The ultimate guide to filming abroad
If you’re considering spreading your filmmaking wings and jetting off to another country to capture some footage, here are our top tips to help ensure your trip is a success.
As a filmmaker or content producer, you’re always looking for ways to capture and produce high-quality footage that people will want to see.
Filming on location, as opposed to filming in a studio, offers insights into different cultures, allows for stunning backdrops without relying on green screens and CGI, and allows you to produce a documentary, commercial or TV show that offers your audience something unique.
Filming on location in your own country is challenging enough, but filming in another country adds a whole bunch of hurdles and challenges.
Understand the destination
Research the country that you’ll be travelling to. Check gov.uk, or travel.state.gov in the US, for any current travel restrictions on your destination. These websites are very up to date with information on terrorist threat levels, as well as war zones, medical outbreaks like ebola, and offer advice on visa and vaccination requirements.
Check for tax incentives
If you have a say in choosing the filming location, be sure to check which countries and regions offer tax incentives before setting the itinerary.
Contact a film commission
Film commissions serve as an excellent point of contact with an international location and can help connect you with local crew and talent as well as providing accurate, up-to-date information about filming permits and all other requirements and guidelines.
The Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI) can help pinpoint the closest film commission to facilitate your next foreign location shoot.
Currently, if you’re travelling within the EU you won’t need a visa (outside the EU you may need a visa), but you will likely need various permits for the country you are visiting, and you will most definitely need a valid passport! Some of the paperwork you will need to fill out and obtain includes the following:
Filming permit: It will be in the native language of the country, so you’ll also need a filming permit translation so that you can fully understand the requirements and restrictions placed on you by the local government. The process of applying for a permit will vary depending on the location, and may sometimes include a fee which will need to be factored into your budget.
Risk assessment: Whether you’re filming at home or abroad, a risk assessment is a must. However, when filming in another country it is particularly important as you will need to identify any and all things that could pose a hazard to any people or equipment involved in the filming process.
Crew contact list: Filming on location is usually pretty straightforward and safe, but it’s best to prepare for the worst case scenario. Draw up a list beforehand of who will be attending, what their contact details are, and their next of kin in case of emergency.
Carnet: An ATA carnet is a document that allows you to take your filming equipment in and out of 75 different countries more easily. It’s something that you have to pay for each year, but if you regularly film abroad they can take the hassle out of getting your equipment through customs.
It’s a bit like having a passport for your gear; without one you’d have to declare the equipment to customs every single time you travel and go through the rigmarole of form-filling, etc. which is time-consuming and a pain in the butt.
Insurance: It should go without saying that you should insure your equipment (and yourselves) against any possible eventuality on your travels.
Don’t scrimp by going for a super cheap insurance premium. Instead, take some time to look into what the policy covers and purchase the best insurance you can afford for your needs.
Hire a fixer
Before you arrive on location, hire a local fixer to make your trip run a lot more smoothly. The fixer will have knowledge of the local area to help you navigate the land and any cultural differences that you may come up against. They will also have knowledge of filming in their country and can help you to ensure all of your paperwork and permits are up to date and legitimate.
A fixer is there to facilitate your needs, whether that is driving you to different locations, arranging lunch and craft services for you and your crew, or providing location shoot translation to ensure that nothing gets lost in communication difficulties.
When it comes to filming abroad there’s an awful lot of equipment that you’ll need to take with you. Of course, the airline’s baggage allowance may dictate exactly how much stuff you can take with you, but there are some essentials:
Recording equipment: You have two options when it comes to recording equipment: find a way to bring your own gear, or hire items from a production company in the destination country. Both options have their pros and cons. You’re used to your own equipment and the way it works, meaning you’re likely to get the best results with it. However, hiring equipment means you don’t have to take as much stuff through customs and also keeps your baggage charges down.
Clothing and footwear: Before embarking on your filming trip it’s important to check the weather forecast for the area in which you’ll be staying, and also find out what kind of terrain you’re likely to be faced with. This information will then dictate what clothing and footwear you will need to take with you.
If you’re going to somewhere fairly remote or difficult to reach you will need sturdy walking boots to cope with any journeys that you have to make on foot across rougher terrain. If the weather is due to be warm, you’ll need lightweight clothing that you can work comfortably in. If the climate is typically cold when you will be visiting the country, it’s best to take a decent warm and waterproof coat, as well as lightweight layers to allow you to control your body temperature effectively. When in doubt, bring layers. A few items you will never regret tucking into your suitcase before you leave town: sunscreen, a sun hat and lip balm.
Capturing your footage is just one part of the whole production process. Many filmmakers would probably agree that the hardest job is in post-production, i.e. pulling all your footage together and turning it into something interesting, entertaining and watchable.
When you return home from filming abroad you’ll have a lot of raw footage, much of which may be recorded in a different language. With any production you’ll want to obtain a written transcript of the dialogue to aid in your post production process; when filming abroad you’ll also need to have the transcript translated too to make the editing process easier.
At Take 1 we work with over 600 professional translators who are fluent in their target language to native levels, as well as being familiar with slang terms, regional dialects, and industry-specific terminology.
Take 1 Transcription provides transcription, captioning and translation services to all the major production companies, subtitling firms, studios and networks in the UK and the US. KFTV thanks them for their expert insight.