Videotaping on the Road: Sharing Our Checklist

We are leaving today for Poland to film most of the scenes of a documentary for public television, and as we go through our checklist it occurs to me that some of the items may be useful to anyone videotaping on the road, even if the goal is only to capture vacation footage. So here are some of the to-dos we include:

• Cameras: Do you have a back-up in case there is a problem with the main one? The price point for very good videocameras is no longer prohibitive, so if capturing that footage is really important to you, bring a second camera. (You could also use it to get cutaway shots if you intend later to edit your footage; give the second camera to another member of your group to get different angles than those you are capturing.)
• Tapes: Whatever recording system your camera uses (let’s say tapes, for ease of discussion), make sure you bring enough with you. Even if you travel to a place where tapes are readily available, you will not want to spend your free time seeking them out! Nor do you want to be in the middle of recording something really cool, then suddenly realize your tape supply has been exhausted. That is especially upsetting when you can’t find a nearby store selling more. And on each day you travel, carry more tapes than you will need in your daypack.
• Batteries: If your camera runs on specialized batteries, having several back-ups is particularly crucial since there is a very good likelihood you will not be able to find more if their charge goes. Even if your camera uses common batteries like AAs, AAAs, or 9 volts, but you are journeying to spots slightly off the worn travelers’ road, do not assume either that you are easily going to find new batteries or that the batteries you do find will work. Take extras; worst case scenario, they return with you.
• Chargers: Don’t forget to pack them, and make sure you have the correct adaptors for wherever you are traveling. As a reminder, the American electrical plug prong is different than the ones you’ll find in other parts of the world.
• Lights: Okay, so we’re professional. But depending upon the importance of what you’re recording and what the natural or other available light will be at key times, you may want to bring lighting – as well as extension cords because the electrical outlets are inevitably a distance from where you want to set the lights.
• Microphone: Consumer cameras have a shotgun mike attached, but if you’re using a prosumer or professional camera and want several channels of audio including the one directed at a particular speaker, don’t forget to bring your mike and a few extra sets of mike clips.
• Tripod: The “natural” look of capturing video as you are walking is only good if the cameraperson is a professional with an extremely steady arm; even then, a tripod is advisable, especially when the shot is longer than a few minutes. You will be well aware of this if you want to edit the material down the line and you realize that the images bounce so much they make you dizzy! Use a tripod most of the time, and vary the steady shot with some off-the-shoulder ones.
• Pre-scripting: If you are going to use the video for a purpose later on, have a preliminary idea in mind before you go of what you are envisioning as a final product. You don’t want a completed script at the outset because that will hinder you from seeing all the possibilities that had not been pre-written. At the same time, leaving all the video to chance will leave you unhappy afterwards since your unfolding personal experiences will sometimes tangle with your need to capture them on camera. If you get lost in the former, the latter may suffer. Having a basic pre-script with a check-off list of questions you want to ask and images you want to be sure to capture will be a good crutch if one is needed.
• Be prepared if you are traveling to another culture. Study customs and norms, at least a bit. Learn some basic phrases to get around. People will open up to you in unexpected ways, enabling you get better video.
• If you plan to use the video in any public way including the Internet, you may want to get releases of the people you record, especially if there is audio involved. Speak with your attorney about this, have a proper form made, and be sure you ask everyone relevant to sign it.
• Most importantly, have fun! Your attitude will be contagious in a very positive way, inspiring cooperation.

And now it’s off to the airport for us… (And still I think: Do I have everything?!!!)

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