Shooting Features Overseas Pt 1.

Shooting Features Overseas – Pt. 1 – Logistics

A question that always comes up at festivals and other screenings is how we addressed the challenges of filming overseas for The Enemy God. In a series of blog posts, I’ll try to encapsulate three major hurdles and how we saw them overcome on our project. The three major hurdles are: Logistics, Culture, and Governments.

In this first installment I’ll talk about logistics. Here I am talking about things like figuring out how to ship equipment, what can be found on location, building sets, setting up production facilities, etc.

While we were in pre-production on The Enemy God, our plans were to do the filming in the jungle in Venezuela. Because the film tells the true story of an indigenous group in the rainforest, we wanted to try to make the film in the actual locations where the story takes place, using real Yanomamo actors in all of the roles possible.

This choice determined a lot of what we were planning. The region where the Yanomamo live is restricted so we would not be able to bring more than five or six outsiders to the location. The rest of the crew would need to be found in the local area. Now, just so you understand, the village of Coshilowäteli is hundreds of miles from the nearest town that can be reached by road or commercial aircraft. There is no industry,  and no economy beyond subsistence gardening and hunting and gathering. So the number of experienced film crew who we could hire locally was pretty much zero. We would have to make it work with enthusiastic but totally inexperienced Yanomamo workers or missionaries who live in the area. Also, we could only bring equipment in by small plane to grass airstrips. That limited our weight and the kinds of toys we could bring — no cranes, big dollies, lights, stands, etc.

So, our plan was to come down to Venezuela with a very small professional crew: Producer, Director, Cinematographer, Sound Recordist, 1st AC/Gaffer, and Makeup. We would have no 1st Assistant Director, Continuity, Production Manager, camera crew, sound crew, lighting crew, makeup staff, set decorators, and the innumerable other crew that is required to make a feature film the ‘right’ way.

We would have a small camera package and were committed to shooting on film (Super16 & 35mm). We wanted the look of film and its ability to handle the lighting and contrast conditions in the jungle when shooting mostly with existing light, and also for the dependability of the cameras. We did not want to be stuck if a $100,000 HD camera got tired of the heat, humidity, dust, mud, and bugs. It’s a long way to New York for a replacement. Oh yeah, and we because we were shooting film, we needed a lot of raw stock, kept cool, and a way to ship it securely back to a lab in Caracas for processing and transfer, etc. Our plan was to dig a big hole in the jungle for film storage in the nice, cool, damp soil!

Because of the story setting, the sets were actually easy to build. They were Yanomamo structures built by expert Yanomamo crews. There’s no way a Hollywood set crew could do as good a job as our guys. In fact, a whole village of Yanomamo basically moved to the location and lived there while they built the sets over the course of a few months. You can see pictures of those sets here.

In all, it was a workable plan – not easy, but it could work. Unfortunately, all of this planning and headache (and expense) turned out to be for naught as we were forced to move production out of Venezuela due to deteriorating politics. (More about that in a future section.) With great frustration and sadness, we began a year-long search for another location. I’ll talk about the changes we made in the next installment. (Click to read Pt 2.)

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