Who doesn’t love a nice sound stage where every last detail is under the crew’s control?
But if you work in production long enough, a time will come when a project calls for shooting in the elements. And the elements are anything but controllable. So, how do you deal with them?
When it comes to dealing with weather on shoots, you have two priorities: one, the safety of your cast and crew and two, the safety of your equipment.
We’re going to break down how to protect both under a myriad of different extreme weather circumstances that can and probably will come up if you work in the industry long enough.
Let’s get into it.
Before we dive into different extreme weather scenarios, let’s address the elephant in the room: Why would you choose to shoot in the elements in the first place?
For one, it’s likely not even your choice.
Maybe the budget necessitates it. Perhaps the script calls for it. Whatever it is, it’s your job to work with what the project calls for—within reason.
As mentioned, safety is the number one priority, so if you feel like a production isn’t taking proper safety precautions specific to shooting in extreme weather, you have to walk away, but we’ll get into that more in a bit.
Secondly, shooting within a sound stage, shielded from weather leaves opening for other issues. More work to recreate scenes that necessitate certain conditions or backdrops like snowfall that cost money.
For the sake of authenticity and budget, a production will likely choose an actual location with the desired elements regardless of the inherent complications that might go along with it.
So, what might those complications be?
Glad you asked…
Let’s say you have a shoot that’s taking you to a frozen tundra or even a glacier. What does that mean outside of the obvious advice of: stay warm?
Many people intuitively know that they should drink more hydrating fluids when out in hot weather, but this advice is just as important when temperatures fall below freezing.
Colder climates are generally drier climates, which makes the risk of dehydration high on a shoot. So make sure everyone from the first-billed cast member to every last crew member is drinking enough hydrating fluids.
If need be, make a schedule to add to the call sheet where everyone takes a water break to ensure adequate hydration.
Do not underestimate warm clothing. Layer up, as layers will help to retain body heat. Wearing protective gear for extremities, including feet, hands, and ears, is likewise crucial, as these body parts are often the first to suffer from frostbite and other cold-weather-related issues.
But you might also want to look into gear that will help prevent accidents, such as snowshoes. Falling on a slick patch of snow or ice can quickly derail a shoot – not to mention the medical care required to address possible injuries.
Batteries and extreme cold are mortal enemies. Pro-tip: if you're not careful, the cold usually wins. So before you find yourself with a dead battery on your hands, take preventative action to ensure a successful shoot.
When you're not using them, keep your batteries in a heated space--- like a car or even a bag with some heat packs. If those options aren’t available, carry them on your body so that your body heat can protect them.
You may not shoot in sub-freezing temperatures, but you still need to be mindful of precipitation---rain being the most likely. So, what specifics should you be aware of under these circumstances?
It’s certainly uncomfortable and possibly dangerous to have your cast and crew trying to complete a shoot with wet clothing. In particular, wet socks can quickly lead to injured skin, hypothermia, and more. So make sure to have the necessary gear on hand.
That means lots of dry, clean socks that your cast and crew can change into whenever they need them. But if you’re heading out to a wet location, keep your cast and crew dry and comfortable with waterproof hats, jackets, and towels as well.
While your cast may not be able to wear this gear during their scenes, you can still protect them by having tents or trailers on set to keep them out of the elements when they’re not actively shooting a scene.
Waterproof gear also extends to your equipment.
You don’t want water compromising the integrity of your camera and other gear, so use shields and other protective aids that will keep them dry under wet conditions. If possible, configure tarps or umbrellas to cover your equipment to ensure rain does not damage it.
Protecting your equipment from rain is critical. But, keep in mind that moving your gear too quickly from one temperature to another can also cause damage.
When you move your equipment too fast from a dry storage spot to a humid shooting spot, you risk condensation buildup that, at best, will delay your ability to use it and, at worst, may permanently ruin your camera or other gear.
To avoid this issue, gradually introduce your equipment to any markedly different climate. Allow it to acclimate before you start shooting with it.
