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planning ahead

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Production Related Travel Tips

Ok, so your client wants you to shoot some interviews and b-roll at their factory in another part of the country. In my case it is likely a medical procedure, but not always. It doesn't matter - getting there and back is the fun part.

Planning Ahead

This is of course not always possible due to last minute confirmations of participants. But let's say you have 2 weeks or 1 week at a minimum to plan. This is really only an issue as far as booking flights. If possible, book a refundable ticket, meaning you can get your money back or at least a credit with no service charge if plans change. Southwest and Jetblue tickets are almost always refundable, though neither of those airlines flies everywhere in the US. I'm focusing on US travel because that is what I do - feel free to chime in with international travel tips.

I usually use Yahoo Travel to search for flights, because I have always used it and I can actually remember my password! But a handy app is Kayak, in which you enter your destination and you can filter pretty dynamically to find the right combination of times, costs and stops.

For Southwest or Jetblue use their own websites.

For hotels, I have started using, as they have a pretty user friendly interface and some good deals. When booking hotels beware the pre-paid rate. Often the rate is $20+ cheaper than the rack rate, but you pay in advance and the cancellation penalty is the full price of the room, and in some cases more than one night's rate. If your plans have the possibility of changing at the last minute, it is best to pay a bit more for a rate you can cancel.

If traveling with a lot of gear, and the hotel has ground level rooms, see if you can get one. Maneuvering a hand truck on and off hotel sized elevators is one more thing to deal with.

Transportation on the Ground

I usually rent a car or mini-van depending upon the amount of gear and the number of people. However in places like Chicago, DC and Dallas where there is mega traffic, a taxi fits the bill. You may be tempted to say that multiple taxi rides are more expensive than a car rental, but it depends. And convenience can weigh in either direction.

Travel Day

Know your local airports. When I fly out of Hartford, although it is a smallish air[port about the size of Raleigh Durham or San Diego, the security line is super slow. So I plan to get to the airport well in advance of my departure time. Bigger airport, though they have more people and flights also have more efficient security lines.

When you check-in for your flight you'll have to pay for your extra bags. An average trip for me has 3-4 pieces of checked luggage (hand truck, light kit, monitor case, tripod tube) but sometimes more if it is a multiple camera shoot. Southwest gives you 2 free bags. Most other airlines give you 1 or zero free bags. (Delta charged me nearly $800 each way for 5 pieces of luggage last year. On another trip I upgraded to first class for less than the price of the baggage fees, and got my extra bags included in the price. This option was offered by the Delta agent, but these nice people are usually kept away from the public). The check-in clerks always seem to change the tone of their voices when they ask for this kind of money, thinking you are going to flip out. I just say "Ok, no problem" and hand over the card for payment. Back in the pre-2001 days you could convince them to give you a media discount, and the old mainframe computers had a series of keystrokes to get those lower rates. But nowadays you pay or you drive.

Going Through Security (no pictures here)

Always carry your camera on the plane, whether it is a full size, camcorder, DSLR or all of these. A soft sided camera bag, or a generic roll-aboard that does not look like a camera bag are both good choices. If using a traditional roll-aboard, put some padding inside and this helps you look like a regular business traveler, and it saves your shoulder. Now when you have a couple of carry on pieces (camera bag, laptop bag or backpack) you need 2-4 of those slimy plastic bins.

Before I get in line, I place my wallet, phone and other contents of pockets into my backpack. About 2 people before you get to the bins, take off your shoes and belt. The belt, liquids in a zip lock if you have not checked this, and shoes into a bin. Laptop in its own bin. Suit jacket, turned inside out, in a bin (or sweatshirt, hoodie, jacket or whatever). Cameras in a bin. Some airports want you to put your shoes on the belt and they'll get snooty about it. Look for signs to that effect.

Other side of the scanner I expect a pat down, since cargo pants and travel shirts have extra zippers. I actually had a TSA guy tell me to wear different clothes when I travel. As if. Then repack bags, check for laptop, wallet, license, keys, cameras, phone. It is amazing how many announcements I hear that go "will the traveler leaving a 17" Mac Book Pro and a titanium Rolex watch at security please return to claim your items." Not good.


Airport food is traditionally the worst food money can buy. This is changing but slowly. Unless you have a 1 hour wait for a flight, the sit down restaurants are a bad idea. More on these later. For most flights less than 2 hours I'll pack some energy bars and maybe get a coffee and a muffin at the airport. In smaller airports beware of limited food options and long lines. You can buy a 1L bottle of water for roughly $14.95 at the news stand. For long haul flights hydration is vital.

For a cross country flight I know that I am going to be starving somewhere over the Rockies and the salted free snacks just make you thirsty. I'll get a bottle of water, a baked good, and either a prepared salad or sandwich. In any case be prepared to pay through the nose for all of this stuff.

If you have a layover or simply a longish wait for a flight, you can try a sit down restaurant, but be warned, they can be slowish and not very goodish. Recently at ORD I tried the Wolfgang Puck's. I assume they guy licenses his name because the food was just awful and the service worse. Granted the pay is probably pretty bad.

One diamond in the rough is at Midway in Chicago. In the passage between the newer and older terminals is a walk-up diner counter.

At Manny's, you can get meatloaf and mashed potatoes, turkey and gravy and other traditional diner dishes. The food is hot, tastes like your grandma made it and you won't be hungry for a while. Add a cream soda and life is good. You will almost forget you are in an airport.

Hanging out in Airports

If you have eaten your requisite meal but you still have some time before your flight (ie a red-eye or just a late night connection) you can take a walking tour of the airport. Depending upon the age of the facility you can find some historical points of interest or simply some artistic discoveries.

Midway has a nice historical display about the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier in WWII, including a vintage fighter plane hanging from the ceiling.

If you walk over to the old American Terminal, you will feel like you have gone back in time to the late 1970's.

In O'Hare, the airport is massive. Walk over to the original sections and there are some 1960's architectural elements that you just have to experience for yourself. Same goes for LAX and the old Pan Am terminal now used by Jet Blue at JFK.

Another unique place is the Marine Air Terminal at Laguardia. Originally built in the 1930's as the Pan Am Clipper terminal,

complete with WPA-like murals in the art deco styled terminal,

you feel like you have stepped through time (if you go in the old entrance that is)
this building is now home to the Delta Shuttle, with hourly flights to Boston and Washington. Again, you have to experience it for yourself. The great part is it is separate from the rest of the airport. They have one security line that is never more than 4 people deep. The waiting area for flights has lots of soft leather chairs, power points for devices and a pretty hopping bar and cafe.

Other unique spots include one of the last remaining observation decks at Cleveland airport, an elevated seating area/observation deck at BWI,

and at Denver's massive terminal there is an upper seating area that is devoid of people and seemingly devoid of purpose, and is a nice place to chill out if you have a long wait.

The Flight Itself

When booking I try to choose the type of airplane and the seat location. If possible I go with a 737-800 or an Airbus 320. I like the aisle seat on the right side about 3 rows back from the exit row. But that's just me. Another reason to know your aircraft is because of carry on limitations. The smaller 50 passenger mini jets sometimes will not accommodate full sized roller bags and you may be asked to check these at the jetway. If using a roller bag as a camera bag, be prepared to quickly extract your camera at the last moment and place it under your seat.

Some airlines like to announce that the flight is completely full and you will have to check your bag, but then you get on the plane and there is plenty of space. Not sure what this is about.

If flying in and out of LGA, I will try to get a left side window for the return flight so I can get a good look at the Manhattan skyline on the final approach.

Once airborne, your work is done and you leave it to the professionals to get you to your destination.

Working on a plane depends upon the type of work you want to do, the size of your laptop, battery power, size of your neighbor and your ability to concentrate when dehydrated, tired, unable to move your legs and up since 5am.

Once on the ground, your job is the same as it is at home base. you go to the location, get your shots or make your meeting, then reverse the process and get back home.
Statistically speaking, it's still the safest way to travel. But getting to the actual airplane can be a challenge unless you plan ahead.

