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Guidelines to International Production


by David Calderwood,
Senior Executive Producer, Euro-Pacific Film & Video Productions, Inc.


During the past ten years, the global marketplace has experienced more changes and upheavals than it has in the previous twenty years. The dropping of national borders and the removal of trade barriers in the European Common Market, effectively forming one large marketplace, has led to the merger and centralization of transglobal corporations in response to the increased opportunities and competition that the EC has generated. Legislation to remove trade barriers has gone into effect over the past two years, joining together economically the twelve industrialized countries of Western Europe. In addition to the changes within Western Europe, there have also been massive changes in Eastern Europe, with a shift from a Communist-based economy to a free market economy, and the emergence of a large consumer base, eager for what the West has to offer.

The speed with which these changes have taken place has caught many North American corporations off guard and they are only now starting to move toward meeting the challenges and opportunities that the new Europe has to offer. This has resulted in a large increase in the volume of video being shot in Europe by American based producers for North American corporations and organizations. The lack of knowledge about Europe, little or no European production contacts, and unfamiliarity with the PAL video system will often result in the American producer taking all of the crew and NTSC video equipment from the U.S. to Europe. This is an expensive and time-consuming exercise, as the crew are not familiar with Europe and there will be additional cost of airfares, excess baggage, Carnet, hotels and crew overtime. This results in shortened shooting time and a reduction in available post-production budget.

There are also technical problems to be considered that can arise when shooting in a PAL country using NTSC equipment. A very common problem is the strobing or flickering of lights in the picture, which is caused by the 50 Hz electrical system not being compatible with 30 frames per second NTSC (60 Hz). Similar problems can also arise when shooting in Asia and the Pacific; except for Japan all of these countries are PAL and have a 220/240 volt, 50 Hz electrical system. Other common non-technical problems that are encountered when shooting in Europe and Asia include language, unions, customs, culture, travel, budgeting and scheduling. In the United Kingdom, Asia and the Pacific, North American crew also encounter the problem of driving on the left-hand side of the road.

Setting Up A Shoot For The First Time

Setting up a shoot outside of the United States can be an unnerving experience for the first-timer, and mistakes can be expensive and time consuming. Following are some guidelines to help you on your journey. The key to a successful foreign shoot is in the pre-production planning. The first step is to find a production company or producer with production experience and contacts in the country that you are planning to shoot. Next, bring the person in at the budgeting and pre-production stage; there will be a lot of additional costs that you will need to include in your budget that you would not normally have on a local production. When organizing a shoot in a foreign country, one of the first decisions that you will need to make is whether or not to take crew and equipment from the U.S. Taking your local crew and equipment to far off destinations may be a nice perk for the crew and it may help you feel safe and secure when shooting in a foreign country, but it can also be a recipe for disaster. Aside from the obvious lack of knowledge about local conditions, shooting restrictions and cultural differences, the more major components to consider are extra cost, airfares, travel time, hotels and general expenses. Traveling with equipment will also add the cost of arranging bonds, Carnet, insurance and excess baggage. If any equipment gets lost or damaged in transit, you may have to extend your shooting days and disrupt your production schedule.

When traveling long distances, whether by yourself or with a full crew, you must always allow a recovery day at the other end. Jetlag after an eight to 14-hour flight can be a killer, especially for the inexperienced traveler. If you are taking a crew with you, this unproductive, extra day of crew, hotel and expenses, will eat away at your budget.

Budget Considerations

If a producer goes to England for a five-day shoot, has two travel days, takes a three-person U.S.-based crew and NTSC video equipment, they will incur certain costs that they would not have, had they used foreign crew and equipment. These include:

  1. US$ 3 x round trip coach airfares (more if business class)…. $2700
  2. Excess baggage charges for the equipment………………………..$350
  3. A minimum of 2 additional travel days for the 3 crew……………$1600
  4. A minimum of 2 additional travel days for the equipment………$1700
  5. The cost of getting a Carnet and arranging the bond ……………….$450
  6. 3 hotel rooms and meals for 3 crew for 7 days ……………………$6300
  7. U.K. Value Added Tax (VAT) @ 17.5% on hotel and meals….. $1102

The approximate cost of the above will be: …………………………….$14,202

If some vital piece of equipment is lost in transit or the crew travel business or first class, it is not long before another $14,000 has been spent, with no added production value.

