Having learned so many of the do’s and don’ts of destination wedding preparation the hard way, I decided to create a list that can help any cinematographer prepare for a destination wedding. These tips are not meant to help you with the basics such as getting in and out of another country, rules about lithium batteries, or other destination wedding generalities. This list is more about the little things that are often forgotten when traveling. By following these simple tips, you can make your destination wedding trips as worry-free and hassle-free (and therefore as fun and conducive to great filmmaking) as possible.
10. Book Your Own Flights
It seems like we always have to change something about flights as our travel date approaches, whether we have to add another shooter or change departure dates or airports due to new bookings. This is very difficult to do when clients book your travel for you, since their payment methods (usually their credit cards) are in their names.
We make sure we book all our own flights and then add the cost to the client’s final invoice. This way, we can make any changes whenever we need to. We also make sure we add in all the baggage fees at that time so they are not surprised.
In case you’re wondering, we’ve read (and found out ourselves) that the best time to buy flights is about 2 months out. We use TripAdvisor.com to find flights. (And we always buy travel insurance!)
Stephanie & Mike Feature Film // Florence, Italy from Elysium Productions on Vimeo.
9. The Airplane Matters
Before booking any flights, see what type of aircraft is assigned to the flight. Most airlines put that in all of the flight information. If it’s a small commuter plane (these can still be jets—just small ones) then you need to be aware that your camera gear bag will most likely not fit in the overhead bin. We will never risk our bags being checked, so we choose to take a bigger plane into a bigger (albeit more distant) city and drive in. There are some planes with overhead bins that our bags will barely fit into. After one too many times convincing the flight attendants that our stuff really does fit, I actually took a photo on one flight of our bags fitting comfortably into the overhead storage area. I keep it on my iPhone for future questionings.
8. You Have Only Two Arms
This seems obvious, but seriously … use bags that allow you to transport all your equipment by yourself. Make sure you can lift everything by yourself and—more importantly—that you can lift it into the overhead bin by yourself. A lot of times, we tend to pack everything as heavily and tightly as possible and then forget the part about raising it above our heads.
On another note, plan how you are going to transport up to two carry-ons and two checked bags by yourself. It’s all about logistics. This way you won’t have to rent a cart or ask anyone for help. This will also speed up your arrival and departure from airports. Here’s a rundown of what I travel with for destination weddings.
• One large, four-wheel Samsonite suitcase for my clothes, tripod, monopod, and Glidecam
• One padded tripod case for my slider, second tripod, and second monopod (this goes on top of the Samsonite suitcase so I can roll both with one hand)
Carry-ons (including all camera gear and laptop):
• One Lowepro backpack (beyond awesome)
• One Lowepro rolling bag (beyond-beyond awesome)
Believe it or not, my husband and partner, Alex, and I can transport all of this without the use of a cart or an extra person. In addition to helping meet airline requirements, packing this way makes getting in and out of the airport and hotel easy.
7. Baggage Rules
I assume everyone reading this knows the obvious rules about what you can and can’t bring onto an airplane—e.g., don’t pack a pocketknife in your carry-on—so I’ll talk about the not-so-obvious. Did you know that different countries have different rules about baggage? For example, if you fly American Airlines to London, you can bring the standard two checked bags and two carry-ons. However, flying back from London on the same airline, you’re allowed only one carry-on. And American Airlines enforces this heavily.
We’ve experienced many situations like this, so now we always read the exact requirements. When in doubt, we call the airline to make sure we know precisely what the restrictions will be, coming and going. I’m actually writing this article from a hotel room on the way to a shoot in Ireland, where I know I cannot take a carry-on bag that is more than 20'' long (and only one sub-20'' carry-on, for that matter). Even though it means we had to be ultracreative packingwise for this trip, at least we are prepared! On the other hand, we know that Virgin America allows your first checked bag to be 70 lbs. (20 lbs. more than most U.S.-based airlines), which is quite handy, so we try to fly that airline as much as possible.
Brian & Tina's SDE // Taipei, Taiwan from Elysium Productions on Vimeo.
6. Where You Sit Makes a Difference
Due to limited overhead space (and an increasing likelihood of 100% full flights), getting your carry-ons (i.e., your gear bags) on a flight can be stressful. You never want to get into a situation where you’ll have to gate check your cameras, lenses, or laptop. (And this is different from valet: Your bags will be checked all the way to your final destination—not good.)
