One of the greatest joys as a filmmaker is being able to see the world while doing the craft you love. I have had the opportunity to travel to many countries over the years on five different continents. Each location has beauty and pitfalls. . .
Before you venture into the great wide world; prepare, prepare, prepare before going on an international filming location. These six tips can help you navigate some of the lesser known travel ideas and will set you up for the best possible shoot.
1. Antacid Tablet
I know, this sounds obscure. But if you have ever had food poisoning, you get it. Imagine your insides screaming to be on your outside in a place where there is no sanitary hospital, pharmacy, or options but to sweat it out. There is the standard advice of “don’t drink the water” which most people know and follow, but what about the food? If you are in a modern European city, then great. But most of my filming internationally has been in third world countries, and the best travel advice I ever received was from an American pastor who would visit many remote areas. He advised me to take a Pepto-Bismol tablet before every meal. Just pop one in, then eat away. I have followed that advice, and in all my traveling (which has been extensive), I have never had stomach issues.
2. Have a Friend or Fixer
If you are traveling out of the country, most likely you will not speak the same language. Granted, ALL of the countries I have been too I meet many people who speak English but having someone who knows the customs, language, and the travel system is EXTREMELY valuable. I have been lucky, most of my shoots I have had a few locals that would host, translate, and guide my team and me to food & accommodations. In many cases, you will want to find a local fixer; someone who can set up locations & logistics for your team so you can hit the ground running. It is always good to have a local wingman that usually becomes a friend by the end of the shoot.
3. Travel Light
Yes, I know. This tip is on almost every travel list. . . Because it’s true! Changes are that you cannot afford to check 50+ bags of gear. You’ll need to be very strategic. I usually try to pack light. I own a Red Epic Dragon, but unless I need that much power, I usually try and bring something a little lower key, like a DSLR package. The more you can carry with you on the plane, the better. If it fits into a carry-on roller and a backpack, you have done well. I will break down and check my monopod, small tripod, or anything else solid. I usually wrap the heads in my clothing.
4. Lighting Solution
When you are on location, it is not uncommon to have TERRIBLE interior lighting. Most of us do not have the luxury of bringing a massive generator with an HMI. Instead, LED portable lighting can be a filmmaker’s best friend. Dracast has some very affordable solutions, and the cost of great LED lighting is getting better by the day. Even if you have a reflector and a small portable light, it can save the day in less than ideal interview scenarios.
5. Something for Stability & Motion
Keeping your pack light can be difficult, especially if you are lugging around a tripod to every location. Other than bringing a small, Walmart off-brand tripod, I usually don’t bring anything larger. A monopod with a fluid head is a much easier and smarter way to travel. You can have stability and subtle motion. Two other tools I bring depending on the shoot: gimble and slider. I have never brought both. I love to have strategic b-roll, and having a Movi or Ronin is a great way to get some dynamic moving shots. Pulling focus can be an issue if you are a one-man band, so having some autofocus capabilities is a plus. As for the slider, it can provide beautiful, graceful motion that feels more cinematic than the gimbals (personal preference). A quick tip, though, I was recently filming in Nepal and brought the Ronin-S; hated it. I am sure it is excellent for vloggers, but the motion seems b-league at best. Go with Ronin M or MX.
This is one of the most important tips! Sometimes as filmmakers, we can get in our heads and focus so much on the craft we forget our people skills. Nothing can diffuse a tense situation like a genuine smile. Most people in different counties are curious about what you are doing, especially kids. Smile, greet them warmly and be sensitive to where you point the camera.
There you have it! Six tips when filming in a foreign country. If you can pack smart, have a local friend, and don’t forget to include an anti-acid tablet or smile then you’ll be off to the races. There are many other tips and suggestions from great filmmakers, but these hit home for me. Safe travels!