When you start talking on big filmmaking projects, travel is often an integral part of bringing it to life. Gear envy, and wanting to bring everything with us, is a problem we often suffer from whether we shoot locally or not. Travel adds in the complexity of needing to transport the gear, baggage fees, plus we often have smaller crews. In this post and tutorial we’ll share some key ideas on how you can tell a stronger story while bringing less gear.
One of the scenes in #standwithme takes us to Africa, to the middle of the Kalahari Desert. To get there, we had to make 4 different connections, from plane to plane, to plane to Land Rover. And as if that wasn’t enough, we still had the harsh desert environment to deal with once we got there.
So here we are with the opportunity of a lifetime. We are following somebody who just won Humanitarian Photographer of the Year, we get to travel to the incredibly inspiring country of Namibia, and this will be a huge scene in our first feature length documentary. How do you not bring everything in your arsenal?
In this tutorial we’ll take you along for the ride as we travel to Namibia and share our approach to packing, where less is more.
A film is made well before the cameras roll. You can always do more with less as long as you take the time to plan it out. By looking at what we were trying to say and seeing how it fits into the overall story we were able to break it down, scene by scene, shot by shot, to see what tools we needed to bring. Less gear means we could move quicker, save on luggage, and most importantly – always be present and focused on the story, instead of being overwhelmed with two many options.
Here’s how we travelled to Namibia with nothing more than carry-ons. Don’t believe us? Below is a rundown of what we brought, and how it worked for us (spoiler: it all worked out!)
We had one shoulder bag that held the cameras and lenses. Another shoulder bag for the Movi disassembled. Then our backpacks held the lighting, audio, and camera support (oh, and all of those personal items like clothes).
Next time you’re planning for a shoot, even if it’s local and you don’t have to travel far, don’t automatically throw everything in the car. By taking the time to think through it, it’ll force you to be more proactive as supposed to reactive, and really know what you’re going into.
Here are the big questions to ask yourself;
What do you want to say? What is this shoot actually about and what are you hoping to get out of it. Push yourself to know what would make a ‘perfect shoot’ and then use that to help determine the essentials of what you need.
For Example: We knew we’d want Lisa interacting with the Himba, we’d need an interview of her in the field, and we’d want to celebrate the challenge of travelling so far for her work. It all needed to be real, we needed to let her do her thing without stopping or slowing her down. These few points offer so much insight into all of our gear choices.
What scene are you coming in from? And what scene are you going out to? Often we do a shoot as part of a larger project. Push yourself to really know how this shoot or scene fits into the overall project so you can plan exactly what you need and start by making that happen.
For Example: We knew this scene would plan in the beginning of the movie. We’d hear the story of Eric & Alex seeing the image in the gallery that started all of this, and then we needed to setup Lisa as a character and everything that goes into bringing her images to life. We’d then go out to her on stage at TedX as she talks about the power of a photograph to inspire action. Knowing this gave us some strong ideas for shots to open and close with, as well as the added bonus of how to frame her interview.
What kind of environments will you be dealing with? Story first also means being practical and knowing your limits. Think about how much space, time, and crew you’ll have and make gear decisions that are realistic.
For Example: We’d have small Cessnas, 4×4’s, and be trekking through the Kalahari. These small, tight, and hot environments really narrow down what’s not possible to bring, and what gear choices could maximize their impact for the amount of space they take up (such as the reflector).
How do you want it to feel? Try to make gear choices that enable you to do just that instead of having the option to everything, just in case.
For Example: We wanted this to feel big, epic, and adventurous. Lisa has travelled to over 100 countries for her work, often for months at a time to the most remote places on earth. We needed this one scene to attempt to convey that to the audience. And these days, we spell epic with a M, O, V, and I.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a small crew and not a lot of gear. A film is made well before the cameras roll. That means pushing yourself to know what you’re trying to say and to focus on saying just that, but saying it in a really remarkable way.
We believe your approach to filmmaking is the most important thing you can develop as a storyteller. If you’ve enjoyed the ideas we’ve shared here, join us to discuss a day full of approaches on how to tell a remarkable story. In July 2015, we’ll be hosting a number of Storytelling with Heart workshops in Australia and New Zealand. Hope you’ll join us.