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Shooting a movie in Nigera


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#1 Brian A. Levin

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Posted 08 June 2008 - 06:45 PM

This is really new for me and I'm just going to go out and say how green I am about working out of the country. I have always worked in and around a big city (Chicago), and so I just don't have quite the background in the kind of problems that might occur while shooting a feature film in Lagos, Nigeria.

Here's a few things we've encountered and I'm hoping I can get some good advice on how to deal with it.

1) Getting equipment over there
The Nollywood industry as I've been informed by the producers shoots on low-end video equipment and doesn't work with the kind of equipment we're used to working with here in the States. From my understanding, the HMI's aren't well kept and don't keep their color correctly balanced to daylight, and there is only one of everything, and you can't just reserve a rental and expect it to be there when you arrive, you kind of have to speak with your wallet (we have just enough budget to make this thing happen the way we want to but not enough budget to bribe everyone we meet). Has anyone had a situation kinda like this, and what are some outside-the-box options you can think of?

2) Shooting film and keeping it safe
The issue of gear applies to cameras as well, but we plan to parcel our crew luggage in with our camera equipment and just bring it on the plane with us. I plan to shoot with something good and small for handheld in Super16 like an Aaton XTRProd. How do we keep all the film in a cool dry place while we are out there, how do we make sure it stays safe back at our home base and how do we get it all to and from Nigeria without scanning it, or having them check it at customs?

3) Obtaining additional below-the-line crew members locally
Where can I find places to look for crew that have a basic understanding of the process to hire locally? I just don't really know where to look.

Any advice is appreciated.
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#2 Andrew Rawson

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Posted 08 June 2008 - 08:11 PM

I've shot out of the country quite a few times and what you really need is a local expediter type. Somebody who will help you get through customs smoothly and someone who will help with local labor and equipment. If you don't have that you have a tough road in front of you.
Especially in Lagos, Nigeria. I was offered a film there several years ago and as much as my sense of adventure was calling me to do it, I eventually turned it down after doing research on Lagos. Lagos is probably one of the most corrupt places on this planet, from what I hear you have to grease somebody every time time you round a corner over there. This is something you'll run into in any 3'rd world country but Nigeria goes well above and beyond all of them. I remember listening to stories from an older cinematographer friend of mine who was telling me of being at a soccer game there on his weekend off from filming. During half time the crowd got very excited as a pole was brought out to the middle of the field. After placing the pole a man was brought out and tied to it and then promptly executed.
Don't mean to scare you off your project, but when I was thinking about going all these same warnings are what made me decide not to go.
If you do go, good luck :)
Andy
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#3 Robert Tagliaferri

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 01:03 AM

I don't have experience shooting overseas, but I know that the best thing for transporting film is a lead-lined film bag that reflects radiation. This is the only way to ensure the film won't be damaged in transport by radiation. Also, if your lab is in Nigeria, then a fog test before you shoot would be prudent. I would also call both airports and find out what their policies are beforehand so that there are no surprises when you arrive.

Good luck, I bet it will be quite an adventure.
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#4 Mike Brennan

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 03:37 AM

Ive shot a few commercials (on HD) in Nigeria.

They were set up by a UK company that has a lot of experience in Nigeria.
Everything you wrote in your post was correct.

Expect thrid world buisness behaviour and (in)competence.
Go with the flow or you will sink.
Expect to suffer blatent up front extortion and corruption.

Couple of examples.
Backround restaurant actors stopped the shoot when they were asked to talk, they demanded more money as they had "speaking part"! Producer fired them.

1st location of the day was unlocked 2 hours late.
Gaffer didn't have a jumper, he had to rewire plug every time we switched from genny to mains!

CC gel hard to find bring your own, it is very usefull.
Equipment is expensive and usually in very poor condition.

Movies are pirated very quickly. Locals like the idea of digital shooting and projection as they can have more intimate control of their project.


Scams to rob you by abduction are rife, ie driver holding board with your name.
Do be met at the airport in a way that avoids being targeted. Expect that airline or hotel staff will tip off bad guys.
Dont stay in a cheap hotel.
Dont shoot on the street for more than a few minutes unless you have large number of security, which feeds even more interest form undesirables.
If you are white skinned and on the street with kit you will be targeted in a very short time.
No shortage of automatic weapons in wrong hands.
If arriving on late flight expect to be stopped on the way into town by a bogus policeman wanting money
(sometimes you can spot them as they dont have the right weapon, ie they carry is a tear gas gun.)

Corruption is a recognised part of business.
Try to remember that most people are trying to make ends meet and they are a charming friendly people.

Nigerian skin is very dark.



Mike Brennan
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#5 Dominic Case

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 08:29 PM

I don't have experience shooting overseas, but I know that the best thing for transporting film is a lead-lined film bag that reflects radiation. This is the only way to ensure the film won't be damaged in transport by radiation.

Really? Do you have experience of this working?

While you are correct that the lead bag would stop radiation, it is for this reason that the security checks won't let it through. If you put a lead bag through the hand-luggage X-ray machine, the operator will ask you to open it and then re-scan the contents. If you put a lead bag through the checked luggage system, the scanner will automatically increase the X-ray intensity until it can see through the lead lining.

If you could take film through security that way, you could also take guns, explosives, knives, etc the same way.

Of course, there is no knowing whether you could get anything on board in Nigeria. Phoning ahead so there are no surprises is a little optimistic too. There will always be surprises.

When I was there many years ago it was said that the only uncorrupt people in the country were judges - because they took equal bribes from both sides in a case, so avoiding any bias. Mike's comment is right - what we call corruption is simply the way of life there. How is a bribe (dash or dashi) different from a tip or a service fee?

Also, if your lab is in Nigeria,

Well I don't think it will be. The closest would be London, Rome or Madrid, or South Africa.
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#6 Robert Tagliaferri

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 11:03 PM

Really? Do you have experience of this working?

While you are correct that the lead bag would stop radiation, it is for this reason that the security checks won't let it through. If you put a lead bag through the hand-luggage X-ray machine, the operator will ask you to open it and then re-scan the contents. If you put a lead bag through the checked luggage system, the scanner will automatically increase the X-ray intensity until it can see through the lead lining.

If you could take film through security that way, you could also take guns, explosives, knives, etc the same way.

Of course, there is no knowing whether you could get anything on board in Nigeria. Phoning ahead so there are no surprises is a little optimistic too. There will always be surprises.

When I was there many years ago it was said that the only uncorrupt people in the country were judges - because they took equal bribes from both sides in a case, so avoiding any bias. Mike's comment is right - what we call corruption is simply the way of life there. How is a bribe (dash or dashi) different from a tip or a service fee?


Well I don't think it will be. The closest would be London, Rome or Madrid, or South Africa.


No, I don't have experience with that working; as I said, I haven't travelled abroad with film. I was just passing on some advice I have read/heard in the past. Yes, there will always be surprises... but you don't think it would be wise to try and limit those? The airport probably has procedures in place for handling this situation, at least on the American side, so if I were in Brian's shoes I'd want to (or want my AC) to talk to the airport before we left.

There's info online from Kodak:
http://www.kodak.com...b/tib5201.shtml

and the TSA:
http://www.tsa.gov/t...orial_1035.shtm


It's a bit contradictory though, Kodak recommends the lead bag, the TSA says not to use it in American airports, but bring one for foreign airports. In America you can request a "hand inspection" for photographic film. I read in Doug Hart's (he's an AC and on this forum) book that one time he had security stick their hands in his change tent to "hand inspect" all the film. I hope it wouldn't come to that.

Is it not possible to buy raw stock in Nigeria? Where are the Nigerians getting it? Also, I thought Nigeria has a big film industry, aren't there any reputable local labs?
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#7 Brian A. Levin

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 12:08 AM

This has been very helpful and a little eye-opening, though it's nothing I wasn't already concerning myself with so far. My understanding from speaking with the producers and director of the film is that in Nollywood all the films are shot in short times, 5 days or less, and they shoot on video and produce the films as cheaply as possible. The reason the industry is so big is because it's all a numbers game. They produce a ton of content, however, because they mass produce this stuff (think Aldi of the filmmaking world) the shear volume of media, with low price-to-produce and high sales rivals that of Hollywood, but comes nowhere close in terms of content quality. Most, if not all films, are shot on video to avoid the cost of film, and even if there were a somewhat reputable lab, I'd even be weary having gone back and read some of my peers posts here regarding the extreme level of (in)competence and corruption in the country. I wonder if I can get the film shipped to Johannesburg so that it doesn't have to leave the country and therefor never has to go through customs.
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#8 Dave Green

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 06:09 AM

Regarding security, assuming you hire a company to protect you. The best local security companies have well trained staff in the area of arms and how to use them, but the quality of their security driving (and driving in general) is appaling.

If you have security then I seriously suggest you use professional security drivers from the US - it's much better not to get into a situation in the first place rather than rely on your security staff's ability to shoot their way out of it.
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#9 Michael Lehnert

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 06:16 AM

It is not my intention to scare you, but I would like to point out same serious deficits in the planning that I pressume of the project you are working for by reading through this thread (if I am to negatively presumptious in respect to your preparations done, then I apologise):

I am always surprised how projects save on doing the first reasonable thing when going into places that can best be described as being on the brink of civil unrest, if not war - which is the only honest assessment of Nigeria right now: namely to get a local specialist to sort out all paperwork, import/export restriction, "contact the right people", and hope to make sure that everything goes somewhat smoothly (which is generally not the case, for any project of any size with any money when working such countries - just look at Bond 22).

Just for argument's sake: If I were to mountaineer in the Himalayas (i.e. me totally out of depth of my Swiss climbing context), the first thing before packing my gear would be to research and hire a local guide, wouldn't it. If sailing, would you not want a pilot guide your ship into the harbour?

Even for countries like Malawi or Rwanda, which are safe and almost touristy, friends who worked on the Long Way Down docu were telling me how grateful they were to have a local expedition specialist. Although I am not a fan of the now-required security seminars for media crews of the UK - with all those addicted ex-SAS types telling you how to react when getting abducted or robbed -, I must admit even I would choose to undergo this training and require it for fellow crew members if I were to go to Nigeria (and I did a tour during my military service for Germany, so I gained some fieldwork experience)



I don't have experience shooting overseas, but I know that the best thing for transporting film is a lead-lined film bag that reflects radiation. This is the only way to ensure the film won't be damaged in transport by radiation.



I recently debunked the lead-lined film bag myth in the Super 8 forum here and am a bit astonished to find it referenced here in the GD forum in context of a "professional production".

I strongly discourage you from using lead-lined film bags, as I explained in this post here (click me).

Also, I would suggest to take the camera with one lens and mag and minor accessory with you on board, not have it checked in. That is standard practice in Direct Cinema doc circles. I learned this early on without bad experiences. Sure, van der Keuken or Pennebaker just have one personal (rented) cam and a nagra kit for their projects (and I even own my 16mm tools myself, so have a vested interest to keep it), and hence all that is more feasable than when you do a gear-intensive short or feature or "re-enactment" docu, but I would honestly not leave mission-critical equipment of high value out of sight when flying to certain parts of the world, and certainly not Nigeria!
Even in generally very safe and courteous India, our low-key Rimowa luggage found interest with some local baggage handler, as the attempts to (unsuccessfull) brake the cases open where so eager that once back in London, they were deemed a write-off for insurance and security purposes.
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#10 Michael Lehnert

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 06:26 AM

I wonder if I can get the film shipped to Johannesburg so that it doesn't have to leave the country and therefor never has to go through customs.


Brian,

unless there is a town of that name in Nigera that has escaped mapping so far, Johannesburg is in South Africa, i.e. a different country to Nigeria, throusands of miles away to the south. Your films would leave the country, go through customs several times, and will pass through more hands than it would if you were to hand-deliver it with a passenger flight from Lagos to Jo'burg personally.

Your quote above reads like-for-like to: "I am shooting in Chicago, USA. I wonder if I can get the film shipped to Santiago de Chile (that is in Chile, South America) so that it doesn't have to leave the country and therefor never has to go through customs."
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#11 Robert Tagliaferri

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Posted 11 June 2008 - 12:02 AM

I recently debunked the lead-lined film bag myth in the Super 8 forum here and am a bit astonished to find it referenced here in the GD forum in context of a "professional production".