Okay, so you’re not dealing with snow or rain---awesome. But what if you’re going to be filming somewhere that is windy?
The wind might sound like more of an inconvenience than an actual threat to your shoot, but make no mistake, it can prove disastrous if you don’t take the necessary precautions.
Even a sporadic gust of wind can cause a piece of equipment to fall or fly away, instantly making it a dangerous weapon for anyone in its path. As with falls on icy patches, what you don’t want is for a cast or crew member to get hit with said piece of equipment.
So when shooting in windy conditions, secure everything you can from your camera stand to lights to crafty tables and more. Sandbags and zip ties are your friends here, so use them generously to make sure that nothing moves from exactly where you have placed it.
Even if the call sheet warns that it’ll be a hot day for shooting, make sure that everyone on set is properly protected from the high temps and complications that can go along with them.
Yep, this tip really can’t be overstated. While multiple factors can lead to heat-related issues like heat exhaustion or heat stroke, dehydration is easily avoidable so long as your cast and crew drink up. So, remind them!
It might sound counterintuitive to cover up when temperatures soar, but it is necessary. Otherwise, you’ll have a big problem on your hands if your cast or crew suffers from sunburn or other similar injuries simply because they didn't have protective gear.
Especially for your crew who are expected to be out in extreme heat for multiple hours at a time---invest in lightweight protective attire that will allow sweat to evaporate while also providing a protective layer between their skin and the sun.
Even with ample fluids and protective attire, extreme heat can quickly lead to health issues if your cast and crew don’t have an opportunity to cool off periodically during your shoot.
If your cast has trailers, let them retreat to them every chance they can to get out of the heat. If motorhomes are out of your budget, be sure to set up fans and tents for everyone on the shoot to ensure that they can remove themselves from direct sunlight when necessary.
Cooled washcloths can also prove highly effective at providing much-needed relief if an air-conditioned space isn’t available.
No matter what conditions you might be shooting in, always have on set a professional medic.
If you take all necessary precautions, a medic hopefully will only have to observe while shooting. But should there be an issue on account of cold, hot, or wet conditions, you want to make sure that you have someone readily available to address their physical concerns.
To be abundantly clear, when dealing with the weather on shoots, do not cut corners and forego a medic. It can mean significant loss – both financial and potential loss of life – should something go wrong.
If the shoot’s budget cannot accommodate a medic, walk from the project.
When dealing with the weather on set, what does it mean to have a plan B?
In short, be prepared for the unexpected.
While you might be ready to shoot in extreme heat or cold, there are limits even for the most prepared crew.
If a snowstorm or hurricane suddenly makes it to set, a plan B might mean getting to safety as soon as possible. Waiting it out has to be an option. The budget and schedule complications that might arise from this decision are always secondary to safety.
But sometimes, plan B means adjusting to unforeseen scenarios. Maybe you are filming in the desert, and a gust of wind rolls in and kicks up sand, or the temperature turns out to be 20 degrees warmer than anticipated.
In such cases, that means having additional equipment ready to address those issues (you can never have too many zip ties) – or an emergency budget available for a production assistant to go out and buy more water.
Speaking of budget, how does money play into adjusting to extreme weather?
The truth is---often, not enough money is allotted for such circumstances. That's why it's up to you to know way ahead of time if the production has made the necessary monetary accommodations.
Is there money for extra tarps to shield from unexpected rain, for water, sunscreen, and any other protective necessity? Most importantly, has a medic been hired for the shoot?
Know this information beforehand.
And again, speak up if you feel like necessary precautions aren't being taken. While unfortunate, walking away from an unsafe and ill-equipped project might be the only recourse you can take.
Dealing with the weather on shoots is a part of production life. Crossing your fingers and hoping for the best is most definitely not the way to handle it. Protect your crew and equipment with the right insurance policy.
With the proper precautions, you can ensure both the safety and success of your project.
At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice. You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.