If you are going to a country with an established production community, it is often more beneficial, both financially and logistically, to hire your crew and equipment there. Your local production coordinator should be able to set up crew and equipment at the foreign location, the crew should speak English, and you should arrange to meet the key members of the crew the day you arrive, prior to the start of the shoot. By using foreign crew and equipment, a producer can easily save more than $10,000 on an average corporate video shoot and eliminate a lot of possible problems such as a crew member falling ill, or lost and damaged equipment.

Choosing International Crew

To help make your decision, find out as much as you can about the location. Is it near a major city or airport? Are there good production facilities and crew available? What equipment is available for rent? Do you need a permit or license to shoot on the streets? On a large production, the budget may allow for a site visit by the producer prior to the shoot, however on most corporate productions the budget is not that generous. In most cases you will find that the best decision is to hire crew and equipment at the foreign location. If you don’t have a choice, or you decide to take the crew and equipment with you from the U.S., find a local contact or hire a production manager at the foreign location to work with you. Their local knowledge will save you time and money, and in many countries will help you cut through the red tape.

Foreign Travel Logistics

Once you have made your decision to take or not to take crew and equipment with you, the next step in the pre-production is to make a production travel schedule. To do this effectively, you will need a good map of the country you are shooting in, airline schedules, local hotel guide and information on internal travel times by car and public transport. Identify your shoot locations on the map, check local accommodations, airports and road access. If you plan to travel throughout a country by automobile, get accurate information on how long it will take to get from point A to B, in Germany you can travel 160 miles in two hours, but in parts of Japan you may only get ten miles in two hours. Find the best connection between your locations, keeping in mind travel time, availability, ease of access and cost.

Renting an automobile in the U.S. is a relatively painless experience: select the size and model of car that you want, give them a credit card and drive off. In Poland, for example, it is also fairly easy to book a rental car, but getting it is another matter. It may be 24 hours or more before the car is delivered to your hotel and then trying to get gas for the car will be your next problem. I recently spoke to a crew who had been to Poland and waited two days for their car to be delivered. When it finally arrived, it had no gas, and it took the crew six hours to get a full tank. Next time they will know to use taxis in Poland. Always allow sufficient time for hotel check-in and check-out. If you are flying from one location to another, find out how much time is required for airport check-in. If traveling with equipment, you will need to get your Carnet and equipment checked by customs every time you exit or enter a country, and this can be very time consuming. If you are using local crew, determine if they will pick you up at your hotel or if you will need to meet them at the location, and how long it will take to reach the location.

Check on requirements to enter and shoot in each country. A telephone call to a country’s diplomatic representative or trade development office will often answer most of these questions. Do you need a shoot permit? Is there a permit fee? Do you have to pay a bond? Do you require a visa or work permit? Are there union restrictions on what you or your crew can do? What vaccinations or medical certificates do you need? Some countries now require proof that you are HIV negative, while others, such as Spain and the British Virgin Islands, require you to apply in writing for permission to shoot in their country. In the British Virgin Islands, the shooting fee will cost between US$1000 and $3000.

Another important area to check on is regional, national and religious holidays, and usual business trading hours. These vary from country to country; in some countries business will close for a three hour siesta in the middle of the day and then work well into the evening, while in others the business day must cease before sunset. When you book your airline tickets, ask your travel agent what restrictions apply to the tickets. Can you change your departure dates or destinations at short notice? Will there be a penalty charge for doing this? Can you use the ticket on a different airline, and if you don’t use a ticket segment, can you get a refund? You will need to obtain medical, lost baggage and travel insurance for the duration of your trip and if you are traveling with crew, you may need to obtain worker’s compensation. These insurance policies will not cover your production or equipment. You will need to arrange for specialized production coverage from an insurance broker who handles international production insurance.

Final Checklist

Before heading off to the airport, there are a number of very important items you will need to take with you. These include:

  • Passport, visa, work permit, international drivers license
  • U.S. Embassy contact details
  • Vaccination certificate, HIV test results (for some countries)
  • Carnet (if traveling with equipment), bonds (if needed)
  • Itinerary, airline tickets, rental car and hotel confirmations
  • Credit cards, travelers checks, cash
  • Reference material: maps, production directories, hotel guides, airline schedules, contact list, translation dictionary
  • Talent release forms in the language of the country
  • Good stills camera and film stock

