Simple Suggestions for Braving the Elements
by Carl Filoreto
Earthquakes. Deserts. Hurricanes. Third world countries. Tornados. Remote rain forests. Television production isn’t always performed in a well appointed studio with craft services, a climate controlled building, or in a major metropolitan area. A lot of compelling television takes place in incredibly remote and inhospitable locales, or in the wake of a natural disaster. The cold shoulder of reality can produce some amazing stories. Capturing this type of reality television, though, can be a test of patience, nerves and planning.
The recent round of hurricanes savaging the areas around the Gulf of Mexico reawakened this concept for me. I got the call from Dateline NBC to travel to New Orleans to await Hurricane Gustav and later went to Galveston, Texas for NBC News in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. The calls were of the “get to the airport now” variety, and I had less than an hour to pack for each trip. Though I try to stay prepared, I realized that both times I’d left some crucial items at home.
In these scenarios, or when you’re prepping to travel to say, a remote country in Africa or maybe to a nether region of the Yukon, you realize that many critical items you need aren’t related to video production at all. The gear is often the simplest thing to pack. You know what you need, you know what you have available, and you pack accordingly. But it’s the little things that can make or break a trip when you exit the land of creature comforts.
As I was tooling around the deserted streets of Galveston with sound tech Steve Dalton, and bumping into other video crews, I was reminded of the many things, often very simple, which can create a more pleasant experience while working in tough conditions. After the hurricane, Galveston was a deserted island. There wasn’t any electricity, initially there wasn’t any running water and there certainly weren’t any stores open. So what you brought with you was what you had. And if you didn’t have something you needed, then you were out of luck.
In no particular order of importance, here are some of the things that I think are really valuable when you’re working under less than ideal conditions:
Flashlights and Headlamps. It can get astoundingly dark when you’re working in a place that doesn’t have the wonderful marvel of electricity available. Simple headlamps are a great resource, and they’re now made with blue LED lights which are quite powerful, energy efficient and look cool to boot. Flashlights are equally handy, and if you have both, then you’re the master of your domain.
Batteries. Of course you’re going to bring batteries for your camera, and camera light, but also make sure you have a plentiful supply of AA, AAA and 9 volt batteries. When that cool headlamp starts to dim, you’ll be happy to know you have a pocketful of extra batteries.
Inverters. These are wonderful devices which change direct current to alternating current. Translated, it means you can plug an inverter into your carport, and then you can plug your phone, for instance, into the inverter and charge it. You have usable AC where none existed previously. If you’re on an extended trip and you have the means, then a small portable generator is a great resource.
Hand Sanitizer. After a hurricane, as the waters recede and the mud starts to bake, you realize you’re living in a toxic stew. The contents of most of the toilets, the garbage cans and the chemical bonanza stored under sinks, is now a part of your everyday environment. And when you see that your hands are coated with a fine dust, you’ll be really happy to squirt some sanitizer on your dirty paws before biting into that juicy apple you were clever enough to bring with you.
Tire Slime. Getting a flat in a remote area is a gigantic bummer. Sure you have a spare, but it might not be so inviting to change it if your car is sitting in a five-inch mud puddle or on top of six inches of sand in the desert, and it’s midnight. There are products available that you can inject directly into the valve stem of the tire that will get you on your way to a better place.
Sunscreen and Insect Repellent. I live in Colorado which blissfully receives over three hundred days of sun a year, while being located at least a mile closer to that celestial body than most of the country. So I always have a mega bottle of sunscreen with a rating of at least SPF 30 handy and available at all times. Of course, I forgot to bring it to Ike. And as I baked in the hot southern sun, and watched my arms turn a tender pink, I vowed I wouldn’t make this mistake again. And, unless you enjoy being harassed by black flies or mosquitoes or any number of other relentless insects, some strong bug spray is advisable.
Toilet Paper. ‘Nuff said.
2-Way Radios. A handy way to keep in touch when the cell phone goes dead. They’re ridiculously cheap, and we carry a handful of them on every shoot, whether it’s a remote locale or the middle of Manhattan.
This leads to an interesting point. Cell phones are ubiquitous in today’s culture. But what happens when that cell tower disappears? It’s vital to have some type of communications plan, and some agreed upon method of contacting people and exchanging information if plans change, which they usually do in these situations.
Oven Bags. No we’re not planning to roast a turkey. If you have lights set up in the rain, oven bags are a great way to keep them dry. They can handle the heat, and they’ll help ward off the water.
Tarps, Rain Covers, E-Z UPs. When the ground around you is dicey, a big camping tarp will keep the ground nasties off your gear and luggage. Rain covers are obvious, but I’ve found them to be incredibly valuable even in the desert, during pelting sand storms. Sand can destroy video gear in an instant, but a good rain cover will prevent it from ending your shoot early.
Jerrycans. Have a bunch of these bungeed to the top of your car, preferably full of gasoline. Today they’re usually made of plastic and are generally impervious to the elements. And when there isn’t a gas station for hundreds of miles, or there’s one across the street but the pumps have been unceremoniously incorporated into the side of a wall, then you’ll breathe a sigh of relief knowing you have twenty-five gallons of unleaded on the roof of your car.
Protein Foods and Water. When food is scarce and you really don’t know where your next meal is coming from, then it’s time to boot the carbs and concentrate on protein foods. Nuts, trail mix, peanut butter, cans of tuna, and of course, protein bars are excellent ways to fuel your internal engine when food is scarce. Of course, water is imperative. If you can’t find a way to get bottled water to you, then bring a small water filter that’ll allow you to pump questionable water in one end and get drinkable water from the other end.
Wet Ones, Towellettes, Baby Wipes. It’s nice to be able to clean off your face, hands and arms, especially when your traditional water sources are tainted.
Aspirin, Motrin and Advil. When it all becomes a bit too much to handle, at least you’ll have some items that will take a bit of the pain away.
Finally, have a small still camera with you at all times so that you can capture images of those once in a lifetime moments. And make sure the batteries are charged. This is the reason you don’t see any pictures from Hurricane Ike here. As I hastily packed for the trip, I was certain the camera was ready to go. Not. Oh well, another lesson learned.
Carl Filoreto is an award-winning DP. His company, Elk Run Productions, Inc. (www.elkruntv.com) has a roster of clients that spans corporations, production houses, crewing agencies, and broadcast and cable networks, including Dateline NBC, The Food Network, and The Travel Channel. Prior to ERP, Carl has won seven regional Emmy awards, numerous national and regional National Press Photographers awards, and multiple awards from Colorado Ski Country and the National Snowsports Journalists Association, while working at KMGH-TV, WTNH, and WGGB.
Featured in StudentFilmmakers Magazine, October 2008 Edition.
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