I strongly discourage you from using lead-lined film bags, as I explained in this post here (click me).



Astonished? As I said in that quote, I don't have experience traveling with film, I was just passing on the info that I had heard as well as what Kodak (http://www.kodak.com...b/tib5201.shtml) and the TSA (http://www.tsa.gov/t...orial_1035.shtm) had to say on the subject.

Thanks for the link to your post, that seems to be a practical real-world answer to this problem. The TSA was saying not to use lead-lined bags in America, but bring them for foreign airports where the scanners might be higher dose.
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#12 K Borowski

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Posted 11 June 2008 - 12:50 PM

While I don't blame you for repeating misinformation that is widespread, because it has manufacturers' marketing spin behind it, there is no reason to use lead-lined bags.

If anything this will anger airport inspectors as they see that you are trying to hide something from their scanners, or they will just turn up the intensity on their scanners to read through the lead, either of which are bad scenarios.

This is something that may take an extra $100 "special inspection fee" at the airport, but so be it if it means not getting your film fried. I'm sure having armed security officers present from the shoot and being a part of an official, large production is going to minimize any attempts at panhandling.

It's not as if this is a two-man crew doing a documentary shoot.
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#13 Michael Lehnert

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Posted 11 June 2008 - 03:09 PM

Astonished? As I said in that quote, [...] , I was just passing on the info that I had heard [...] on the subject.


Hmm, sorry if my post could be read as too aggressively formulated against you. Rest assured that this was not my intention. It's just that there was a major debate in the ASC, BSC and BVK about "x-raying" and "everything gets fogged" and, of course, the "death of film" as the ultimate consquence when InVision introduced the new generation in the late 1990s. A lot of false information was shoveled around then, while the only issue was essentially that these machines made lead-based protection products obsolete. This is why I get mildy annoyed when they are still sold and spinned by their marketing departments as "useful" or even "required", blatantly undermining factual information. Sorry, Robert, I hope for no hard feelings from your side. :)
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#14 Robert Tagliaferri

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Posted 12 June 2008 - 11:33 PM

Hmm, sorry if my post could be read as too aggressively formulated against you. Rest assured that this was not my intention. It's just that there was a major debate in the ASC, BSC and BVK about "x-raying" and "everything gets fogged" and, of course, the "death of film" as the ultimate consquence when InVision introduced the new generation in the late 1990s. A lot of false information was shoveled around then, while the only issue was essentially that these machines made lead-based protection products obsolete. This is why I get mildy annoyed when they are still sold and spinned by their marketing departments as "useful" or even "required", blatantly undermining factual information. Sorry, Robert, I hope for no hard feelings from your side. :)


No worries, I really appreciate the info as well.
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#15 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 14 June 2008 - 08:09 AM

This sounds great - let's all go to one of the world's more corrupt and dangerous countries, with a known tendency to steal from and abduct white people, with someone who thinks Johannesburg is in Nigeria.

P
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#16 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 14 June 2008 - 02:32 PM

Well, I'd be extremely careful about the people you're working for in Nigera. In Africa don't expect anything to organised in a manner you'd expect in a western country and sometimes what's promised doesn't happen.

It sounds like they're providing the video equipment, so you shouldn't need to bring that in, however, if you are I'd have words with a western producer who has recently worked in the country.

This reminds me of the time I was filming in Sudan for a charity, when one morning an angry mob in this village came along and dragged us to the local police station where the police chief warned that in Africa life was cheap and white people get killed.
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#17 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 14 June 2008 - 02:46 PM

My edit didn't work:

Well, I'd be extremely careful about the people you're working for in Nigeria. In Africa don't expect anything to organised in a manner you'd expect in a western country and sometimes what's promised doesn't happen.

This is confusing - you mention the locals shooting their films on video, if so you shouldn't need to bring that in. However, with all this talk about Super 16 I'm not sure if you're working for an American production company or one of the local ones. If it's an American company how much experience do they have working in Nigeria?

