Preparing, packing and readying for a film shoot out in the boonies is actually quite similar to preparing, packing and readying for a long FTX or mission overseas. However, instead of weapons, ammunition and radios you’re carrying cameras, SD cards and microphones. The equipment is more sensitive to the elements but just like in combat, you probably won’t have the means to replace much of anything if it breaks.
Go the extra mile to protect delicate equipment
A Canon 7D isn’t a 240B, and you can’t treat it as such. Film equipment is pricey, and if you’re really out in the boonies then replacing broken equipment can become difficult, and you can’t exactly lug a ton of extra lenses with you if everything has to fit on your back.
In the past, I have worked on a shoe-string budget, so I’m not buying thousands of dollars of lightweight, protective cases and special SD card holders. I bought one of those $20 Tupperware sets, used a smaller one for SD cards and a larger one for batteries, chargers and my lapel microphones. I taped the edges so there was no chance of them falling apart. I wrapped my extra lenses in microfiber towels that I could use for cleaning, and I padded everything with my socks and t-shirts.
Don’t let something as stupid as a scratched lens ruin every ensuing day in the field.
Pack the heavy stuff up high toward your shoulders
This is a trick I learned from the Army, and it’s done wonders for my deteriorating back. If you’re packing heavy stuff, and film equipment can get heavy fast if you’re the only one carrying it, pack it up on the tops of your shoulders, and as far toward your body as possible. Anything else is going start grinding away at your lower back, giving you problems for years to come.
Clean your equipment daily
This one ought to go without saying, but it’s a hundred times more imperative out in the elements. Small grains of sand have a way of grinding and scratching whatever you’re using — lenses, microphones, buttons — you have to stay on top of it. Q-tips, lens cleaner, a hand-squeeze mini air pump (canned air won’t last long enough), and some microfiber towels takes up minimal space and weight but can make all the difference.
Keep as much self-contained as possible
Depending on the trip, I might have up to three cameras. My primary DSLR, my 4K phone and my GoPro are my top 3 choices if I’m the only guy carrying film equipment. For audio I have several lapel mics, a shotgun mic I can mount onto my camera and a boom mic that’s as quality as they come. However, the trip and the nature of the project might dictate what you need, and sometimes you’ll have to cut corners for the sake of weight.
One of my projects required several days of walking through the jungles of Burma, and all I had was the ruck on my back. I ditched the quality boom mic and the external recorder — all my audio was going to have to be plugged directly into the camera. This also made logging video and audio on a small computer in the jungle much easier, especially since I was there for a month. It also limited the weight on my back.
Figure out how you’re going to improvise when you get there
If you have an idea regarding the lay of the land, you can get creative. If you need a boom pole, maybe you don’t need to bring a fancy one out — maybe you can just use a real stick with some tape. If you need a dolly, maybe you can just sit in a farmer’s wheelbarrow and have a buddy push you along. It helps to know what’s waiting for you when you get on site, so you can plan accordingly.
Like any combat scenario, you have to be creative to complete the objective.
Back footage up daily, if possible
I haven’t always been able to back up my footage — out in the sticks in Florida I’ve had to keep close hold to my SD cards and pray that nothing happens to them. However, being that you’re out in the wild, it becomes more and more likely that something is going to get wet, crushed or damaged in some unheard of way.
If you do have access to a computer, tablet or other electronic device that allows you to log and back up your footage, do it, and do it daily. It’s easy to wake up in a sleeping bag in the cold mountains or sticky jungle and never really feel like going through the motions of backing up footage that, realistically, will probably be fine if it waits until tomorrow.
That’s when it rains and the thatched roof has a hole right over where you kept your SD cards.
Don’t forget the essentials!
You have to be so meticulous with packing, as every piece of equipment is essential for pushing the images and sound to the next level. But you can’t produce a quality product if you don’t take care of yourself, so don’t forget the socks, underwear, extra shirts, toothbrush, and other essentials.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press; other images provided by the author.