Filming Video Projects in Africa - 10 Tips to Help you Plan & Prepare
21st September 2011 by Sean Malone
If you regularly film and produce videos in Africa then you probably won’t need to read this post as you will know the following information already. However, if you are about to begin filming a video project in Africa for the first time, you might want to read my top ten tips to help you plan and prepare.
I have worked on a number of projects in Africa - in Malawi and Madagascar and have always enjoyed my trips to the continent. Filming projects in Africa is very different to what I am used to in the UK and I have picked up a few tips and tricks I would like to share with you.
1. Don’t do it. The chances are that you will be working for an NGO, or a charity, which means that money and budgets will be tight. In many cases it will be cheaper and more cost effective for you to employ another agency based in Africa to film content for you that you then edit at a later stage (although this option could also open up another box of potential problems further down the line!). However, if you can afford to work for very little, it could well be the best experience of your life!
2. Work with a local fixer. You need to find someone on the ground who speaks English and all the local dialects. Someone you can trust and someone who can make things happen for you. Use your fixer to fix the security, guides and transport. We have found local Universities are a great place to find people as they often have a large number of English speakers on site who are always keen to show foreigners around the local area.
3. Get the official permissions to film. Be prepared. This is going to be a frustrating experience, it takes ages for the documents to come through, but African officials love paperwork – and the more you’ve got, the happier they will be. It is far better to get this arranged in advance than have a very awkward conversation at a border checkpoint on route to your shoot location!
4. Go lightweight. Leave the lighting kit at home, you won’t need it. Take two cameras, plus tripods and plenty of spare batteries and couple of boom mics. In my experience I have found the power supply is almost always intermittent and it turns out Africa is a lot windier than you might think. If you are packing your bags and not sure if you will use an item of kit, leave it at home.
5. Pack a suit. This sounds daft I know, but get the Producer to pack a suit. If you have to meet a Government Official, Politician or African VIP, then dress to impress. Good manners and respect are the currency of African etiquette – learn their etiquette language and doors will open for you.
(Chatting to the locals on my recent trip to Africa)
6. Blag your way onto the plane. Most African internal flights use small aircraft with limited space for hand luggage. Make sure you’re at the front of the queue and get your cameras on the plane. If put under extreme pressure, agree to put the camera bag in the plane’s luggage hold, carry the camera in your arms and put the batteries and lenses in your pockets. Never agree to put the cameras (or edit laptops) in the hold – if there’s no alternative, don’t get on the plane.
7. Start shooting very early in the morning. Plan for a very early breakfast and shoot start; by mid afternoon the heat is intense and your crew’s productivity will nose dive. We were recently filming in Malawi and from 11am-5pm it was just too hot to work properly.
8. Check your footage every night. Treat yourself to a couple of cold beers at the end of the day and run through the footage you’ve shot; you’re not coming back to Africa in a hurry, so if you’ve missed something, or screwed-up the sound, now is the time to find out and solve any problems you might have.
9. Get the proper jabs. Don’t skimp on jabs or inoculations and remember that some of them have to be taken several weeks in advance of your trip. Malarone tablets (anti Malaria) will make you feel sick, but our team felt that the side effects were nowhere near as bad as everyone seems to make out.
10. Take plenty of US Dollars with you. Forget credit cards, cheque books, traveller’s cheques and the local currency. If you run into a problem, nothing, absolutely nothing speaks louder than good old-fashioned American Dollars.
I hope you have found these tips useful. I have loved working on projects in Africa and if you are heading out there I am sure you will too. If you have any questions please do get in touch with me.
You may also like this post:
Please sign up for our monthly Video Email Newsletter: