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  • Writer's pictureNicklas Karpaty, FSF

Adventures in Cinematography: Shooting Around the World

As a Director of Photography (DoP) who thrives on diverse locations and cultures, I've been fortunate to capture stories across the globe. From hot deserts to bustling cities, each shoot presents unique challenges and incredible experiences – all of which translate into better storytelling. As I´m currently gearing up for another overseas adventure, I thought I'd share some insights that might be helpful for your next shoot, wherever in the world it takes you!

© Nicklas Karpaty, FSF
Saddam Hussein´s palace in Babel, next to our shooting location
© Nicklas Karpaty, FSF
Beautiful Puglia, south Italy

Cultural Chameleon: Adapting Your Approach

In Iraq, filming a feature film pilot under a scorching 53°C sun near Babylon's ancient ruins was no easy feat. Working with a local, enthusiastic crew (larger productions often rely on experienced crews from nearby regions), communication was key. While my Iraqi gaffer didn't speak much English, a shared passion for visuals and my pre-made lighting mood boards bridged the gap. It's a reminder that filmmaking, at its core, is a universal language of storytelling. Other challenges included recurring power drops and Adhan (prayer call) that can and will stress you while on time limits.

Adapting to the Beat: Culture, Crew and Collaboration

Whether it's navigating the slum of Dhaka for "Slave Queen" (check out my previous post! ) or scouting IKEA locations in Shanghai, pre-production research is crucial. Understanding the local film industry, crew, infrastructure and equipment availability is essential (Bangladesh had a unique 'old-school' tech park!). But even more important is adapting to local cultures. In Dhaka, the director, familiar with the slum environment, ensured our safety while filming. We were met with immense curiosity and service from friendly locals!

Building Bridges: International Film Teams

Commercial shoots can be ever so enriching. Shooting in Lithuania, the US or China, the crews are equally friendly, professional and passionate. Local rental houses offered familiar tools (though Bangladesh presented its own unique charm!). It's more than just equipment – it's about fostering a collaborative spirit. While some cultures have a stronger hierarchy ("sir" in many places), I believe in a team environment where everyone feels valued and encouraged to contribute. Size of team also differs a great deal. A normal crew here in Sweden would range bw 25-35, in Dhaka it could easily be over 100 on set.

Beyond the Frame: A World of Experiences

Filming isn't just about the work; it's about exploration. Shooting telecom commercials in Rwanda allowed me to connect with our driver, who shared his harrowing experiences during the Rwandan Civil War. Sitting on the rooftop of a crowded train in Bangladesh, filming our main character sing, or following the former queen of Iran, Farah Pahlavi, into the Cheops pyramid – These are all unforgettable experiences.

Food for Thought: Cultural Buffets

Catering reflects the local culture. Moroccan mornings began with sweet mint tea and baguettes, followed by lavish couscous lunches. Bangladesh offered classic biriyani while China allowed for interactive ingredient selection. From Argentinian Malbec with prime steaks to Kenyan seafood near the Italian-influenced coast, each location offered a delicious adventure. As coffe is important for me, it has been a good idea to sometimes bring my own beans and Moka express.

Packing Light, Thinking Big: Prepping for Success

Before each shoot, I research the film industry infrastructure and equipment availability. On fiction shoots there is no benefits on bringing my own equipment whereas on a documentary shoot, I normally bring most of the stuff I need as it can take time to juggle the rental places and difficult insurance policies. Vaccinations and preventative measures are crucial and I try not to dwell on potential dangers. Instead, I focus on the common ground we share – a passion for storytelling.

The Takeaway: A World of Opportunity Awaits

The world is a vast, cinematic stage. By understanding cultural nuances, adapting shooting styles and embracing collaboration, you too can leverage international locations to elevate your projects.

Looking for a DoP who thrives in diverse environments and cultures? Let's chat! I'm a problem-solver, a team player and a steady companion on your global storytelling journey. My website and portfolio i also here!

P.S. Night sleep is essential! While some shoots have luxurious hotels, others offer more rustic accommodations (like slum sheds and tents!). But hey, that's all part of the adventure! (And the pool at Baghdad Hotel was a true oasis during that 53°C shoot!)

What else would you like to know about shooting internationally? Leave a comment below!

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