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How to Pack and Prepare for International Video Shoots

A veteran producer of video projects on multiple continents offers tips on everything from hard-shelled equipment cases to travel restrictions to international power issues to visas to carnets for videographers who want to book international jobs, make the most of them, and escape the pitfalls that come with being un- or under-prepared.

Consider Traveling Light

Remember Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong probably will. It applies as much in the filmmaking and video world as anyhere else. Lost or delayed luggage is a common occurrence. Take only what you absolutely need for your project. You could always track down a gear rental place in your destination to get items like jibs, dollies or c-stands. Many foreign rental companies will even require having an employee on site for your shoot. Luckily, many of them speak English and you get someone experienced with their gear. While this means additional coordination and expenses, you won’t have to worry about transporting bulky cases or worse, having the airline lose them.

Important Documentation: Carnets

To bring video equipment into many countries you may need a carnet. No, that’s not a made-up foreign word. According to the United States Council for International Business, carnets are “international business documents that simplify customs procedures for the temporary importation of various types of goods.” Basically, it’s a list of the gear and corresponding serial numbers printed on an official document saying that you won’t sell your gear on the black market in said country.

Carnets get stamped when you leave and return to the United States as well as at the airport’s customs office when entering and leaving each country. They are accepted by most countries and allow you to pass through with ease. Unfortunately, carnets are not free, but they will save you the cost of paying taxes in countries and even bogus fees in some places. The price of the carnet is based upon the cost of the gear you will be bringing and the number of countries you are visiting.

You could try to play the tourist card and say that your gear is for personal use, but why risk having to deal with customs? Chances are that you will be pressed for time, so I highly recommend using a carnet that is accepted by most countries. For a couple of hundred dollars, you can have a broker prepare the documents, which allows you to concentrate on the actual production. Check out Roanoke Trade for help on preparing a carnet.

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Working with Foreign Power

It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget when you’re focused on all of the production details: Some of your gear may not work with foreign country power sources. Nothing starts a trip out on a bad note like getting shocked or shorting out an important piece of recording equipment on the first day.

If your equipment is dual-voltage and has 110/220v printed on it, then all you need are some travel adapters. These will adapt your North American plug so that it fits the foreign outlet. Most modern day laptops and battery chargers are dual-voltage.

A travel converter or inverter is needed if your gear is not dual-voltage. This means that your piece of equipment does not have the same power cycle as the foreign country you’re in. Believe me, the stench of burnt electronics is the last thing your client is going to want to smell. You’ll have to do some math and figure out what type of converter or inverter you need to make it work. Take your gear to a local electronics store if you’re not sure.

Things You’re Forgetting

Again, traveling internationally takes a lot of coordination and it’s all too easy to let some things slip between the cracks--like visas! Some countries are going to require that you have a visa to enter the country. Researching your destination is critical here.

You’ll also want to make sure your passport is current as some countries do not accept them if they expire within six months of your visit. Make sure you build in time for these items before you buy a ticket and do extensive research on entry and exit requirements for all of the countries that you’re visiting.

Make a List and Check it Twice!

I highly recommend creating an inventory list of all the gear you will be taking. Personally, I make a list for each piece of luggage that my gear is in. Once the lists are complete, print multiple copies and place them in each luggage. Have a copy with you and give one to another crewmember or even your client. These lists will save you some time and money when packing up your gear. You can even create this list from the carnet document you may have already prepared.