Behind the scenes: Getting film equipment from A to B


If you thought the job of moving people around the world was hard work, wait until you need to get film equipment from A to B.

Like any human passenger, freight needs to adhere to the departure and entry requirements of the countries that your film equipment touches. Whether it’s point to point or transiting through a hub en route to your destination, production teams need to ensure all their documentation is prepared and correct to avoid delays and penalties.

“It can be an expensive exercise if you fail to produce the correct documentation when transporting film equipment cross borders,” says Stage and Screen’s Jennifer Smith. “There are set requirements for each country and although you may sometimes not even be asked to produce it, you’ll incur a hefty fine and delays if you’re asked for it and don’t have it.”

There’s no one-size-fits all approach when it comes to transporting gear from South Africa to different countries, says Film Freight’s Richard McCarthy. “One has to consult with the crew and find out where they’re going and how much excess baggage they’ll be travelling with.”

“Even shipping batteries requires special documentation – a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) may need to be produced for every single battery being shipped to verify that they are safe to be transported by air. You have a much better chance of travelling seamlessly if you ensure all your documentation is correct before leaving the country.”

McCarthy explains that the first thing to consider is the destination to which the crew is travelling and whether they will be transiting. “We then check whether these destinations are countries that take part in the ATA Carnet System.”

Simply put, a Carnet is a shipping document that allows you to travel with Boomerang freight, aka goods like film equipment that leaves and returns to the country in its original form, without being required to pay import duty or taxes when you cross a border. South Africa is a participating country, among 87 other countries, including the US, the UK, most of Europe and several African countries.

Think of the Carnet like a passport for all your film equipment, especially when you are travelling with a lot of high-value equipment where the cost of import duty could be sky-high. A Carnet must be carried with you when you are travelling with the equipment, just like a passport would be.

Holding a Carnet does not, however, preclude you from having to comply with the customs regulations of a country.  The equipment must be returned with the original exporter, the characteristics of the equipment must remain the same and they must be identifiable by their serial numbers.

“The Carnet holder or representative must always ensure the country into which the goods are going to imported accepts Carnets and must be present when entering and leaving a country. You must also present the Carnet when leaving the country because if you fail to do so the customs authority in that country may demand that you pay duties and VAT or ask for proof of the current location of the goods. You have to get the sheet signed and stamped correctly before check-in,” explains Smith.

You also need to check your Carnet carefully when you receive it. Ensure it has the correct number of vouchers for your trip and that the equipment list, serial numbers and values are also correct.

A useful tip, says Smith, is that you should make several copies of the front page of the Carnet showing the document number and equipment list. “Ensure that members of your crew have a copy and upload to a Cloud so that you have access to it in case it gets lost.”

“Stage and Screen also recommends that you arrive at your departure airport well before your flight as you will need to complete the Carnet and get it stamped before check-in. If the customs official wants to check the equipment against the list on the Carnet, you wouldn’t be able to produce it, which would be a problem,” concludes Smith.

Written by Natalia Rosa, director, Big Ambitions


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