cases in key areas could lead to increased lockdown measures and further disruption.

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