How to overcome documentary production challenges: Troubleshooting Part 3.May 09, 2023
There is nothing worse than worrying about where your luggage is.
Especially when you’re travelling to a location for work.
And the luggage is your camera gear, essential for your work.
From the moment you check your luggage at the airport, it is a gamble as to whether it’s actually going to meet you at the other end. And this issue is especially heightened since the pandemic.
I recently had an issue with luggage on an overseas trip to the USA. Interstate travel is quite challenging in the US at the moment. Slow airport security. Cancelled flights and luggage issues are a few of the problems travellers face.
Our situation was that our luggage wasn’t returned to us when our connecting flight was cancelled. There was chaos at the airport with dozens of cancelled flights due to an extreme storm. The airline told us that not only would we not be able to fly out, the next available flight to our destination was five days away! Yes, seriously… what the...
But, they told us, our luggage would go on the next connecting flight and travel to the destination without us!!!
Can you imagine the nightmare scenario we found ourselves in? However, because we packed a change of clothes we were able to get through the night at a hotel without too much stress.
We got to the airport the next day to travel to our re-routed destination. We planned to hire a car to drive the final part of the distance. That’s a whole other part of the story. You should jump back to the last podcast 63 to hear the full story.
Because we had AirTags in our luggage when we checked in at the airport the following morning, we discovered that our luggage was in fact, appearing to be on the same flight as us heading to Atlanta. Then when we arrived in Atlanta, we were able to track our bags and discovered that they had in fact, been re-routed with us on our new flight and our bags were with us.
Because of the AirTags, we knew this, and that was brilliant and saved us on this one.
However, what would we have done had our luggage not been with us when we arrived at our final destination? This is where the planning comes in. And it’s where we’ve saved ourselves many times because we always carry the camera gear with us on the plane as hand luggage. Not the tripods that would not be possible, but we always have the main camera gear in the camera bags with us in the cabin.
That way, if we arrive at our final destination and the tripod bag has gone missing, it’s not as hard to salvage a shoot because you could, most likely hire one or purchase a new one. Or find some sort of workaround until you could solve the problem of not having a tripod.
But not having a camera and not having sound gear. That’s a lot trickier to improvise.
Something we sometimes do is take one of those really lightweight photography tripods with us in hand luggage. It’s not ideal and it doesn’t work on all cameras because it’s not sturdy enough for a heavy camera, but it can get you out of a jam so it’s definitely worth considering.
But it just is one of those things. If you’re travelling and you have to check your bags, try to make sure that whatever you carry with you as hand luggage can get you through at least 48 hours in case your bags do go missing.
What if you can’t travel?
Another problem you can have is that you cannot travel. Cost, prior commitments, illness and pandemics.
This became really problematic for us during the pandemic. Being from Australia, one of the most locked-down countries in the world, with some very significant border closures.
We couldn’t even travel interstate, and for Melbournian, such as us, we couldn’t even travel outside our city and at one point we couldn’t leave our homes.
This is very problematic when you’re trying to make a film.
So one major workaround we were able to employ was to hire filmers local to the locations we needed to be filming our stories in.
This was a really great solution for us and it got us out of quite a few jams. It can also be described as the way we pivoted.
Is anyone else getting PTSD just at hearing the word pivot? I’m so sick of the word pivot, but that is what we did and that's what lead us to hire crews at locations we couldn’t travel to. It was a really good option.
You could also do this if you need pick-ups and you can’t get back to where you need to go.
Isolate the smoke detectors
This is also some of the best advice I can give to filmmakers who are doing anything in a location where they’re going be using smoke.
Think about smoke machines, people smoking, pretend cigarettes or anything that could set off a fire alarm.
Whatever you’re doing with smoke, if it’s in a building, where there is built-in, smoke detectors. You must request for them to be isolated for the period of time where you’re filming. Mike learned this the hard way on one of his shoots.
He was filming a scene in a no longer in use jail and the actor/inmate set off a flare. Which of course set off the fire alarm and five minutes later, there were around five police vehicles and a number of fire engines on site and a rather hefty bill.
All of which could have been avoided if the smoke detectors had been isolated.
You can hear Mike recount the story on this week's YouTube episode 64.
So the long and the short of this really is that if it can go wrong. It probably will go wrong at some point.
On a shoot best thing that you can do is just figure it out.
Work through the problem. Find a solution and just know that next time, you’ll know how to fix that problem or avoid it happening in the first place.
Don’t stress about problems happening. Part of the fun of filmmaking is that you can do this. You can get through all of the dramas and all the things you need to do get your film made.
There’s bound to be another filmmaker who has gone through the problem you’re facing before so just hang in there.
You gonna be okay and next week I am going to be back talking all about that elusive work/life balance. You know the one that doesn’t even exist.
I don’t know why everyone always talks about this like there’s a solution because I don’t think anyone’s actually solved it.
And I’m talking to you about it next week so come back next week’s
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