Paying The Bill

Usually you will be required to pay for the crew and facilities you use in foreign countries at the end of the shoot, so arrange to have sufficient travelers checks or cash to pay for them. Another option is to arrange for a transfer of funds from your U.S. bank to their bank account; this eliminates the need to carry large amounts of cash or travelers checks with you. Occasionally you may be asked if you can pay for the shoot in part by supplying videotape stock. This is more common in countries where foreign currency exchange is strictly controlled by the government and the camera crew have difficulty obtaining new stock because of tight import controls. Always inform the people that you are dealing with what the terms of payment will be and confirm that they are acceptable. You don’t want to be stuck with a large invoice at the end of a shoot and no way to pay. Hotels, rental cars and travel can either be paid for by credit card or prepaid through your travel agent. I have on occasion arranged for a charge back through my travel agent for rental cars and hotels, using a voucher system. All of the major long distance telephone companies now offer a direct dial service from foreign countries, giving you direct access to an American operator. The cost of this service can often be a lot less than what a hotel will charge you for making the call, and it can help overcome any language problems you may encounter with the local operator.

Protecting Yourself And Your Stock

If your production takes you into countries which are in political turmoil, or third world and what used to be eastern block countries, it is advisable to notify the U.S. Embassy or consulate representative in that country of your visit. Camera crew can often get caught up unintentionally in a country’s internal strife, just because of the fact that they are a television crew. When traveling through airports in the U.S., you will often be told by airport security staff that their x-ray machine will not damage your videotape stock, and as a general rule this is true. However, you should always have your stock hand-checked at some airports, especially in less developed countries, which have older, inefficient x-ray machines that emit very high levels of x-ray that can damage your stock. These guidelines should help you have a successful shoot overseas. When you arrive back home with your PAL videotapes, you do not have to rush out and have it all standards-converted to NTSC. The videotape can be edited in PAL at a post-production facility in the U.S. at about the same cost as editing NTSC. There are PAL edit suites in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California and Florida. Because the extra 100 lines of information in the PAL signal allow it to be standards-converted without any noticeable degradation, the finished master can be standards-converted to NTSC with little quality loss.

David Calderwood is President of New Jersey based production company, Euro-Pacific Film & Video Productions, Inc., specializing in international production and production coordination. This article first appeared in Location Update magazine

© 1995-2015, David Calderwood, Euro-Pacific Film & Video Productions, Inc
All Rights Reserved


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CARNET: What, When and How

CARNET: What, When and How

by David Calderwood
Senior Executive Producer, Euro-Pacific Film & Video Productions, Inc.

Travelling internationally with film, video and photographic equipment requires a great deal of extra planning and legal documentation. When entering a country with professional equipment one will usually be required to pay taxes based on the equipment’s value or to post a refundable cash bond equal to the amount of tax payable. The bond is used as security for the country’s Customs authority. If one leaves the country without the equipment, or one sells it, Customs will use the cash bond to pay the tax or import duty that is payable on the equipment. It is unlikely that one has any intention of selling a camera or leaving a lighting kit behind, but one’s word is not going to stop a diligent Customs official from doing his job; they are there to stop illegal imports.

The Carnet, which has been used internationally for nearly 50 years, allows a company to import temporarily, film, video and photographic equipment, without having to pay Customs duties or taxes. It also reduces the rigorous documentation requirements at every border post, and saves valuable time waiting at airports or border crossings.

The English translation of the French word carnet (kahr-nay) is ‘book of tickets.’ A Carnet is a book of transfer tickets: a film and video equipment passport for international travel. It must be shown to Customs officials when crossing international borders, and when entering and leaving a country. The Carnet is a bonded guarantee that the equipment listed will not be sold in the country that one is visiting. There are three basic categories of Carnet:

  • Professional Equipment (PE)
  • Commercial Samples (CS)
  • Exhibitions & Fairs (EF)

Film, video and photographic equipment falls under the PE category which includes equipment for the press or television broadcasting; cinematographic equipment; equipment for testing or repair of machinery; or other equipment of the calling, trade or profession of a person visiting abroad to perform a specific task.


The United States Council for International Business is the organization responsible for the guaranteeing and issuing of Admission Temporaire – Temporary Admission (ATA) Carnet in the United States. The Council is the U.S. affiliate of the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce that administers the Carnet System internationally, and has ATA Carnet offices in eight major U.S. cities. A basic fee of between $150 and $350 is charged for the Carnet, depending on the value of the equipment to be covered. The basic fee includes up to eight sets of counterfoil / voucher sheets. The top section of the sheet is called the counterfoil and the bottom section is the voucher. Sheets are issued in sets. A ‘yellow’ set for leaving and re-entering the U.S., a ‘white’ set for entering and exiting a foreign country and a ‘blue’ (transit) set for passing through or stopping over in one country in order to enter another.

