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The Basics For International Video Production

- By Larry Cardarelli, Executive Producer, and Jillian Wax, Producer, MultiVu, a PR Newswire company -

Japan. Slovenia. Serbia. Florence. Berlin. Qatar. These are just a few of the many international places US-based production companies find themselves looking for crews to capture engaging video footage for its clients. However, sending in a shooter with a camera isn’t as seamless in international locations as it might be in the United States.

If planning an international shoot, consider some of these factors that make video production different, and sometimes challenging.

Pricing. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a quote for an international crew. Typically the list of logistics varies from client to client, so pricing is as variable as the location. When arranging an international shoot, it is important to consider time differences and busy schedules, and allow at least 24 to 48 hours to obtain realistic pricing and availability from international crews.

Language/Location. Finding a crew who speaks the local language, as well as the language of any talent involved can take some time. Bilingual crews and producers are often easily accessible in larger and capital cities. When planning therefore, build in the time to locate the necessary talent (talent in this instance referring to your international crew) and then remember travel times to lesser known locations may mean mileage, flights, and/or OT charges.

Unfamiliar Territory. Most countries are welcoming and are used to seeing a camera crew walking the streets, but in some instances camera crews aren’t received as warmly as we’d like. In some third-world countries or countries that may be in political upheaval, there are some extra steps and costs that need to be taken into consideration to ensure crew safety. For example, public transportation may be unsafe so a car and driver are necessary. Additionally, hiring security may be prudent.

Limited resources. Often the in-country resources for local crews are severely limited. For example, when shooting in Haiti you may need to hire a crew from Florida which will require permits for personnel, equipment or both.

Production Technicalities. Once the pricing and job is greenlit, there are still some production technicalities that need to be considered. If you’ve ever dealt with crews outside of the U.S. you’re familiar with the term PAL and know it doesn’t refer to the friend you meet every Thursday for beer. PAL stands for Phase Alternating Line and is a broadcast television format used in many countries outside of the U.S.-- and one not so welcome in the world of American broadcast. The most common difference between PAL and the system NTSC that we use within the U.S. is the frame rate - PAL uses 25 frames per second (fps) and NTSC uses 30 fps. In the past, whenever booking crews outside the U.S., you were faced with having to convert PAL to NTSC at a dub facility—experiencing up to a 3-day wait depending on the amount of footage. In an industry of fast turnarounds, this is a less than efficient workflow. Editing is possible with both PAL and NTSC native formats, but the problem has always been creating a broadcast quality video on the back end.

HD and Hard Drives to the Rescue. HD cameras have made things clearer and more efficient. With the use of HD cameras we all now have the option to switch the camera from PAL to NTSC on site at the shoot. The shooter will need to change the frame rate and account for the electrical current differences overseas, but if experienced, could eliminate the need to convert altogether. Whether it is PAL or NTSC, it is preferred that international shooters shoot onto a hard drive. Most production houses these days should be able to ingest any format from a hard drive, including PAL, and edit it.

Reality Check. Regardless of format used, if there is a quick turnaround, you absolutely have to factor in express mail delays including delay in customs, time zone differences and the inevitable moment every producer fears when his or editor reports that the codec isn’t anything we’ve ever seen before. The rule here—know what camera your crew is using.

PS: In these cases, booking an on-site edit in-country where the final product can be sent via an ftp site (a 1GB Max) or a transmission feed might be a consideration.

So what have we learned? What it means to shoot internationally is something we all need to understand in an ever-shrinking global economy. It’s never going to be as easy as calling your favorite crew and booking an HD shoot for next Wednesday. There is significant planning involved when shooting overseas. There are timing issues, language issues, format issues, safety issues, permits, visas and ‘I hope I didn’t miss anything’ issues. You have to do your homework and you absolutely need to be sure you know what your client is expecting. Is it web only? That’s a heck of a lot easier to deal with than a global broadcast distribution. Word to the wise: get your favorite editor on the planning call. They’re often your best and most easily accessible source for information that could save you in the end.

Resources: Here’s a quick list of PAL vs NTSC countries

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video, video production, Tech Marketing Smarts Blog