Planning ahead and doing your research is the best way for any producer to avoid sky-rocketing or unexpected costs. Here are some tips from the co-director of the documentary It’s Better To Jump, Gina M. Angelone, who helped orchestrate a seven-camera shoot in Akka, Israel. Their crew and equipment departed from Los Angeles, landed in Tel-Aviv and was driven to location.
RESEARCH RENTALS: Israel has top-of-the-line equipment houses, production facilities, crew and vehicle rental. For the most part, the people speak English. You may want to hire your gear and crew there, or you may want to bring it with you. But Israel is not cheap. It made more sense for us to travel with our own gear (9 large cases). Our cinematographer (Patrick Stewart) is an owner/operator and so there was no need to rent anything. If we had only one camera case and one audio case, it would have made sense to rent a tripod or some bigger equipment there to keep excess luggage fees low. But do the math and figure out the difference in the rental cost here vs there and make your best choice.
CARNETS ARE CRUCIAL: If you’re traveling with over-sized cases and expensive gear, you must also calculate the cost of a Carnet Bond. The carnet is based on the total value of the equipment/goods that you are bringing in. It’s basically a temporary export-import document to clear customs so that you don’t have to pay import tax, and assures that you will be returning back to the US with the same gear within the year (and not reselling it abroad). Carnet costs vary and can get rather high (in the thousands). Call a company that issues them and they will calculate the amount for you based on your estimated values. You will need a new carnet every time you re-enter and leave Israel. If you rent your equipment in Israel, there’s obviously no need for a carnet and you avoid that cost.
VISA ISSUES: Valid US passports are fine for getting in and out of Israel for up to a 3-month stay. You don’t need a visa. Having a stamp from certain nations may raise a red flag and you should check the Israeli Embassy for a list of those places. Israel is notoriously strict about security. Expect to be interviewed (often, at length and multiple times) both at departure from the US airport and arrival in Israel. If you’re filming, you may have to give proof of your project, including names of Israeli citizens who are your production contacts and can vouch for you. Make sure you’re ready to show a contact sheet, your itinerary and names of hotels where you will be staying.
KNOW YOUR ROUTE: Crossing checkpoints into the Palestinian Occupied Territories is also tricky and time-consuming. Some checkpoints are easier to cross than others. Do your research. A local production person can best help you with this. NOTE: Israeli citizens cannot travel with you inside the Occupied Territories unless they have a special permit. So if you are shooting there, you will be best served to have a Palestinian crew or point person. You can find leads for crew through list serves (like Craig’s List), word-of-mouth, as well as through various film commissions and producers guides (on-line). At the checkpoints, you will be interrogated about your purpose and your cases will be checked thoroughly. (I’ve heard stories of materials being confiscated, but it has never happened to me.) The soldiers do not have the right to take your materials, but they can withhold them for a time, view them, and make your experience a lot more complicated. Have back-ups stored separately or shipped ahead. It’s also smart to have some form of production insurance in case gear or material gets damaged in the process.
PULL PERMITS: You will need location permits or approvals for shooting in public places/monuments/parks–the usual suspects. Investigate first and find out how to get your permit for that specific location. When shooting within Israel, it’s best to have an Israeli citizen with you as a Location Producer to handle these details and to negotiate with the military if you are stopped or questioned. Most times, it is free of charge to film at outdoor sites; it’s just a question of having the authorization. As there is a large military presence on the ground and a deep concern about security at all times, you can’t necessarily roam freely and film at will. Having said that, sometimes having a very small footprint and a small camera that won’t attract attention will allow you to go unnoticed and pass for tourists.
BOOK EARLY: Book hotels in advance. Israel thrives off tourism. No matter what time of year, it is crowded with pilgrims and tourists and can be very uncertain trying to book a decent place to stay at the last minute.
CASH FOR CREW: Decide the best way to pay your crew in advance: shekels or dollars, cash or wired funds. Wiring into accounts adds a hefty fee on both ends. Cash payments may be more desirable for their lesser fees.
BEWARE INTERNATIONAL BANK FEES: As it is everywhere in the world, there are bank fees for all transactions from ATMs while withdrawing funds abroad. On top of that, there are credit card transaction fees and foreign exchange fees. Every institution has varying rates of exchange. Make sure your budget is padded for the extras!
Gina M. Angelone is an established documentary filmmaker with a passion for storytelling. Her film, René & I, won two Audience Awards, a Human Rights Award and a Special Jury Mention in international festivals, aired on NBC and continues to be distributed worldwide. Gina has worked for many years in film, TV, commercials and web. Her work includes producing Inside The Actors Studio for Bravo, creating the original pilot Music Shorts for Comedy Central, and directing, producing and writing Connections: Preserving America’s Landscape Legacy (narrated by Angela Lansbury) for PBS. Currently, Gina is shooting an on-going biography series on master landscape designers. Her films have been part of major museum exhibits, and her work has received a Cable Ace award and an Emmy nomination as well as many festival awards.