Changes that came into effect in 1992, allow production companies travelling on a Carnet, to enter the European Community and move freely between European member countries without the need of blue transit forms. The Carnet is presented at the first point of entry into the European Community and again at the final exit point. Once clearance is granted, one can travel freely within the current European Community countries (Switzerland is not a member of the EC) without the need to have the Carnet and equipment checked into and out of each country. However, with the addition of new countries, these regulations may change, so all countries that are to be visited should be listed on the Carnet and the blue transit forms carried for each country.

A set of counterfoil / vouchers must be issued for every country that a visit is planned, for each exit and re-entry into the U.S., and for each transit. If there is a requirement for more than eight sets of counterfoil / vouchers sheets, additional sets will be supplied without limit at a cost of $5.00 per set.

When applying for a Carnet allow at least five working days for the application to be processed. However, if an emergency does arise, a Carnet can be processed in 24 hours at an additional charge of $100. It is important however, to call the local Carnet issuing office to check if the office is able to offer an expedited service. The carnet application must include the security guarantee deposit and the “General List” which lists all of the equipment that is to be taken on the trip.

  • The General List must include:
  • A complete and specific description of each item
  • The manufacturer’s name, serial and/or model number
  • The country in which the equipment was originally  manufactured
  • The quantity of each particular item
  • The total weight of each line item
  • The total cost of each line item (For example: four  pieces with a value of $50 each should be listed at a  total value of $200.)

To avoid delays, use the commercial value (insured value) of the equipment. Do not list consumable items such as rolls of gaffer tape, gels, or a first-aid kit, as they cannot be included on the Carnet. Other important information that will be needed for the application is a list of the countries that one will visit and the countries that one will transit through. The anticipated departure date from the U.S. should also be included.


All Carnet applicants must furnish the U.S. Council with a security guarantee deposit. The amount of the guarantee deposit will be in the penalty amount of 40% of the total value of the equipment as listed on the general list. However, if going to Israel or Korea a penalty amount of 100% of the total value of the equipment will be required. The security deposit is used to reimburse the U.S. Council in the event that it incurs a liability or loss in connection with the issuance of the Carnet, or its use. The security deposit will be returned, providing that the original Carnet has been returned to the U.S. Council at the conclusion of the last covered trip, it is in proper order, and no claims or costs are anticipated. When returning the Carnet, one must request in writing that the security deposit be returned or cancelled.

Although a Carnet is good for only one year, it may be necessary for the U.S. Council to hold the security deposit for up to 30 months or longer in the event that a claim has been lodged, or until any claim has been resolved. The amount of the security guarantee deposit may be in the form of a Certified Check or a Surety Bond. Companies that pay an annual fee to be a member of the U.S. Council have the option of supplying a Written Agreement (W/A) as security. Membership is only viable for companies that use a large number of Carnet each year. It is not for the one-time Carnet user.

As it is unlikely that one will want to deposit a certified check for 40% of the total value of the equipment, the best option is a Surety Bond. The premium for posting a Carnet guarantee bond through the U.S. Council instead of a certified check, is 1% of the amount of the guarantee. This 1% premium is of the bond amount and not the value of the equipment. For example, if the General List has equipment listed at a value of $50,000, the security deposit bond required is 40%, or $20,000. The premium for posting a Surety Bond is 1% of the $20,000, or $200. The premium is not refundable and covers the full 30 month Carnet bond period. If the applicant is an individual or a small privately held company, there will probably be a requirement to supply recent financial records before the application is approved.

A Surety Bond may also be arranged through an independent Surety Insurance company. However, the company must be on a list of Sureties that are approved by the Department of the Treasury. All guarantees must contain the same text as the U.S. Council’s Carnet guarantee form.

A security deposit is not required for Federal, State and Local Government agencies. In lieu of the security these agencies must submit a “Refundable Claim Deposit” of $250 per Carnet which will be returned if the Carnet is returned to the U.S. Council within 30 days of the expiration date and has been properly validated by each foreign Customs. The deposit is in addition to the Carnet fee.

All shipments with a value of over $2,500 will require a completed U.S. Department of Commerce “Shippers Export Declaration” prior to departing. The U.S. Council will supply the forms if they are requested. A separate declaration is required for each departure from the U.S.

© 1991-2015, David Calderwood, Euro-Pacific Film & Video Productions, Inc
All Rights Reserved


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