Almost time to depart on a shoot abroad. Nothing new with that perhaps, save for the fact this time we are shooting in South Africa as a two man team.
That’s meant having to do all the preproduction work that, in the past, has been somebody else’s responsibility – and I wasn’t looking forward to it.
Filming abroad requires a carnet (pronounced carnay), which serves as a sort of passport for your kit. You’re taking it out of your country and intend to bring it all back, not sell it. Therefore border and customs control want documentary proof that you’re not going to sell it, and a bond (a returnable pot of cash) to cover the potential loss of taxation revenue should you have a change of heart.
Every major item of kit, each microphone and Lens filter, is listed with serial number, weight, value, and country of manufacture. This needs to be sent to a carnet issuing authority (in my case, The London Chamber of Commerce) in advance of the trip so they can prepare it and stamp it officially. For a fee. Which I will come to in a moment.
All the values of your carnet kit are added up and a proportion of this is what you have to stump up up front as your returnable bond. Well, my kit tipped in at almost £15k, which meant I had to find £4k or so. Not a promise to pay, no. Actual hard cash. In their bank. Before I could have the paperwork.
Okay, so you can buy a bond for this for about £150, but that’s not returnable. I do happen to have the funds in my local bank (based in the biggest trading estate in the UK), so I went to see them. The staff and the manager hadn’t even heard of a carnet, let alone understand the need for a bond. So I spoke to my business manager. He found somebody who had heard of a carnet, but then tried to work out a cheap way of putting £4.5k in escrow rather than just handing it over. It cost almost as much as the non returnable fee.
I should point out that the client isn’t a huge multinational, and we are sort of duty bound to minimise costs. But it was a shame that the bank would cost so much and take so much time.
So I ended up paying the fee on top of the cost of the carnet – not cheap at over £250. All that for a sheaf of paperwork with a few perfunctory stamps. Wouldn’t it be easier to just not bother?
Well, if you do get stopped, that call for cash bond may happen at your destination. Try raising £4.5 cash in Morroco’s airport. I was stopped by UK customs returning from the US with a flight case and had the riot act read to me fir not having the paperwork, and if they had chosen to impound my gear, i’d also be liable for kit rental costs if I didn’t own it.
Then there was the lovely evening I spent in a customs office writing out the details of 12 camcorders used for a video making exercise somewhere hot and sunny. They were merciful because of a well connected ground agent on our party. Note I did not arrange the kit, I was there to edit but volunteered to carry them, and felt a sucker when I realised that nobody had got a magic green form.
Don’t get me wrong – having a carnet can lead to even more trouble. I flew with kit from the Canaries to the UK via Madrid as part of a huge crew. The local airport’s customs were closed for siesta do I couldn’t collect my return stamp. So we hoped we could do something in Madrid. During the transit, I raced around trying to find someone to stamp my paperwork (I speak no Spanish). And when I did, I was asked where the kit was. I mimed “in the plane” and pointed outside. He sighed deeply, held his head in his hands, glanced skyward briefly and stamped the carnet.
As it happened, it wasn’t on the plane. It arrived back in the UK almost a week later. But that is another story.
So, what’s the take home in all of this? Well first off, you’re aware of them. Do you need one for your trip? Within Europe, no. If I go to the US, South Africa or all the ther destinations that sign up to the international carnet, officially yes. If I am going to China, then something similar (but not a carnet) is required. Check. Your milage may vary.
So carnets are a serious bit of paperwork and you should know about them. They are expensive and infuriating, but a lot easier now with web creation and checking. You may be able to get away with it once or twice, or rely on a sweet smile, but one day it will go crunch. I’ve had my crunch day so I budget for it and just pay up. But I will put in a shout for London Chamber of Commerce here, who have been so very helpful. My initial dread of days of mindless form filling are now calling up a simple bit of boilerplate of presaved info on a web form.
And a pot of cash. Sigh.