Filming in the mountains

Filming in wild and remote places offers huge rewards of exciting and ever-changing dramatic views, however, these locations can also pose their own series of problems to a production. Here are a few ideas to help when filming in the mountains or in a moving water environment.

The two main factors that will affect you are weather and access. In the mountainous areas of the UK for example, at 1000m’s above sea level (the height of most of Scotland’s mountains), the wind will be three times faster than at ground level, it will be twice as wet and on average 8 degrees cooler. It therefore doesn’t take much to create difficult working conditions that are potentially dangerous.

As reliable and much improved as weather forecasts are, it is difficult to forecast with much accuracy beyond five days, so when scheduling months in advance your weather luck is in the hands of the gods.

Within the mountains, river levels can rise quickly after rainfall making them unworkable locations that are too dangerous. Constantly changing conditions in many European countries for example mean you need to have a flexible approach and be well prepared.

What to wear

One of the biggest challenges faced by a crew filming outside is their lack of suitable outdoor clothing and waterproof boots. It’s difficult to appreciate what conditions will be like if you are far away from and have no experience of these environments, but imagining it being wetter and colder than you have ever been is a good place to start and anything better on the day will be a bonus.

There are lots of good fabrics available these days to keep you dry and warm. Tight fitting wicking thermals make good base layers to wick sweat away, micro fleeces next to insulate, soft shell jackets to keep the wind off, waterproof jackets and trousers act as an outer hard-shell to keep you dry, waterproof hiking boots, synthetic ‘belay’ jackets for extra warmth (similar to goosedown, but better in the rain) and all crew should have a hat and gloves.

In our years of working on productions, spare warm gloves and warm jackets are the most popular items we hand out. While outdoor equipment is expensive it will last many, many years and is worth the investment.

Additionally, at other times of the year you might need ski goggles, sun hats, shorts or extra sun cream, so it’s always worth taking advice before you travel.

While the crew are all wrapped up, talent’s costumes may be less suitable. This is totally fine and manageable as long as shelter and warm clothes for the talent is available in between takes. Leaving a cold actor to stand about while batteries are being changed or cables are being run won’t get the most out of them.

Keeping crews happy in the mountains

Shooting Prometheus

Considering the reality of your location, the majority of mountainous and moving water environments are far away from any sort of welfare, therefore ensuring everybody’s well fed in the morning and that there is enough food and hot drinks on set is important. A warm meal delivered at lunchtime can really make a big difference to a crew who’ve mainly been sedentary.

Tents and shelters provide a break from the weather and help to keep spirits up, but a gazebo or something similar will just blow away so it needs to be designed for the mountains (see an example of this on the photo of the set of Prometheus).

How to get there

Getting access to these locations requires the skills of a good location manager and a good relationship with the landowner/ manager is essential. Make sure you have the correct permissions before accessing land.

Regular vehicles can only be taken so far before off-road vehicles, helicopters or walking are required. Many productions opt to have crew and porters carry equipment and often this is the most efficient way to do it, however you still need to consider how the equipment will be carried, do you have enough large rucksacks what equipment is required etc?

Productions with larger budgets hire off-road vehicles and drivers. These vehicles will take you along estate roads and allow you to access a lot of mountainous and remote terrain, but inevitably some walking is required and it is important to be dressed and prepared for this. Helicopters are a quick way to get a crew and equipment to a location. An expensive option with one major limitation, poor weather. Helicopters won’t fly in low cloud when there is poor visibility.

Safety Teams

Once you’ve accessed your location, if it’s remote and challenging enough you’ll need to have a safety team with you. Your safety team need to be qualified, experienced, insured and have a dynamic attitude to help achieve the outcomes of the production. You need to check your safety team have the correct levels of qualifications and are experienced working alongside productions. It’s also worth checking that the insurance cover held by your safety team incudes working with TV and film productions. This will enable things to keep running smoothly.

In these locations the crew must all be aware of their whereabouts and the risks associated with it. When working near cliff edges whether on a mountain or beside a river, it’s best to have as few people close to edge as possible. Camera checks, costume checks etc can all be done away from the edge before moving only essential people into location. Despite safety briefings, crews always seem curious to look over the edge of any cliff to see what’s there. A natural curiosity is OK to have, but these locations need to be considered as a place of work where serious risks do exist.

Allow for extra time when scheduling your day if there is a need for crew or cast to be put into positions where ropes and rock climbing techniques or canoes and boats are to be used. These types of locations can be accessed and the risks managed accordingly, but inevitably it takes a little longer.

First Aid provision on your set is a H&S requirement, this will be provided by any safety team in the first instance, but can be backed-up by having a paramedic with experience of working in mountains at base or close at hand.

Keeping it safe and simple

Planning and preparation is key to any successful shoot. Risk assessing your remote and challenging location, identifying all the potential hazards and problems that may exist will help you tackle them should they develop.

Being realistic about the weather and having a flexible approach with a ‘plan B’ gives you greater confidence about using a location, and finally, being efficient and organized keeps crews active and warm which has a greater benefit to the overall production.