4 Essential Travel Tips for Filmmakers

For some people, the idea of any travel at all is enough to make their systems surge with stress. Even in a best-case scenario, there are borderline infinite reasons that it could all go very wrong very suddenly. Pre-boarding systems glitch. Private jets get delayed by thunderstorms. Civil wars unexpectedly break out on island destinations. In short, the overall lack of control that comes with travel is palpable and–depending on your personality type–borderline unbearable.  

Whenever you travel, whether it’s by plane or boat or rail, the only way to combat this baked-in helplessness is through zealous preparation. This becomes especially true for filmmakers and video content creators of every stripe when they are traveling as part of a production. After all, it’s one thing to watch your personal vacation plans fall apart, but something entirely different to realize that your intended video content cannot come to fruition. 

Wasted money, time, and resources are the enemies of a successful content strategy, and must be averted at all costs. However, as “not traveling for any reason ever” is more than a little bit impossible, a middle ground must be struck. To help you manage, here are our four essential travel tips for filmmakers – guaranteed to help keep your stress level at a minimum until you get wherever you’re going.

1. Get Your Documents in Order

Whether you’re traveling domestically or internationally, most forms of transportation-and especially airplanes–require a lot of paperwork. Tickets and passports are the most obvious examples that come to mind; without an up-to-date, properly-vetted passport, don’t expect you (or your crew) to cross into another country. But even these basics won’t be enough to get you everywhere. Make sure that your whole team has their necessary travel visas, immunization records, and medical information, depending on your destination’s requirements. Preparing additional travel documentation like Global Entry can also help you save time and effort when going through airport security. 

Collectively, all of these documents can require months of scheduling and review to obtain. If you know that you intend to travel, start planning for it as far in advance as possible to avoid any last-minute hiccups. Double-check your paperwork in the weeks leading up to your trip and, whenever possible, carry along a physical or digital back-up. Remember, it’s not travel if you never get to leave in the first place.

2. Carry On Your Equipment

Every step of the travel process poses a risk to your invaluable production equipment. As a rule of thumb, never check your most essential possessions. Cameras, lenses, hard drives…if a piece of equipment is vital, do the best you can to keep it in the airplane cabin with you. This will cut down on the risk of it being handled too roughly and broken or–even worse–lost by an incompetent baggage handler. At first glance, this may seem paranoid considering that on average airlines only lose two bags per 1000. But for a bag to be considered “permanently lost,” it has to be gone for 21 full days, meaning that the odds of a bag vanishing for shorter periods is probably far higher – and when one day of delay can ruin your shoot, why take that chance?

You may inevitably have to check some of your equipment, so be sure to schedule around the possibility of delays, as unusual electronics are more likely to be flagged by the TSA. Try using a checklist or spreadsheet to keep track of everything before and after you travel. Additionally, as baggage checking fees increase astronomically, the less that you bring with you the better. Figure out the bare minimum that you need (plus back-ups) and ditch anything extraneous for an easier, more relaxed travel experience. In either case, make sure that you have insurance for all of your equipment to mitigate potential disasters.

3. Do Your Research

This one may feel particularly obvious, but the degree of problems that can be resolved far in advance with a simple Google search is genuinely astonishing. What pre-production is to a successful shoot, research is to a safe, affordable, and non-stressful trip. The more that you research your future shooting location, the better chance you have of finding a good deal on travel and accommodations – leaving such expenses to the last minute can result in your paying a premium on both. Research can also uncover solutions for potential challenges that you may not have even considered, from buying adapters for foreign outlets to packing for unseasonable weather conditions. 

If you are traveling outside the country, arguably the most important things for you to research are local customs and languages. Odds are that at some point during your travel experience, you will be dealing with individuals who do not speak your native tongue. Even knowing a few simple phrases and questions like “Sorry!” or “Where is the bathroom?” will help you establish a line of communication that can be built upon. A passing knowledge of customs can also keep you from any faux pas that might otherwise cause trouble for your production.

4. Choose Your Team Wisely

While carefully putting together your crew is part of any filmmaking or content creation process, it becomes absolutely paramount when you are filming in another city, state, or country. Unless you are working with an extremely high budget, all of you will most likely be traveling and rooming in close proximity for the duration of your trip. In circumstances like that, nobody gets a chance to head home when work is done and cool down, which means tensions tend to run a lot higher than usual. If your team is not comprised of mellow, harmonious personalities with a track record of working well together, you are dragging unnecessary risk into the already tempestuous equation of shooting on the road.  

Nothing brings out the worst in professionals that the thought that they are doing more than their fair share of work. From moment one, try to make sure that everybody’s responsibilities–including any extra duties taken on for the trip–are clearly established. This will prevent wires from crossing and, as a result, stymie miscommunications about who was supposed to be in charge of what.  To that end, try to check in with everyone, individually, at regular intervals; not so much as to be cloying, but enough to show that you are actively working to keep them satisfied. 

By following these tips, you can maintain a productive, well-organized trip that never sacrifices the quality of your content for pettier concerns. Perhaps even more importantly, following them will help guarantee that the people involved in your shoot stay happy and enthusiastic – and all the more likely to collaborate with you again. If all of that still sounds overwhelming, keep in mind that production companies like Lemonlight have international teams in key markets across the world. Schedule a meeting today, and let’s discuss how we can bring your brand’s creative vision to life anywhere on Earth.


Leland F.

Leland F.