An expert’s advice for planning shoots far away from the comforts of home.
A few months ago we sponsored filmmaker Luke Neumann on a six-day road trip through California, Nevada, and Utah in search of the best desert terrain for royalty-free footage.
Luke lost a few good batteries that week, but ultimately returned unscathed—bringing back a cache of ultra-high-definition footage as well as some great advice for filmmakers planning on-location adventures of their own.
Tip #1: Improvise Your Way to Better Footage (and Free Lodging)
Footage of raw, unchecked nature is difficult to beat—as seen in Luke’s 4k desert time-lapse:
However, stock footage involving people and animals remains just as popular. Luke was lucky (and patient) enough, for example, to capture footage like this lizard sprawled across sandstone—but still knew to plan ahead with a backup actor just in case the desert proved a little too deserted.
See the “hiker” admiring Utah’s Zion National Park in the jib shot below? That’s Luke’s wife, Marika—a frequent star in their footage.
These acting roles have their perks, of course. In addition to providing Luke with more interactive and immersive footage, traveling with an “actress” has opened up doors to thousands of dollars in free lodging and activities.
Luxury resorts, they’ve found, are often quick to trade rooms and services in exchange for high-quality promotional footage. This means that Marika’s roles “roughing it” as a hiker in Fern Canyon are often followed by footage of her enjoying five-star hotel suites or trekking sand dunes in four-wheelers—as seen in this sneak preview of their upcoming Hawaii adventure:
Tip #2: Don’t Let the Sun Burn Your Shot List
Shooting on-location often means leaving your lights behind. The bright sides to this are you have less to lug and can benefit from natural lighting; the dark side is that you relinquish all control of this lighting to the sun. Fortunately, Luke has some tips for taking a lot of this control back:
“If you have the time, the best way to plan is to set up a time-lapse of the location and then go back and look at what time of day it looks best. A lot of people will gravitate towards sunrise or sunset (for good reason), but the lighting can be interesting at other times of day as well.”
Of course, you can also turn the harsh overhead sun into a positive. Capture a barren tree in Death Valley, for example, and the glaring sun becomes a part of your narrative:
Tip #3: Pack Lightly—and Logically
Whether you’re traveling three states or three miles, you never want to pack too much or too little. Ending up with a happy medium that’s appropriately light and logical requires asking yourself a few questions:
What’s portable? What’s necessary? And what’s easy to replace?
Luke filmed a video review of his 33-foot camera crane earlier this year—and clearly loves it—but not enough to break his back carrying it where he doesn’t need it (and then spending ninety minutes setting it up and breaking it down).
As deserts are, by nature, flat and open, Luke’s crane stayed in the RV for much of his trip—and probably would have stayed at home if he hadn’t rented such a large vehicle and traveled through gigantic California Redwoods on his way. Using an Ultra Dolly instead allowed him to capture the same side-to-side motions of his crane, but without the extra lifting and setup.
Meanwhile, the dolly’s track is made up of everyday PVC, making it an even better choice for air travel and long trips. The two-inch pipe it glides over can easily be found at nearly any hardware store for just a few dollars per foot.
Conversely, you can never have too many batteries—which Luke learned the hard way after dipping his rig in the river on day one . . . and having to backtrack across California overnight.
Tip #4: Embrace Your Wanderlust
Perhaps the most important lessons we can gain from Luke’s trip are that traveling and shooting on-location don’t have to be rare or semi-rare events.
Deciding early on that L.A. wasn’t right for them, he and his wife settled in Oregon but seize every opportunity to travel.
You don’t need a studio when you have an open road with views like this—and you don’t need an office when you can upload stock media from the nearest pit stop.
Matt Siegel writes about epic road trips, lucky actresses, and stock film for Videoblocks.
Luke Neumann travels the world capturing exclusive stock footage for VideoBlocks.