Good luck in your own travels.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 30, 2012 at 10:59:57 amComments (4) travel, planning ahead


I define Logistics as "all the stuff you have to do in order to be able to do what you have to do."

Yes, working in production is not just about showing up on time, getting your shots and meeting deadlines. In many cases, it is also about planning for what comes next. Sometimes this simply means having a conference call with the crew, the talent and the client and setting times to arrive on location and to manage everyones' expectations for the project.

But sometimes, and with increasing frequency, planning involves a lot more than simply times and locations. Here are a few examples:

Live Webcast

In our world, a live video webcast or point to point video conference could be a surgery or it could be someone giving a powerpoint lecture. In either case you have to first evaluate the connectivity options. Does the source of the signal actually have the means to transmit? Does the receiving end have the ability to receive? If it is an individual at a web browser, do not assume that everyone has Flash or Silverlight or Firefox or whatever. Don't even assume there are speakers attached to a computer in a corporate setting. We production folks take for granted these simple things, but a computer designed for data entry on a network of 2000 computers might have difficulty accessing a live stream of video and audio. Likewise, the receive end could be a conference center or hotel meeting room. In my experience, video conferencing is not a standard capability at even the most well-equipped conference centers. But there is usually a vendor within a few hours' drive, unless you are in some out of the way place like Cleveland. Sorry Cleveland, could just as well be Little Rock, Boise, Birmingham or Austin. Well, probably not Austin.

Next, if either the source or the receive end do not have existing connectivity, they pray you have enough time to arrange for it. Does the hotel have ISDN or T1 lines available? Does the source have the ability to transmit either type of signal or do you need a bridge? If neither site has connectivity, can we send a vendor into both locations? Can I get an ISDN line dropped into the room in time? Is Verizon or Comcast going to be able to do it on my schedule? What about IT in both locations? Chances are they do not know about the event and may not even know who it the right person in their department to address this? I once was part of a distribution list of at least 50 people trying to arrange a conference call just to find out who needed to be involved. As it turned out, the call was at 4pm on Good Friday, so only about 5 people actually dialed in, and we managed to figure out whose job it actually was. In the end, we got all the ducks in a row and we made everything quack!

Generic Hospital Video Shoot

We have been in and out of enough hospitals to know what we need to do to get in and out easily - or at least as easily as possible. Do we need immunization records? Usually. Do we need a location agreement? Sometimes. Does security, public relations or the vendor management office need to know what we are doing? Varies. We used to have to allow time to get our equipment checked by biomedical engineering. Back in the day we sometimes had voltage leaks on the BetaSP power supplies and we needed a ground lifter. Nowadays cameras are battery operated so we have an easier time. But that does not change the fact that we are hanging video cameras over open abdomens - we need to make sure the nurses are comfortable with what we are doing. And nurses are the gatekeepers in the hospital - be nice to your nurses!

Occasional Crazy Situation

On a few occasions we have shot multiple cameras in mass casualty disaster drills. As far as logistics go, all bets are off. We need to know precisely where to be and when and we can't stop what people are doing to ask them what happens next. If the helicopter is landing on the roof we'd better be there. If the fire department is hosing people down in the decontamination tent we had better capture it, and be upwind of the water! If we are shooting a motor vehicle crash victim extrication drill in a remote roadside location we had better make sure there is a generator available if we need it. You don't want to be unplugging the Jaws of Life if you need to charge your batteries. Today's Lithium Ion batteries have solved this pesky problem, but once upon a time this was the case.

When planning all the logistics for a shoot or other event, it can feel like everything is an urgent emergency. It isn't, but it feels that way because it is urgent for all involved. Or likely, it is urgent for some of the people involved but not the few who should be acting with a sense of urgency. This is your job as a manager - to maintain your cool and get the job done (because all of this has happened before and it will all happen again). Because of your experience in logistics before a big event, you know there is a 99% chance everything will work out. It's that 1% that seems like the end of the world at times, but that's just part of the process.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 1, 2010 at 3:25:39 pm pre-production, logistics, planning ahead

I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!


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