This reminds me of the time I was filming in Sudan for a charity, when one morning an angry mob in this village burst in and dragged us to the local police station where the police chief warned that in Africa life was cheap and white people do get killed.
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#18 Brian A. Levin

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Posted 14 June 2008 - 09:23 PM

This is confusing - you mention the locals shooting their films on video, if so you shouldn't need to bring that in. However, with all this talk about Super 16 I'm not sure if you're working for an American production company or one of the local ones. If it's an American company how much experience do they have working in Nigeria?


The filmmakers, that is, the 2 producers and 1 director all grew up and regularly return to Lagos, Nigeria, where we will be filming. They've dabbled in Nollywood films before, but now that they've been through an American film school program and worked with Western filmmakers they are anxious to go back to their homeland and make a film about life growing up in Nigeria with a western crew and western tactics. They want to distance themselves as much as possible from Nollywood filmmaking. They are independently finding money to fund the project.
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#19 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 14 June 2008 - 09:54 PM

I have turned down jobs in Africa before (one in Nigeria, two in Angola) on the basis that the organisers were expats who knew the places. In each case I felt like familiarity was breeding contempt and an attitude of "it'll be OK" prevailed; in each case, things like immigration and transport were organised on the basis of dealing with it when we got there.

This might work well if you are (and look) local, know the languages and customs, and aren't doing attention-grabbing things like filmmaking. You are none of the above. Frankly this was not good enough for me. I'm sure I've posted this list elsewhere before, but my requirements for doing jobs in potentially iffy out-of-area places include a flexible-without-fees return ticket in my hand at the point of departure, medical insurance including repatriation costs payable to me including cover for acts of war or terrorism, insurance for any equipment payable to me with the same inclusions, the name and address of a qualified English-speaking fixer in country with references from westerners they've worked with before who know who I am when I courtesy-call their offices, likewise any facilities people, drivers, etc, assurance that there are always at least two vehicles available for both people and equipment in case of breakdowns, immigration paperwork I can call the embassy about and have verified. If we're going miles from anywhere, a satphone with the number of referenced, english-speaking legal representation who know who I am when I call them, emergency help available in the form of a helicopter to come and pick me up if I have my leg blown off by a landmine...

You can go on like this all night and it seems paranoid, but at the end of the day I don't want to be sitting here in a year's time talking about that Levin guy who is doing time in some stinking Nigerian cesspit of a jail on some trumped-up charge because he was too white.

P
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#20 Michael Lehnert

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Posted 15 June 2008 - 03:35 AM

Phil,

Excellent post! Brilliantly formulated and to the requiredly hard-hitting point. That should become a first-port-of-call reading for anyone shooting in critical less- or least-developed countries.

I was thinking about posting something along your lines as well as I feel increasingly uncomfortable with the flood of "Shooting 1st out of film school Project in Africa/Middle East/Brixton - any tips welcome" threads that popped up here recently.

I mean, I have no problems travelling on my own initiative with my partner to countries like Jordan or Lybia for holiday, which shocks most people I know in the USA when I mention that. On the other hand, I would never accept a job in these countries unless I am intimately involved with the organisation. The oversight I had to experience from people who should know better taught me alot evaluating "it'll alright on the night" attitudes. After all, even taking a Super 8 camera for holidaying raises eyebrows nowadays, let alone running around with an Xtera or my own Bolex 16 Pro shoulder monster :) . And I am talking Direct Cinema docs here, so just a 3 to 4 folks crew - nothing even slightly "big filmshoot" evoking.

I am currently working on an ethnographic job about migration for the Uni of Oxford, with plenty of fieldwork in countries that are by far not as critical as South Africa or Kenya, let alone Nigeria or Sudan. THe length and depth of organisation that goes into this with help from the FCO and RUSI is really excessive, and even then its a risky undertaking. Reading what I read in this thread would make me jump on the first train out. Not even Indiana Jones would proceed with caution or calling it a day, favouring a beer in Princeton.

I am sure most people know that shooting overseas in Africa won't be like shooting overseas in Vancouver (with or without dental plan in the contract). But sometimes I think some professionals should double-think eventualities through more thoroughly.


-Michael

P.S.: this is a general comment and not at all directy directed to, let alone against you, Brian! Please don't misunderstand me here!
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