Five Top Tips when Filming Abroad

23 Jun 2018

We know from experience the pitfalls and highlights of filming abroad.  From locations such as deserts, forests and urban sprawl through to studio filming we have done it all and found these 5 tips the key to having a successful shoot.

1. Being a Cultural Communications Chameleon

Matching the cultural communications in which ever territory you are filming in ensures you don’t offend local crews, your hosts or people you rely upon.  Knowing the quirks of a culture can make the difference between gaining local cooperation or not.

Examples are simple – understanding the ‘business time clock’ different cultures run by, adhering to dress codes, understanding personal space differences (some cultures hug or kiss to greet), being aware and respectful of religious holidays and knowing hand gestures differ greatly in a global context (for example, a thumbs up in the UK, USA, Canada and Russia is a sign of approval, in Latin America, Iraq, Iran, West Africa and other parts of the world it is considered swearing.)

Further to understanding cultural differences, ensuring clear, concise communication is tough in foreign territories.  Even if you have all details in writing, there will be times when people don’t deliver or have misunderstood. Words become confused and communication breakdowns happen sometimes without either party realising it.

In some cultures (especially Japan) people would rather agree with you wholeheartedly to your face but once they are not in direct communication will start negotiations again.  A ‘Yes’ in the film business can mean ‘no’. This is because culturally, disagreeing with someone is not an option for them and so a much subtler approach is needed.

So…always have a back-up plan!


2. Power Paperwork

A lot of drama can be created by not having the correct paperwork, or not getting it verified.  Visas, vehicle licenses, personal verification documents…the type of paperwork you will need seems endless.  Once you have everything you need, make sure you know how to use it too. Some visa’s need to be stamped or backed up with references from the places you are visiting.

Back it up – make sure you have physical and electronic copies and ensure you brief the team fully about where and when you will need the paperwork.

Have one person responsible for the paperwork when you are abroad and accountable for its whereabouts.  If you have a film base, have a secure place for important documents and know those documents, and what they mean, inside out.


3. Be fastidious in your Detail

Having a Production Manager who doesn’t take ‘yes’ for an answer makes the process a whole lot smoother.

You may have asked for a Flammpanzer II tank to film in a WW2 scene and been told ‘yes we have that, no problem’, only to turn up and find the tank is non-existent – or worse still a cardboard cut-out or the size of a matchbox.  Every detail must be included and agreed upon in advance.

It is not enough to have reassurance in writing, get photographs, skype and see the tank for yourself and get as much detail as possible in advance.  Getting a ‘yes’ answer is just the start…


4. Avoiding Medical Headaches

Most territories globally have weird and wonderful wildlife ready to scupper the shoot.  From venomous creatures through to vegetation that kills. Carrying anti-venom, having emergency medical back up, an advanced medical kit and following health and safety guidelines is essential.


5. Finance is Not Fair

The world revolves around money and money is the only hand you can play if you don’t know the territory, people or politics.  If you are going into a territory blind, you had better have deep pockets.

To avoid this pitfall network and create a framework that is secure before you film abroad.  This has snags – time and opportunity. It takes a huge amount of time to create a trusted network and getting to know influential people takes even longer.  You need a voice worth hearing.

Having a team on the ground ensuring your money is being spent wisely and your budget is in the right hands must be one of the biggest considerations when filming abroad.

How do you know the bank account you are paying into is legitimate? How do you know the going rate for crew? What percentage should you pay in advance? What is even legal with money transactions in foreign territories?  If you get the answers wrong, it could mean the end to the film project – and probably your career.

We know all this through our own experience.  At Knockout we are that team on the ground providing Western style support twinned with local knowledge and prestigious, influential networks which are tried and tested.

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