Filming A Video Production While Abroad
Filming on location always brings fantastic opportunities for stunning or high impact backdrops. When filming abroad, you have a chance to also showcase different cultures and film people and products immersed in their own culture. Filming abroad does bring a host of new hurdles and challenges, but the rewards of shooting abroad are many. The best way to have a successful shoot abroad is through planning, preparation, and more planning.
Keys to planning a shoot abroad
Pre-travel Prep and planning
If there is one tip that will ensure the best chance for a successful film production abroad, it is the pre-travel preparation and planning.
- Understand the project goals – The time for the client and creative brainstorming is well before any travel plans are made. Take the time for a final review of the goals and expectations for the production and the budget. Create a solid production calendar reflecting any local holidays, deadlines, indicating weekends and weekdays, critical tasks such as hiring the crew and talent, arranging visas and vaccinations, and all other deadlines. Then pad it. Expect the unexpected.
- Understand the destination – Do your research and be sure you have a basic knowledge of the countries you’ll be traveling to. Many countries have unique laws and regulations. For example, there are some countries that limit the number of cameras you can bring. Learn the entry requirements for every country in your shoot, and the distances between locations. Ask about the time required to secure any visas and required immunizations and carnets.
- Local film commissions can be a wealth of knowledge and very helpful. Contact your destinations’ film commissions or destination organizations to ask about any possible tax incentives they may provide for U.S. productions. Review any rules and ask for help with local talent and crew, permitting, or other challenges. Start with reaching out to the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI). They will get you in touch with any local commissions or organizations that can be helpful. Ask about any tax back rebated or even discounted airfares. They can also help you with local crew and film equipment rentals.
The quickest way to get off on the wrong foot is not to have all of your documentation in order. Here are the basics. Use this as your checklist to make sure nothing is overlooked, and deadlines are met.
- Ensure everyone in your production crew traveling with you has a valid passport in order with six months left on it. Check the nationality and docs of your entire crew and cast and review all visa applications to ensure they are in order. Make copies of everyone’s passports.
Bring contact details for all crew and talent, including emergency contacts, just in case.
- Learn about required local laws, filming permits, fees, and how long they take for approval. Your permit application will likely be in the local language, so be sure to get a translation service to be sure you fully understand the permit.
- As in the United States, you will need release forms to get legal consent to use the footage any people may appear in. Consider any language differences and bring translations of the forms.
- Secure your carnet if that applies – See below.
- Insurance – Get the best you can afford for you and your insurance and be sure you understand the coverage.
- Language translation services are critical so be sure you understand all the documentation, permits, and releases you will be using. Get them translated from or into the native language when appropriate.
When will you need a carnet?
A carnet is an important document that allows you to travel across borders with your equipment without paying import duty or taxes every time you enter or leave a country. Import fees can be very high, and the inconvenience and delays can be significant. There are 80 participating ATA countries, so check to see if your destination is included.
Contact either your local film commission or your destination, and they can assist and direct you to a broker to arrange this. Budget for the cost of your carnet and don’t wait until the last minute. You may be asked to guarantee up to 40% of the equipment value, which will be returned if no claims are made on the equipment. A carnet is valid for one year. If you lose equipment, it will be charged against your carnet. A carnet costs $500 or more depending on the equipment’s value and the countries you’re visiting.
Tips for Traveling with Your Production Gear
Avoid the urge to bring it all! Airline baggage fees can be costly, and lugging extra equipment can be a chore. Be sure to check with the airline, so there are no surprises at the airport. Bring only what you need, and remember, you can usually rent equipment in the destination if a need comes up.
Consider hiring some of your equipment from a local production company in your destination country to lug less and avoid excess baggage charges.
Bring your own camera lenses, hard drives, computer equipment, etc., and rent boom poles, tripods, lighting, microphones.
Spend the money on hard cases to protect your equipment. Airlines can be rough on gear, and it will be moved many times during the trip. Check with the airlines on their size limitations.
Check with customs before you travel. You may be able to pre-clear your equipment. Bring proof of the U.S. purchase of your equipment just in case.
Bring extra batteries. Power and charging opportunities may be limited. Know the voltage requirements. Be sure your charger is good for 110 and 220 volts and bring a plug adapter. Don’t forget to bring extra memory cards
- Flights – Forget about first class unless you have an unlimited budget. Save it for production! Always book flights as far in advance as possible for best rates and to minimize connections – the less your equipment is handled, the better.
- Baggage limitations – Speak to the airline about their limits and costs for excess baggage. Avoid the urge to bring everything “just in case!” Essentials only. Ask if the airline will give you a break on your equipment.
- Try to book accommodations as close to your filming location as possible to minimize travel expenses and time. If that is not possible, get close to the main transport to keep travel costs down. Don’t overlook the hotel staff- they may be helpful with special requests like storing your gear, or tips for getting around, or a good and affordable meal.
- Remember to budget for airport transfers. It may make sense to hire a car to get around.
- Try to hire a fixer to help with local knowledge, cultural issues or differences, setting up craft services, and other things you need to keep your production running smoothly. Consider working with a local production company as an alternative.
Dress for comfort
- Check the weather and the terrain before you go. Monitor it for a few days.
- If your destination is cold, be sure to bring a warm and waterproof coat. And lots of layers.
- If your destination is warm, bring natural, breathable fabrics, and again, lots of layers.
- Don’t forget your sunscreen, hat and lip balm, and in some cases, bug spray.
- The right footwear is essential. It is not the time for high fashion. Bring sturdy and comfortable shoes or boots that suit the terrain.
Editing Tips While Abroad
If you want to do some editing on the fly, there are ways you can edit and create an outstanding video with your laptop. Here are a couple of editing tips for when away from your editing bay.
- Be sure to log and archive your footage well.
- Consider using an external SSD in a protective case when traveling.
- Shoot what you need, and then add a lot more! You don’t want to come up short in the editing room when you get home.
Final Tips for Success Shooting Video Abroad
Always expect the unexpected. When it comes to your production budget, add something for unplanned extras like tolls, tipping, unexpected transportation, medical expenses, or equipment repair.
Be respectful and plan for local customs. You may need to shut down, shooting for an hour at lunch each day for a leisurely meal. Plan your schedule accordingly.