At Christmas last year, someone called Sarah wrote an email to our company, Drummer TV. She had seen some of the programmes we make and wanted to tell us about the colourful lives she and her friends led while at work at their busy recruitment agency in Bognor Regis. We get lots of emails from people wanting to be on TV but this one felt different – I could tell Sarah was ballsy and engaging and held strong opinions about most things and I remember leaving my family with a Christmas movie to answer her email.
We had been trying to find a way at looking at different personal reactions to Brexit without it feeling like a current affairs or political commentary programme. I love the slightly eaves droppy, random, opinion that you get from watching shows like Goggle Box or First Dates – unguarded snippets from real people rather than experts – that make you laugh, think or gasp in disbelief. Just because a view isn’t expressed from a suit behind a desk, doesn’t mean it’s invalid and can, I think, give you a more authentic insight into the big issues.
Sarah and her business partner, Gaynor, told me they had both voted Leave (Gaynor was a campaigner for UKIP) despite a staggering 98% of their workforce coming from Eastern Europe with many of them threatening to go home. It felt like this could be a good way of looking at Brexit in an accessible way, from Bognor – somewhere everyone has heard of, and NOT London for a change. Here were some really strong, loud characters who voted for what they believed in, even though the impact on their business could well be detrimental. How did they feel now?
We filmed with the agency over a busy summer and just watched things unfold. We witnessed the number of Eastern Europeans signing up for work at the agency dropping quickly and jobs they had managed to staff with ease in previous years became problematic. The assumption that Brits would be ready to step in appeared to be largely wrong – some of the excuses given were hilarious. As one of the employers we interviewed explained, he hoped that he hadn’t got it wrong, but his ten years of experience in employing local people from Bognor, had convinced him that many Brits were simply unwilling to put the work in for the money. He would choose Eastern European workers every time.
The film is not trying to establish whether the country was right or wrong to vote Leave. We just wanted to consider the effect the vote was having, so far, on some ordinary people, and give these people a voice. What we hadn’t expected was to discover quite how unwilling some of the Brits in that area were to plug the gap being left with the departure of the Eastern Europeans (who were willing and able to work for a minimum wage). We witnessed only a handful of Brits coming into the agency who stepped up and we are left realising that the challenge for Opus Loco will be finding where to find more of these types.
I hope we’ve made a packed film which will make you laugh and think about the people in it. The response so far has been ….”loud”. Anything that touches on Brexit seems to spark really strong reactions. I thought people might have got bored of talking about it but looking at the responses to reviews that have appeared online, and on Twitter (#BritishWorkersWanted), I couldn’t be more wrong.