You can plan strategically where to sit so that you are one of the first to board. If you know how the airlines board, book accordingly. For example, American Airlines boards in groups. At the airport, you can pay $9 to be seated in Group 1. I’ll pay that any day for assurance that I won’t get on a plane with no overhead space left and have to check my bags. Most of the time, we book our seats behind the wing but not in the very back. That way we know we’ll be in the middle of the boarding process and will be assured overhead space. Although sitting in the front is appealing because you are the first one off, you’re also the last one on and, therefore, may be out of luck.
We also upgrade as often as possible. Sometimes we use miles, but many airlines let you upgrade for a small fee 6–24 hours in advance when you check in online. You usually get free checked bags as a perk with the upgrade as well.
5. Label Everything
Film gear will always get flagged when going through security, whether it’s checked or in your carry-on. It goes without saying to make sure you leave plenty of time at the airport so the Transportation Security Administration can look through your stuff.
I find it very helpful to label questionable items—especially in my checked bags, which are reviewed when I’m not there. I’ll simply put Post-it notes on things like the Glidecam (“camera stabilizer”), our Frezzi batteries in the carry-on (“battery for video light—also in this bag”), and our audio kit (“wireless microphones”) so they don’t have to take the whole thing apart to investigate it.
4. When in Rome …
This tip is all about money and communication. First of all, the money issue: We try not to use our company credit card in other countries because our bank charges us international use fees. If yours doesn’t (lucky you!), ignore the next part of this tip. Instead, we get cash converted before we hit the airport, which is cheaper than doing it there. Sometimes, if possible, we’ll get prepaid debit cards that work just like a credit card and are really convenient.
As you might imagine, communication can be difficult at times if you don’t speak the language in the country where you’re shooting. A great tip that I got from a wedding planner is to have phone numbers of three five-star hotels on speed dial from your cell phone. That way, if you run into a problem, you can call one of these places that are guaranteed to have English-speaking personnel on hand to translate for you. Of course, you need to make sure your cell phone works there, or just use a pay phone.
3. Scout Locations in Advance
It’s really important to find out everything you can about the venue(s) you’ll be working at so you can be as prepared as possible. For example, many resort hotels can be spread out, so you may need to reserve a golf cart in advance to get from one place to another. Some venues have low light or limited power capabilities, which may be endemic to the country you’re in and will probably crop up repeatedly if you’re shooting in multiple venues.
You don’t want to let the fact that you are in a new place hinder your ability to create an amazing film, like you do for your stateside clients. Venue information is a must.
Starr & Ross's Arthouse Feature - Cap Juluca, Anguilla from Elysium Productions on Vimeo.
2. Make Your Expectations Known
Be very detailed with your destination clients about how you shoot and what you will need to make the best production possible. When you’re shooting local weddings with familiar vendors who know how you work and you have a great wedding planner who has already organized the day, it’s easy to know what to expect from one another.
Destination clients/vendors have no idea how you work. Clearly spell out for them what you might take for granted with local clients/vendors, such as having all the details (dress, shoes, rings, etc.) in the same room where the bride and groom are getting ready. Talk about the schedule, the lighting, and where things will happen. We actually send a checklist about what to do and how to schedule so we get the optimal shooting opportunities.
This is really easy to do when destination clients are splurging on you and are excited to have you. Your needs are often a priority, and the other vendors, in our experience, really appreciate this level of organization, as it helps them as well.
1. Have a Backup Plan
What will you do if your flight is delayed or canceled? What will you do if it rains? What will you do if you get sick while you’re there? You need to have answers to as many of the “what ifs” as you can. The more prepared you are, the easier the trip will be.
I have KAYAK (a free travel app) installed on my iPhone so that if a flight is delayed, I can look up the best way for the airline to reroute me. I also have the phone number to the airline handy so I can sit down and call instead of standing in a huge customer service line (which also happens to be where the most unhappy airline employees tend to work).
We experienced delays that required rerouting on our trip to Anguilla the week before I wrote this article, but everything went smoothly because I was prepared. Alternative arrangements were made. If I had left this up to the airline, I would have arrived a day later—right smack in the middle of the wedding.
The bottom line is that when you are filming a destination wedding, you’re stepping into a world of unknowns … unless you take the time to find out as much information as possible in advance and prepare for the worst. The more you invest in getting information, the more rewarding the experience—and the more satisfying the film you produce—will be. Have fun, and travel safely!
Julie Hill (Julie at elysiumproductions.com) and her husband, Alex, run Elysium Productions, a multi-award-winning and EventDV 25 All-Star studio based in Orange County, Calif., that serves clients around the globe. The Hills are also co-founding members of the Re:Frame Collective.