President Donald Trump’s 30-day European travel ban will further paralyze and isolate a film and TV industry that is frantically drawing up contingency plans for business and production.
Trump’s ban on travel to the U.S., which goes into effect Friday, is set to impact 26 European countries including France, Italy, Germany and Spain, but excludes countries outside the Schengen Zone, such as the U.K. and Ireland, despite the fact that the U.K. is expected to accelerate its response to the outbreak in the wake of 460 positive cases, while Ireland, with 34 confirmed cases, has now closed all schools and colleges.
While the ban won’t hugely affect countries such as Italy, which is already in virtual lockdown with almost all shops and restaurants shuttered until March 25, it does symbolize an isolating of Europe and represents a decision “taken unilaterally and without consultation,” according to European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel.
“The U.S. ban will handicap the promotion of U.S. films in Europe as well as the promotion of European films in the U.S., so for distributors, it is very bad news,” says Emilie Georges, managing director of Paris-based Memento Films International (“Call Me By Your Name”).
“The ban will likely be renewed, so the threat for the Cannes Film Festival is intensifying,” she adds.
Producer Alvaro Longoria (“Everybody Knows”), president of the European Producers Club, says the U.S. travel ban on foreign nationals will also have a detrimental effect on the movement of talent.
“This will limit the amount of talent that comes and goes, and affect the page number of European actors and directors that work a lot outside Europe,” he says.
One senior European network executive quietly notes that the ban could nix the traditional pre-Cannes Los Angeles market where big companies sneak-peak movie productions on big-screens, as well as major projects, to big U.S and international distributors.
He adds that if the ban is extended, non-U.K. Europeans would also be prevented from attending mid-May’s L.A. Screenings, though they can still access studios’ series a week later online. Overall, the industry take on this year’s L.A. Screenings is that they may well not take place anyway.
The U.S. restrictions will also take a practical toll on deal-making, says Samuel Kissous, president of Paris-based production house Pernel Media, which is in the works on two major co-productions with U.S. networks Science Channel and Smithsonian Channel.
“Thirty days is just about manageable but the question is what happens if it becomes two months,” he says. “We’re constantly emailing and calling (our network partners), but in our industry, there comes a point where it’s very important to have face time.”
There are micro effects on business, too. Pernel’s U.S. intern must leave France in the next 48 hours after Trump’s announcement prompted the cancellation of his European internship program.
What lies ahead for European production?
Most industry figures highlight that the U.S. ban — which follows high-profile event cancellations such as Cinemacon, SXSW and E3 that would have kiboshed Stateside travel anyway — punctuates greater production headaches.
Kissous, for instance, has just cancelled a shoot in India next week due to new Indian visa restrictions that suspend most visas for foreigners until April 15 — a “very serious hindrance” that has cost the business “several thousands of Euros” as most production insurance policies aren’t covering coronavirus. A shoot in Turkey has also been postponed.
“Now we’re starting to see the really bad effects of shooting internationally,” he says. “You have to deal with access, visas and shooting permits and there is generally a two-month production prep. If shooting is canceled, that’s all dead in the water, and even if it’s postponed, that’s still money that’s gone because of the organizational work required.”
Alan Sim, an executive producer and commissioner with Finnish telco Elisa, says, “Every producer and broadcaster in Europe is asking themselves, ‘What steps do we take, when do we delay and when do we forge ahead?’”
“The big question people are asking specifically around production is what does their insurance cover?” he adds.
The business has two shoots scheduled in April, but Sim highlights that the chances someone on set may be carrying coronavirus will likely be extremely high.
“The discussion is around (the size) of the team and what the insurance is. All producers going into production now are asking themselves the same questions, and looking at plans A, B and C.”
Elsewhere, national film promotion agencies such as German Films and European Film Promotion have begun brainstorming support measures for local businesses.
Simone Baumann, managing director of German Films, which promotes German cinema globally and works closely with local sales companies, says: “The effects of the U.S. travel ban are hard to gauge at this point, but due to the snowball effect caused by the event and festival cancellations, the impact on the international — not just European — film business will be harsh, especially for midsized and smaller companies if the situation continues into the second half of the year.”
Sonja Heinen, managing director of European Film Promotion, which represents national film agencies in 37 countries, adds that in the wake of canceled events and travel bans, the organization is “rolling up our sleeves” with its member groups “to develop new strategies to support the European industry through alternative ways and channels in this difficult time.”
Meanwhile, executives such as London-based Fremantle COO Andrea Scrosati, who has been grounded in Rome with his family following a visit to Italy, are simply trying to adjust to a new normal.
“I am working from home using all the opportunities that technology gives us: VC, conference calls, LoopUp, Microsoft Teams,” says Scrosati. “The only risk is that you tend to be late on calls, because people call you constantly for other reasons.”
Going forward, “if we are not able to have a meeting in the U.S. for six months, then it would become an issue…but that doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment,” he adds, pointing out that flights to China have already reopened.
As for the impact on production for Fremantle, Scrosati said it’s too early to gauge, but pointed out that Fremantle produced the March 6 Italian finale of “Got Talent” from a deserted Cinecittà soundstage with no live audience and sans American jury member Joe Bastianich who decided it was best to stay in L.A.
“We still did a great show,” he says.
John Hopewell, Elsa Keslassy, Leo Barraclough and Nick Vivarelli contributed to this report.