Filming in unfamiliar locations can pose an array of challenges you must overcome. These challenges inevitably determine the success of your trip. In this post, I want to talk about a recent trip I took to the US Virgin Islands which forced me to resort to a back-up plan in order to save a trip that otherwise would have been wasted. I also want to address what happens when pre-production is ignored.

I recently spent 8 days in St.Thomas, which is located in the US Virgin Islands. My plan was to shoot a personal project as well as test out the new Kessler Crane Pocket Jib Traveler. However, the trip didn’t go quick as planned. I was confronted with the following obstacles:

  • Luggage didn’t show up until day 4
  • Safety a concern
  • Desired filming locations not available
  • Weather didn’t cooperate when I finally got equipment
  • Pre-production was ignored

Luggage Didn’t Show up Until Day 4

I wanted to take a more laid back approach on this trip as I was traveling with my mom and we were hoping to also have some time to relax. However, our fun started the night we arrived. I traveled with four bags on this trip and the night we arrived, none of the bags showed up but I was lucky to have packed a small tripod and cameras on my carry-on so wasn’t totally limited. For the first three days, I both scouted and shot static time-lapses around the island. The weather was amazing and I was lucky to get some shots that I was really happy with. Although I was unable to add motion to these shots I was still able to capture them. When traveling, I highly recommend taking all your essentials as a carry on. I am extremely happy that I had my cameras with me. Being that my luggage didn’t show up when we arrived, I wasn’t really sure what I should do. I decided to wait a day to see if the luggage would show up. One the second day, two of the bags did show up but they were mainly our clothes. As a backup plan, I had some equipment shipped out to me – which arrived the same day that the rest of the luggage showed up…

Safety a Concern

Before heading to the island, I was not 100% sure what to expect. After looking at some pictures of the island, I was expecting the island to be safe. However, after arriving we started to see the ‘other’ side of the island. We decided to stay downtown and not in a resort. In hindsight, we probably would have stayed at one of the resorts. After talking to some of the locals, we soon found out that the area behind our hotel was known as ‘no-man’s land’. On the second day I decided to head back into this area and was quickly turned away by the locals who – very clearly – did not want any cameras in the area. Like anything, hindsight is 20/20. After the less than fun experience in ‘no-man’s-land’, I was debating whether or not I wanted to find a guide to take me through these areas. In the end, I decided against this as I wasn’t 100% sure when the rest of the gear was going to show up (although now I wish I would have spent the time to find a guide to take me around). I decided to just enjoy and take in the landscape verses stressing about sticking to my initial game plan (although I was still stressed about the luggage not showing up!) Going forward, I will, without a doubt be hiring a local guide.

Desired filming locations not available

For this film, I wanted to document the diverse landscape of St.Thomas but was soon forced to switch the concept a bit. The first limiting factor was filming the poorer areas of St.Thomas. Being that I didn’t feel comfortable taking my mom into these locations, I decided to stick to the nicer areas. However, by shooting in these areas, I had to contend with tourists as well as the ‘daily routine of the island’. One such example was at Magen’s Bay. After scouting during the first three days, I decided that I wanted to do an on camera portion of the Pocket Jib Traveler video on the beach but upon arriving, found out that there was a staff party playing loud music – which was going to be happening all day. I was forced to push the shoot one day – which was fine as I had a back-up plan to shoot at another location on the island. Although I did reach out to twitter to find out more about the location before heading down, going forward I will be doing a lot more research to find others who have filmed there.

Weather didn’t cooperate when I finally got equipment

Another major concern, like any trip, is the weather. Before jumping on the plane, I checked the weather and it looked like we were going to get rain everyday – with no sun. However, for the first three days, the weather and clouds were amazing. Following these days, the weather was also great but the skies were clear which made for less then perfect shooting conditions for the type of film I was wanting to produce. I really can’t complain too much as we only had rain for a total of 2hrs over the entire week. Luckily I scheduled a few extra days into the itinerary in case I ran into something like this.

Pre-production was ignored

Overall, the trip was a huge success. I was able to finish the films I wanted to and also was able to take a bit of a holiday with my mom. In hindsight, I wish I would have come into this situation much more prepared as I feel I would have come out with a superior product, especially because of the filming restrictions that were in place that I was not prepared for.

Charlotte Amalie – About the Film

For this film, I wanted to document St.Thomas’ diverse landscape. I wanted to show that the island has two faces – the first, a superficial front of luxury and wealth and the second featuring a stark contrast of poverty. For all the tourists that visit during the day, they are taken on Safari’s through the wealth and beauty of St.Thomas with the option of spending thousands at one of the jewlery shops on a ten block street. For others that have a chance to explore the deeper side of St.Thomas, they will find a place of poverty and anger. At almost every turn, I was confronted by a slew of people not willing to give you the time of day (a sign of a place stripped from the countless tourists).

Below is the short film that I shot from my time on the island. It is by no means my favorite piece but there are a few shots that I am extremely happy with. For this piece, I tried to juxtapose images as much as I could with the footage that I was able to get from the trip.

Conclusion – 5 Tips to Help You Be Successful with Travel / Adventure Filming

When traveling there are five things you can do to ensure you stay in control of your trip which include:

  • Carry-on’s should contain essential kit
  • Find alternate sources for getting backup gear ahead of time if needed
  • Use a local guide
  • Talk to filmmakers or local production companies about the location
  • Use float days

First off, I highly recommend taking the bare essentials on the plane with you. Take the gear you would need to still perform the task at hand. As a back-up, do research to find out what gear is available locally. If there is no gear available locally, like in the case of St.Thomas, know how to get equipment delivered on time. This might mean shipping your gear ahead of time to ensure it arrives. The second thing I recommend doing is finding a local guide to both keep you safe as well as show you around. This is especially important when visiting locations you have never been to or a location that has a language barrier.  Another option is to talk to others that have either filmed at the given location before you and ask for advice. You can also find out if there are any local production companies that have any tips to share with you. Lastly, if possible, it is always great to build in a few extra days into your trip in case you run into similar problems as I had on this trip.