FILMMAKING TRIP TIPS: THE ART OF PRODUCTION BOTH IN A VAN AND IN THE AIR
Photo Credit: randalolson.org
We love production trips. Open road, fresh air, stars at night... amazing production locations! I mean seriously, we love roadtrips… In our younger days of the company we once drove from NYC to San Diego (6000 total miles) and back in 7 total days while shooting six interviews along the way. We even made a short documentary about it. So yeah, we know a thing or two about how to log insane miles while getting the most amazing content for a production. Our team is always happy to travel wherever a story need us but it brings up a huge host of production logistics. We have quite a number of miles under our belts, but we’ve also done many overseas so we thought we’d share our travel production tips with you. After years of packing our bags into the back of production vans, and entrusting precisely packaged camera crates to baggage handlers, here are our tips we’ve assembled to help you as you embark on your next production trip or keep in mind as you work with your next production team.
DRIVING Driving, even though it might take longer than flying (don’t underestimate the time it takes to get gear to, through and from an airport), tends to be the preferred option for us. Driving helps us keep production overhead costs down while allowing us to offer our services at a very competitive rate for our clients. Driving can save on baggage fees (these can be quite high), airfare, rental car fees once you land, and allows for more flexibility once at a location with the greater amount of production equipment you can bring without the flight weight limits. Driving also lets us build in some flex time into the production schedule to stay another day for a perfect sunrise shot or if there is a last minute scheduling change to the key interviewee’s availability, we have that flexibility. All of this helps us become a one-stop, mobile production shop when on the road!
Photo Credit: jacksgap.com
If you're going to rent a vehicle, figure out beforehand if you can remove the seats to store all the necessary equipment. In New York City there is a perfect vehicle rental company called CC Rentals that has this function on every single van they rent and they are only 3 blocks from our Arbuckle office! If you’re doing a feature and/or need to bring more equipment than can fit in the van with the crew, you could also rent a trailer hitch or another van. Here’s a suggested checklist of supplies that we always think of when we embark on a production road trip.
Production Roadtrip Checklist
General car maintenance supplies - spare tire, jumper cables, extra key, flashlight
AAA membership card or roadside support from your rental car company
Snacks and water - try to bring dried fruit and nuts so that you’re not eating too much junk
Awake juice - your preferred stock of coffee, energy drinks, 5 hour energy, etc.
Audio cable for your killer tunes!
Robust power converter to charge equipment off of the car battery
Paper road atlas - believe it or not, there’s places that may not have signal for your gps (found this out in Maine)
Toll pass or lots of coins and small billed cash for tolls
If going overseas ensure your cellphone and data will work
Let your credit card companies you’ll be traveling so they don’t lock you out at the most in opportune time
Photo Credit: Arbuckle Industries
You may be wondering how you’re going to pack all of this into the van or car. Look at it like a big 3D puzzle. If you make it a game of Tetris. It becomes a lot easier.
Driving Packing Tips
Consolidate, consolidate, consolidate
Go vertical - don’t lay down the tripods and stands - stand them up to save floor space
Put the biggest things in first and the smaller things around them
Stack boxes/pelican cases vertically so they take up less space
Get all the air out of bags so they take up less space
You may be able to strap some boxes to the roof (invest in a good winch and heavy duty straps) No matter what, make sure you are still able to see out of the rear windshield - stay safe!
Rental Houses on the Road Why should you bring all your own equipment if it seems so arduous? Rental houses tend to be a nightmare once you’re not in either New York or LA. This seems counter intuitive, but with all the rental houses in these two cities, they’re all in competition with each other which allows you to get a good price and there are a ton of productions ensuring the gear is rented. But go where there’s one rental house in a 100 mile radius - they can charge whatever they’d like, which usually doesn’t turn out well for you, the renter. Also, if you bring your own equipment, you know that it works, how it works, that it’s insured, and there’s no deadline for returning it beyond the hours needed to pick up and drop off.
Photo Credit: Arbuckle Industries
Another really great rental option if you’re not in NYC or LA is Borrowlenses which is one of our favorites. You can rent all your equipment online and they will ship it to wherever the shoot is. Get there, use the equipment, ship it back. No muss, no fuss. If your production company rents a lot of its gear, this may be a good option. Arbuckle is lucky enough to bypass most of these rental house headaches by owning and insuring our own equipment. Over here at HQ we’ve got a supply room chock full of production equipment waiting to be loaded into a van or packed into a pelican case for airline travel.
And speaking of airline travel… If you decide to take to the wild blue yonder, here are some ideas you may want to consider before you book your ticket
Photo Credit: Backscatter.com
FLYING Your equipment is going to be thrown around. It’s inevitable. Protect yourself against damage by investing in the production standard, Pelican cases. They’re practically indestructible, lightweight, lockable, padded and simply amazing. Of course the kicker with flying is that you’ll have to bring less equipment than if you drove since luggage fees will quickly soar. So it can be very limiting from an equipment standpoint, and from a personal luggage standpoint. Another key thing to keep in mind is that luggage fees are structure per person so the more crew you have the less baggage fees but you then obviously need to buy more tickets. So you quickly get into a cost analysis of equipment to crew members ratio when determining how many people to bring and how many crew to find locally. This is where an experienced Producer will come in handy to really drive the overhead costs of travel down.
Most of your equipment will have to be checked. Most of us not longer have to worry about actual film and having security x-rays damage the film but there are still many, many variables to keep in mind. Packing production tools such as Leathermans can be hard. TSA won’t be happy about the 3” knife in your carry on camera bag so be sure to check it and you won’t run into any intense experience with the security staff. Trust us on this one. Another key thing to keep in mind is that there are certain types of batteries you can’t bring and know that almost any large battery, such as an Anton Bauer, will require a swab test. So just plan on spending some extra time going through security if you plan to carry on any of this gear. We always try to bring our cameras and glass in a small 1510 Pelican case that is the perfect size for carry on to ensure our most expensive, compact and critical gear is on us at all times. You never know if one of your bags will get lost and you always need to “be prepared” just like the Boy Scouts.
Of course, you’ll need to rent a car once you arrive at your destination. And this is one of the key ways flying productions quickly jump in cost since you have to also add a rental to the travel budget. Bottom line - flying for a production can be more of a hassle than it’s worth. So if you can drive, we definitely recommend it. We traditionally say that if it is within a day’s drive from NYC or 600 miles then we hit the road. And the big tip for production scale of economy is to do all your shoots in one big trip, if possible, to keep the overhead numbers even lower but again this is where an experienced Producer and Production Company can save you thousands and they hopefully use that toward the filming and not the reimbursables!
Photo Credit: gettyimages.com
Flying Production Tips
Fly if it’s going to be a super long distance - we say anything over 600 miles
Consolidate, Consolidate, CONSOLIDATE equipment
Weigh and measure every piece of luggage to reduce fees
Don’t overpack equipment and try to bring gear that is made for travel
Pack in pelican cases for flying so nothing gets damaged
Double check with all your rentals to make sure they’ve shipped or that your gear will be ready upon arrival
All of this being said, production road trips are a big undertaking that require thorough planning, and even then something is bound to go wrong. But hopefully you've prepared enough, using all these great tips. Arbuckle has been around the block many times with production road trips and is ready to load up the van or jetset to wherever our clients take us. Buckle up!