Written by Bud Theisen on Sep 3, 2013. Posted in Contributors

Filming ultra-light on location in Chile and Peru and Bolivia

Film productions are increasingly travelling with ultra-light equipment in the South American countries of Chile, Peru and Bolivia.

Chile has established itself as a popular filming destination, complete with specialist equipment including Technocranes, Russian arms, helicopter mounts and even a Milo motion control rig. All the newest digital cameras and optics have arrived, including anamorphic lenses. With the diversity of locations available within a couple of hours’ drive around the capital Santiago, most commercial shoots coming to Chile start their location search here. But over the country’s 4,500 kilometres, there are many locations where a small crew is much more convenient.

When 2011 action-adventure film Wrath of the Titans shot aerial photography for the film’s opening sequence, I got them permission to fly a helicopter between the towering peaks of Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, something that had never been done before. Going light makes sense in this part of the country, since it's remote at a four-hour flight south of Santiago - plus several hours of driving - and so removed from the rest of the continent that fuel, food, lodging and rentals are 50% more expensive than anywhere else in Chile.

There are also reasons to go ultra-light in Santiago. Just recently London agency Hugo & Cat brought director David Betteridge to shoot a documentary-style campaign for Nokia. David brought his own DSLR rig, plus a few GoPro cameras. We also used a tracking rig called an Eco-tracker developed by local Key Grip Alejandro Medrano. We followed some young urban cyclists around picturesque neighbourhoods of the city with a local crew of just eight, which as a producer means covering everything from casting, locations and transport - all hands on deck!

The most exciting aspect of DSLR shooting is opening up hard-to-reach locations and still getting great image quality. Peru and Bolivia are two emerging film destinations where going ultra-light is a perfect strategy.

Peru is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, but is not yet really on the radar for international production services. Machu Picchu is Peru's most iconic destination but highly restricted for filming, partly because of its popularity as a tourist attraction and also because 15 years ago a crane used for a commercial shoot permanently damaged a sundial on the site. It's a story still told by every tour guide in park. However, a small crew with a DSLR rig could still get permission, especially for a project that has some cultural component. The entry point to Machu Pichu is the city of Cuzco, which has fascinating colonial architecture and narrow winding streets.

Bolivia feels like stepping backwards in time, perfect for Old West looks, outdoor adventure and jungle terrain.

Peru also offers dramatic rainforest, coffee plantations, tropical beaches, railways through the Andes mountains, deserts, canyons, botanical gardens and many different agricultural terrains. Lima is a modern, bustling city of nine million people, with a number of different types of architecture - especially interesting is the Miraflores neighbourhood along the coast. The city is best used for night shoots, as a grey haze can often affect visuals during the day.

Casting in Peru is limited to Latino looks, but European and North American talent can be easily sourced in Chile or Brazil. This brings up the interesting question of whether you should hire a fixer or a service producer for an ultra-light shoot in South America. The short answer is that if you are bringing your own talent, hiring a fixer is probably the way to go. If you need local talent contracts, you'll require a service company.

Peru’s production infrastructure is at least ten years behind Chile, while Bolivia is another ten years behind that. But that is exactly what's charming about Bolivia - it feels like stepping backwards in time, perfect for Old West looks, outdoor adventure and jungle terrain. Bolivia is also home to a wide variety of indigenous communities - a point of pride for the country - and a very active part of the national culture.

The most exciting location in Bolivia is undoubtedly the Uyuni Salt Flats, an expansive white horizon that is a photographer's dream. Many in-camera effects are possible that play on depth-of-field and forced perspective. At certain times of the year Uyuni is flooded with a shallow pool of water, creating dramatic reflections ideal for car running shots. Uyuni is a rough 12-hour drive from La Paz, but fortunately a small local airport opened up last year. Accommodation is limited to a few rustic hotels and inns.

If you are bringing your own talent, hiring a fixer is probably the way to go. If you need local talent contracts, you'll require a service company.

In a surprising contrast, Bolivia also has opportunities to film luxurious settings, with large mansions available, often in gated communities. Local casting is limited, although Santa Cruz offers a pool of supermodels through Las Magnificas, an agency set up by photographer Pablo Manzoni. Another upscale destination that Bolivia has to offer is Sucre, known as The White City for its all white colonial architecture. Location permissions and visas are centralised in Bolivia via Conacine in La Paz and can be issued in a few working days.

There are a couple of Red cameras in Bolivia, but going ultra-light with a DSLR package is the best option. There are some talented local crew available, but most have limited international experience. However, we've worked out the logistics for bringing in crew and equipment from Chile and can scale up as necessary in both Peru and Bolivia.

There's never been a better time to shoot in South America - go ultra-light!

To contact Bud click here.

(Salar photo by: Juan Ramos - Artistas Latinos Corp)

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