Tips for International Travel and Video Production

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Just a few months ago I returned home from an international trip to Japan.  It had struck me that in a little bit over a years time I had gone on 5 international trips and traveled to 6 different countries.

 

Ireland - Honduras - Cambodia - Thailand - Kenya - Japan

 

Travel and doing video production work have constantly gone hand in hand for me for most of my career.  I've found that if you can be an effective overseas shooter/video producer for your client it can go a long way.  A lot of times overseas work can carry an extra level of stress or challenge due to the fact of working in foreign cultures.  If you can learn to rise above these challenges you will be able to help set yourself apart and be able to be an effective overseas/internationally video producer.

Here's some tips that has helped me over the years.  I'm approaching this as a one-man band approach.

1:  Pack Accordingly

When flying internationally there's a lot to know and plan out to make sure you have all your equipment you need as well as making sure it survives the journey there and back.  I usually never check any equipment unless I have to.  In the recent years I've been using a Ronin gimbal so I have ended up checking it in it's case.  Up to this point I haven't had any problems with doing that.  In the past I did check a few camera items and they have either gotten stolen, which happens when you travel to third world countries, or the item has got damaged.  My solution is to bring an airplane approved backpack and to wear a video vest on the plane.  This combo has allowed me to travel with the most amount of carry-on gear as possible.  The more time I have all my equipment with me, and not somewhere else, the more likelihood it will make it to the destination safely.  It may not be the most comfortable travel but who said this work would be cozy.

2:  Do everything you can do to not get sick

I don't eat crazy food when I travel.  Sure there are dishes I'd love to try but get sick even just once while on an overseas shoot and you'll do everything not to get sick again.  Not only will it be a bad deal with the client that is expecting you to work hard all day but now the expensive plane tickets to get you to the location are beginning to really seem like a waste.  So stick to simple safe foods no matter how hard it is.  Another note on packing is I bring a large amount of protein bars.  Chances are you might either get hungry when you can't stop and eat or the local cuisine is too iffy.  It might sound like a huge sacrifice but you're not there just for the fun of it.  And more you can make your shoot end with a better outcome the more a client might just have you back for a second trip.

Other things about getting sick would be to always wash your hands or bring small bottles of hand sanitizer.  One other note is to chew your food...a lot.  Sometime people give me a hard time for this but if you basically chew your food into mush before you swallow you're doing a lot of the job your stomach would do for you.  Not only will this help with digestion and help you to not be sleepy when you're shooting after your lunch meal but hopefully it means you're less likely to get sick because the stomach it processing the food faster.

Plastic Japanese food out front of a store.  You would for sure get sick if you ate this food.

Plastic Japanese food out front of a store.  You would for sure get sick if you ate this food.

3:  Work, Work, Work

When your foot hits the ground the clock is on.  There's only so many seconds left until your flight back is to come and you have to leave with the footage you came to get.  Don't let this drive overtake your demeanor with your client but always have it in mind.  If the client is game for working hard to then go for it.  Minimize breaks.  The more you can get done the better options you'll have when you get back for post production.

A recent example was when I went to Japan for my client Mustard Seed.  We worked extremely hard and got a lot done.  We thankfully had a decent amount of time in country as well.  Once returning and finishing the project we set out to do I realized we had so much footage left over.  So much so that we decided to create a short documentary to be able to use the rest of the footage that was never used.  Granted thankfully the budget is there for the project.  But even if it wasn't it can sit on a hard drive until the budget is there and no need to spend more money flying over again to film since you got it in the first place.

Temple in Kyoto Japan

Temple in Kyoto Japan

4:  Sleep

Now I just got done saying work like crazy.  Sometimes that means it'll be late nights charging batteries and dumping footage.  But make sure you have your schedule with your client worked out well so that you'll get at least 6-8 hours of sleep if possible.  It's important to rest after really hard days of work.  Not only will it be physical exhaustion but also emotion and mention exhaustion dealing with being in a foreign country.  Sleep will help get you on the right track for the next day.  So make it a priority.  You won't be getting good footage if you're totally worn out.

 

5:  Checklist

At the end of the day there ends up being a lot of devices that need charging and a lot of devices that need to be dumped.  Created a checklist on your phone to make sure you don't forget to charge anything.  You don't want to be on a shoot with no batteries.  Also make sure to dump all the cards.  You don't want to be stuck with no memory to film on or having to pause before you format the card asking yourself "did I dump this footage" or "is it ok to wipe the footage away."  This may be no different than a normal shoot but it stands true even more overseas.

 

6:  Be Culturally Sensitive

This can be a tough one.  Pay attention.  Countries are so different from one another.  Listen more than speaking.  Stay focused on your shoot and project but be soaking up the little culture postures and how to present yourself.  If you're doing something that would totally be culturally offensive you won't have a very productive shoot.  Ask lots of questions to your client while driving from one place to the next.  Get as much info on conduct as possible.

 

7.  Pick Your Moments

When you're doing a one man band there's a lot on you to make your product as good as possible.  I'm constantly thinking what's the best shot, is the audio good, are we moving in the right direction with the project, what else do we need, etc.  So I usually feel if I stop to smell the roses, which I would love to do, it can get me off track of my goal to produce the best video possible.  That being said I do try to find at least a few moments on each trip that are yours.  It's your own personal oasis.  A mark on the trip where your face is not looking through a screen or viewfinder but actually taking the location into your soul.  These times rejuvenate me, help me continue on, and last after the trip is over.  It's a work trip, but these are my mini-vacation times.

My wife, my son, and I at Nintendo Headquarters in Japan.  Super fun just to stop by and see it.

My wife, my son, and I at Nintendo Headquarters in Japan.  Super fun just to stop by and see it.

There's more to be said but here's just a few things about my process for an overseas shoot when I'm a one man band.  Hope they have helped.

Derek Hammeke