Pre-production on a video outside the country. What's required?

Ben and I started out the year with a number of video projects. They've been well received. Unfortunately, I can't post them here as some are for an international company's in-house use while our longer, narrative project is still wending its way through approvals and final tweaks. A nice result of our success with the first flurry of work this year is that I've been booked to do the same sort of videography in early February, in Canada. While I have flown into, and worked, in many different countries over the years I have never traveled to Canada on business. So I started doing my basic research.

Various people have told me that I'll need a work visa or some other documentation to work there. According to the Canadian Customs website one does not need a temporary work visa for film or advertising projects that last fewer than 7 days. This is nice but I will proceed with my usual travel strategy of getting a letter, on company letterhead, from the U.S. company that is hiring me and will be paying me, outlining the project and the assertion that my unique skills are necessary for the project.

The second speed bump that many savvy travelers mention is that one can experience difficulties not with taking cool cameras and video gear into Canada but, rather, in the process of bringing the gear back through U.S. Customs. Since the U.S. dollar is strong, right now, against the Canadian dollar the U.S. customs people are making sure people are not bringing in camera gear purchased in Canada without paying taxes/tariffs.

The solution is very simple. One needs only to take their gear to a local U.S. Customs office and request a form #4457. Fill out the form with the models and serial numbers of the gear you will be taking out of the country. An agent will inspect the gear and confirm the serial numbers, stamp your form and wish you a bon voyage. You can show this form on your way back into the country as proof that the gear in question is already owned by you and not subject to taxes.

It's always a luxury to produce photography and video in your own town, or within 100 miles of home, because you can bring along anything you can jam into the car, or strap to the roof. When Ben and I worked on our previous projects we had a full complement of lights, along with plentiful light stands and modifiers, a Tenba case full of microphones of various types, two big tripods, sound absorbing blankets and much more crammed into the studio CRV. We also carried along multiple camera types in case we had the urge to shoot something in a different format or a different way.

Sadly, when doing streamlined travel, I'm forced to narrow down the gear list to the basics; the essentials. Otherwise I'll never make it from the front door of the airport to the car rental shuttles....

I've already selected my three cameras and my lenses but winnowing down the lights and microphones will take more discipline that I have today.

We had great success with three different cameras on the last video/photo shoot. I loved the RX10iii for a second angle camera, and for lots and lots of tele-compressed b-roll stuff. Ben wielded that camera with great alacrity. I found the a6300 to be a perfect "A" camera for me = when used with an outboard monitor to give me a headphone output. Our A7Rii was the perfect still camera and would be the perfect back-up in video for the a6300 (sounds counter intuitive but both cameras are at their best when shooting in 4K and the A7Rii makes the nicest files when used in the APS-C mode and 4K. This puts both cameras on very even footing, for video.

I'll tote along four lenses: The dynamic duo of the 24-70mm f4.0 and the 70-200mm f4.0 G lens. These two are perfect for the stills I'll need to take and can be pressed into service, if needed, for video. I'll also bring the 18-105mm f4.0 PZ G lens as it will work with either camera in the APS-C mode. Finally, I'll take along a 50mm f1.8 (probably the Zeiss Contax) for those times when I want a faster aperture along with the more limited depth of field.

If I were to pare down even more I'd just grab the RX10iii and the RX10ii and stuff them in my bag. In 4K they are very close in performance to the bigger cameras. The only downside is the limited depth of field control. Still, used wide open at a longer focal length, the model two can do a convincing job of dropping backgrounds out; provided they are far enough away....

The kludgy stuff to pack and transport are heavy, bulky things like light stands, tripods and the like. I'm contemplating getting in touch with a rental facility for the stands and tripods but I'll see just how efficiently I can pack first. The primary rule of photo logistics is to make sure every case has wheels.

With good gear, a shot list and good subjects to interview we should be able to do some really fun visual/audio content. I guess I should also pack a coat and some gloves.....


Raymond Charette said...

Where are you shooting in Canada? It's a big country!
Also, we have weather here. These days, temperatures vary greatly from -15 C. to + 5 C. Sometime in the same day. Often freezing rain and snow in the same day. Bring layers of light, warm clothing.

Have a good shoot. Please keep us posted.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Raymond, I'm shooting just outside Toronto. I figured the weather would not be like the weather we had in Texas today. After a morning meeting I decided to go to the noon swim practice. We swim outdoors (pool is heated) year round. The noon practice was packed with people; four or five to a lane. Stands to reason since it was 80 degrees (f) and the sun was blazing...

But, you must also remember that I have a kid going to school in Saratoga Springs, NY so cold isn't totally a foreign concept.

I'll bring layers of Polartec and some warm boots.


Carlo Santin said...

Hey Kirk, whereabouts just outside of Toronto? I live just outside of Toronto, but that's a big stretch of real estate we are talking about.

If you are shooting or spending any kind of time outdoors, bring along a good hat. Canadians love toques. I prefer the hats with the ear flaps and chin straps for outdoor excursions. Gloves are a must as are proper boots. Things are very wet, icy and soggy here this winter. What might seem like not too cold gets cold very quickly after 5-10 minutes without the proper clothing. Good news is that we have had a very mild winter thus far. The rest of this week is 1-3 degrees celsius, maybe some snow in the Toronto area but nothing major. Saratoga Springs would have very similar weather. Too bad you couldn't experience mounds of snow and the usual deep freeze that is January. Global warming indeed, the winters aren't what they used to be in these parts.

