This Q&A was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of Documentary magazine, a publication of the International Documentary Association, a nonprofit media arts organization based in Los Angeles.
Filming in remote locations can be trying for those working on and appearing in documentaries.
A number of issues must be considered when production takes place in the wilderness or otherwise away from optimal infrastructure. Locations must be evaluated for exposure to elements, security and proximity to medical care, among other concerns. Insurance, such as medevac coverage, can be obtained to offset risk in many cases, hardened equipment used, and security personnel engaged, as necessary.
When a project involves celebrities, there are additional considerations. Celebrities are often accustomed to working, travelling and sleeping in conditions more luxurious than a documentary production is able to provide. It is not uncommon for a celebrity host (or his representatives) to make the same types of requests when negotiating an agreement to host a documentary that the celebrity would receive on a large budget feature, such as first class travel and hotels, private cars, a trailer, an assistant, hair and makeup personnel to travel with the production and a stylist and wardrobe budget.
Many of these requests are difficult to accommodate on documentary budgets, are logistically not feasible and may go against the low key, egalitarian environment filmmakers are hoping to foster. For example, a trailer, which must be set up at each location would be a hindrance, to say the least, when a production is moving quickly between locations to interview participants and attempting to be inconspicuous. When travelling to and staying in remote locations, it’s often impossible to meet these requests.
The flip side, of course, is that filmmakers must understand that while a celebrity may genuinely be excited about a documentary project, that celebrity is frequently asked to travel and work for long periods of time away from home, and is often creating real commercial value for the documentary. If the celebrity or her representatives have not been involved in similar projects, there also may be a lack of understanding that in many cases documentary production does not take place in the same type of controlled environment as a narrative film.
Conversations with hosts and their representatives about production logistics and what to expect are essential, especially when production occurs in challenging environments. With the proper information, reasonable accommodations can sometimes be made. For example, a private SUV could be provided for a host to travel in and change outfits, in lieu of a trailer. Other times, it is only when these details are made clear that a host understands exactly what is expected on a production and then is able to make an informed decision about whether or not to participate.