Shooting Abroad

When you shoot abroad, a tremendous number of extra problems arise, from different weather to extricating yourself from a revolution, and you must try to consider all the difficulties in the preproduction stage. Your aims are to shoot all you need, stay healthy, and come back with all your footage and all your crew. In most cases, you won't have a chance to retake, so your planning has to be especially good. The first thing to do is to hire a special production manager who is familiar with all the ins and outs of the country you are going to. Be sure to listen to him or her very carefully. Your main questions will involve the following:

• What can you shoot and do you need permission?

• Will officials (government or otherwise) expect to be paid off for their help?

• What is the political state of the country?

• Are certain people or subjects off bounds for filming?

• Do you have to declare what you are shooting?

• Is your film open to censorship?

• Are there health dangers? Are there good medical facilities?

In other words, a good part of your questioning will relate to bureaucratic practices and the political situation in the country you're visiting. A second series of questions relates to stock, equipment, and crew:

• Is raw stock available?

• If equipment goes wrong, can it easily be replaced or repaired, or do you need to bring spares?

• How does local weather affect film stock?

• Are there facilities for sending the stock home?

My experience shooting in Eastern Europe used to be that most of these countries insisted that you have a government official with you during all the filming. Some countries also insisted that you use a local crew. Since the end of the cold war, things have become quite a bit easier and the bureaucratic formalities less irksome.

The question of home or foreign crew is also important in budgeting. If, for example, you are an American shooting in England or France, it may be worth your while to pick up a local crew rather than bring one from home. But check your costs beforehand. In Poland, my Warsaw production manager, working for the then Communist government, wanted to charge me for two days of time, at four hundred dollars a day. All this just for checking the camera. I told him that was fine and understandable for a socialist country, but unfortunately coming from capitalist America, I had to justify my expenditure. He saw the point, and the item was dropped from the bill.

One of the main questions you will be faced with is customs arrangements and getting film and equipment in and out of the different countries. Here, forewarned is forearmed. Many countries make tremendous problems when you try either to bring in film and equipment or to take it out. Rules and regulations are often produced out of thin air, and confronted with them, you feel like committing murder.

Your two best solutions to these problems are a highly efficient local agent and a PM who knows everything and everybody, and a carnet de passage. A carnet de passage is a customs document that you obtain in your own country, usually from your local chamber of commerce, for a small sum. It has a page for each country you are going to visit and lists in detail all the equipment and stock you are carrying. When you arrive in a country, the local customs will check your baggage and stamp the form, and they will do the same when you exit. The forms act as a guarantee that you won't leave film or stock in the country, thus relieving you of the necessity of paying duty when you enter or leave. The carnet also serves another useful function: It relieves you of most of the problems with customs when you return to your own country, as it proves that all the equipment not only returned with you but also departed with you.

A word on excess baggage: This problem always confronts you, whether you are filming abroad or in your own country. Given the amount of equipment you are carrying—camera, tripods, lights, and so forth—you almost always finish up very heavily loaded. If you are traveling by train or car, that doesn't matter. But if you are traveling by plane, extra weight means extra payment. Knowing this, talk to the baggage master before the flight. Point out the frequency with which your company or the television company uses the airline. Bring a letter from the airline's public relations division promising you help for a small mention in the film. In other words, anticipate the problem and use every stratagem to get the excess payments reduced or even ignored.

If shooting time and travel time are difficult to assess at home, they are doubly difficult overseas. This is particularly true of Africa, India, the Far East, and South America. Trains due to depart in the morning depart in the afternoon, if at all. Often you can't get a guaranteed departure on a plane, and even then, the plane develops strange ailments, such as ducks flying through the engine, which happened to me in India. If you are aware in advance that such problems will happen, you can prepare your shooting schedule accordingly. Your headaches may be no less, but your emotions will be calmer.

Once you have thought through all your problems, you are in a position to prepare the final shooting schedule. When this has been done, give a copy to every member of the crew and discuss it with them to see whether it really is practical or whether you have left out anything. Besides saying what you will film and where, the schedule should also contain all the travel information regarding planes, hotels, and the like, and also all the addresses and telephone numbers of where you will be and local contacts. As you can see, a tremendous amount of thinking and energy will have been expended before the shooting schedule is finalized. Believe me, it's worth every drop of effort. If you plan well, half the battle is over.

Part Three

PRODUCTION

Film Making

Film Making

If you have ever wanted the secrets to making your own film, here it is: Indy Film Insider Tips And Basics To Film Making. Have you ever wanted to make your own film? Is there a story you want to tell? You might even think that this is impossible. Studios make films, not the little guy. This is probably what you tell yourself. Do you watch films with more than a casual eye? You probably want to know how they were able to get perfect lighting in your favorite scene, or how to write a professional screenplay.

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