Lazo said...

I live an over hundred mile round trip for my closest airport with a Customs office. Here's what I did to save a trip--one can download form #4457 as a PDF directly from their website, fill in the blanks at leisure at home, then bring it to the airport with you and hope the office is open for sign-off before your travels:


Hope this helps & have a great trip!

ODL Designs said...

Hey Kirk. That is a nice surprise. .. are you just outside Toronto in mississauga? Or east?

If you are on the west side, I would love to extend an offer of a coffee putt even dinner. Obviously no obligation, and I understand these work days can be long.

Anyways, I thought I would throw it out there.


joe gilbert said...


Any thought on sending all data to cloud prior to return? I've read of a few instances where work product (data) was held/lost/destroyed upon entry into the US.


Kirk Tuck said...

Forgot to mention that I'll be near Burlington. No sure where it is, exactly, in relation to Toronto proper... Guess I should look at a map.

Michael Meissner said...

Your mention of bring gear back reminds me of the late 1970's when I was a summer exchange student in the Netherlands at the University of Twente near the German border. Several of the students in the dorm I was staying at talked of taking their cameras without a lens over the border to Germany where lens prices were much cheaper, and bringing it back attached to the camera, arguing that they had just brought their camera over the border, and that they should be responsible for the tariff.

I would think traveling with what you can in carry on gear, and renting the rest would be the best bet. The alternative is shipping it via third party carrier (FedEx, UPS, etc.). Checked luggage insurance doesn't cover camera gear and electronics (and besides if your luggage gets way laid, you can't shoot). I have heard a number of horror stories with UPS shipping to/from Canada, that I would be cautious.

Toronto is a film capital, so you should be able to find rental houses for most of the gear (unless of course you happen to come when multiple big video projects are being done). And obviously with rental gear, you don't have to worry about customs coming back.

One thing to check out is the regulations for batteries. I recall there were new laws that went into effect a few years ago (after the plane in Florida burned up due to a fire that started with a cargo full of lithium batteries and the recent problems with Samsung phones). You must carry the batteries in carry on luggage (unless you get the ok from the airline). One precaution that I've heard is putting each battery in a separate bag so they can't cause a short circuit by accident. I've seen signs that you may be asked to turn gear on in some airports, so make sure each piece of gear has some amount of charge in the batteries. I tracked down the FAA side of the regulations: https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/hazmat_safety/more_info/?hazmat=7

It looks like Canada has the same basic regulations: http://www.catsa.gc.ca/guidelines-batteries

Roland said...

burlington is 45 minutes drive from toronto with low traffic so count on an hour if you are driving in the rush hour (rush hour seems to be about 7a.m.-9pm. these days!). in the 70s it was faster but there is always traffic! (traffic has gone up what 8x in the last 30 years). There is a train but that might not be convenient/easy with all your gear.

Alex said...

Maybe pack your swimming gear, too. For a once-in-a-livetime experience?

stephen connor said...

Hi, Kirk,

In case you haven't already booked your tickets, Westjet flys from Austin to Hamilton, Ontario. From the airport there, it's a roughly 30 minute pretty much straight shot into Burlington. Much easier than going to Toronto. I've flown into Hamilton Airport many times from out here in Vancouver, on the Wet Coast.

Have a good time, however you get there.

Peter said...

Hi Kirk,

I live near Burlington. It's a 40 minute drive from Toronto Airport (but don't take the toll road or you'll get stung) if traffic is light. I second Stephen's idea of going Westjet to Hamilton, but only if you can get a direct flight. Hamilton is a closer, very small airport and Toronto is huge. I assume you must be doing an indoor shoot, as at present it is overcast, and slightly above freezing – not even interesting winter weather!

I wouldn't worry about customs. I've never had a problem in nearly 40 years of taking cameras between the US and Canada. If you go via Toronto (don't know about Hamilton), you will pass US customs on the return trip while in Toronto before you get on the plane. With thousands of people catching scores of flights, the average conversation at US customs lasts about 15 seconds. They don't have time to faf with someone who might have dodged a $20 tax bill.

While in Burlington you may want to check out Burlington Camera & Digital. They are a non-chain store that specializes in old film cameras, lenses, and associated stuff. If you are going past, take a look. For rental, your best bet is Vistek in Mississauga (half way between Toronto Airport and Burlington).

Have a great trip, unfortunately I won't get to attend any meet-up you may do, as I'll be in California and Hawaii for February. (You'll understand why when you get here!)

Peter Wright

David Lobato said...

I was in Canada in December, and a few days in and around Toronto. And I live in Texas. An unexpected hazard was encountered up North. Heating vents are often at floor level and also at the base of walls. I set down my bags, including camera equipment directly on them the first day or two I was there. I was lucky nothing was damaged. But I learned quickly to find a safer location for my bags and cases. Other than that, Canada, and Canadians, were wonderful.