Filming abroad? Travel tips.
Updated: May 20, 2019
There are moments in every documentary film-makers life where you end up sitting in some dodgy hotel room, in the middle of knowhere, surrounded by tens of thousands of pounds worth of equipment.
Every piece is integral to the other. Every cable important.
Can I leave it and go out for food ? do I get room service ?
Here are a few of my personal tips on traveling with kit abroad.
This list may seem a little paranoid, but it totally depends where you are going and how safe it is.
1) Pack important kit across several bags.
2) Put the expensive kit, (glass, etc) in your hand luggage and carry the camera body.
(personally I try and cover all of the kit to avoid the question; what are you filming?)
3) Try and create an emergency shooting kit which will go in your hand luggage. It might consist of one media card, one battery, etc. At least you can shoot something if the other kit gets lost, stolen or delayed.
4) Spread your clothes across multiple bags. (in case one gets lost and is delivered a few days later.) If you are traveling as a crew, swap a few essential items into someone else's bag.
5) Take a picture of your cases once they are packed. This can be useful to show to the bag handlers if the bag get lost on arrival.
6) Make photocopies of your important documents and keep them on you. May come in useful.
7) If you have to sleep at the airport, sleep on your bags. Tie them to your leg, or even better, get a movement alarm sensor on each of your bags. Set up in a corner or where airport staff can see you.
8) Print out copies of any film permits or email correspondence you have had with, government bodies / customs / airlines. In case of any issues at the airport.
9) Get a carnet for your equipment to avoid import duty, but do allow extra time to get these filled in and signed. Do not leave customs until they have been stamped!!.
There are companies in the UK who will help you do this for a fee but you will have to proved serial numbers, value, country of origin, etc. Most places may only ask you to show them the most expensive bit of kit, so make sure it is easy to get to in your luggage. Pack it away before you leave security.
10) Get to the airport early. Maybe I look dodgy, but camera kit bags are often opened and searched and it can take some time to repack them.
11) Semi-remote locations ? You may want to consider evacuation insurance.
12) Stick gaffa tape labels on each bag, and write on them: (1 of 14) (2 of 14) (14 of 14)
count them out, Count them in,
13) Pick up a business card /brochure from the hotel reception. This is in case you go out and cannot remember how to get back. You can show the card to a 'taxi driver', (if there is one).
14) Charge all your kit whilst you have power. I was stuck in a 'hotel' in Maun (Botswana) once for three days without electricity or running water. Reception will often have a plug adaptor you can use (connected to a generator)
15) Put a check list in each bag, check items in and out.
16) Ask for a room close to the reception. If you can be bothered to carry kit up stairs, get a room on an upper floor. It can be safer, and you may also be able to get a WiFi signal from the reception desk you can borrow!
17) Once shooting, back up the rushes as soon as you get back to the hotel room.
Once copied I take one copy with me and leave a copy in the hotel room.
You could also ask the reception to put a copy in the safe, but it totally depends on whether you have nailed the money shots. If you are with another crew member, give them a copy of the rushes on a hard drive to keep in their room.
18) If you are having dinner in the hotel, don't leave the room key visible on the table. It has your room number and some people may notice you are only on the starter!
19) Room cleaning? Sometimes it is fine, other times I tell them not to clean the room unless I am around. Why, because the staff often leave room doors open whilst they go get towels and loo roll.
20) Patio doors on the ground floor, leading out into the car park or grounds ?
Leave the curtains shut when out. On occasions I have tied the two door handles to together in the middle with a luggage strap.
21) Make time to talk to the local staff at the venue. They will often look out for you.
22) At night, if you leave the key in the back of the door, make sure it can't easily be pushed out and slid under the door. By leaving the key in the door (depending on the lock) it will stop someone putting a duplicate key in the other side of the lock.
23) How many people know phone numbers off by heart ? Write down the important one and keep it with you in case your phone runs out or it gets lost.
24) Try not to walk in and out of your room holding camera kit. If you are younger you may think it's cool to be a film crew. I try and be as discrete as I can.
Pack up kit into bags before leaving the room,
25) There is obviously other stuff about learning some of the local language and to be respectful. Learn some of the customs.
Be safe, get the shot, and have fun.