travels with greg – day 1.2


This is the third part of Travels with Greg, the story of a six-week documentary shoot in Europe in the fall of 2004. You can read parts 1 and 2 here and here.


At eight in the morning the offices were usually empty, with the exception of a couple of editors finishing the graveyard shift, trudging up and down the halls in sock feet and eating from cups of ichiban. The only other person in the building iwas Angela, the production coordinator, her eyes foggy with the early hour. Angela’s job was to get us to the airport and make sure we have all the equipment and paperwork necessary to get us through the next six weeks.


The equipment, all 200+ pounds of the stuff in two oversized, armoured and padded cases, was chiefly concerned with the production and manipulation of light. We had flags, blacks and hoods to block light. We had silks and bounces to diffuse and direct light. We had cookies and gobos to slice light into patterns that suggested venetian blinds, or cut it into mottles meant to emulate an unseen canopy. We had bits of fake greenery to cast shadows. One betacam, one DVcam, one 16mm Arri, one still camera to capture the light. Tapes and film stock to record it all.

Then the jumble of extension cords and electrical equipment, bags of clothespins, c-stands and tripods, convertors and adaptors, power supplies and battery packs, along with a light meter, a monitor, and tools for any bizarre situation. A mini-boom, two lapel mics. Then there were the lights themselves in a separate case: two 150 watts, two 300 watts, and a hulking 650 that would stun your eyes into submission if you happened to be looking at it when the switch was thrown. Greg had packed it all the night before, but we went over it again; a crew doing reenactment shooting might have come in during the night and cannibalized our gear.

We started loading the stuff into the van, piling our own luggage on top of the equipment. Our suitcases always ended up carrying around forty pounds of gear in order to avoid overweight baggage fees. It was part of a game played between our company and the airlines. The weight limit would drop; we would buy lighter equipment. The weight limit would drop again; we would find something even lighter. I could see the day coming when our gear would be reduced to a Polaroid camera and a notepad. We slammed the back door shut and climbed into the van.

The starting of the van marked my first moment of panic. This was the point when I was absolutely certain that I’d forgotten something crucial and obvious, like Beta tapes or my binder of interview questions, and we wouldn’t figure it out until the first shooting day. A few nights before I’d had a dream in which I’d forgotten everything, even Greg, and I’d tried to compensate by writing extensive notes, but my notes turned out to be indecipherable doodles when I returned. It was the dream equivalent of appearing in a play whose lines you had inexplicably forgotten to memorize.

What have I forgotten? I said to Angela. What have I forgotten? Shit. Shit!

What? Nothing.

Greg looked out the window. He was used to my panicky moments.

I knew that we had everything we needed, but to assuage the screaming lunatic inside me I checked my backpack for the two items that were my main responsibility: the binder and the carnet.



My company didn’t have any folky proverbs, but if they did, one would definitely be “Better that a field producer lose his arm than his binder”. The trip binder contains absolutely everything I need to make the shoot work: call sheets, fact sheets, interview questions, maps and directions, names and numbers by the dozen, insurance forms and rental slips, appearance, material and location releases, broadcaster letters, you name it. There is nothing worse than losing the binder. I once left it on the floor in a hallway in a hotel at the end of the world in Newfoundland. We were an hour on the highway before I figured it out.



The other folksy proverb would run something like “Better that a field producer lose his binder than our carnet”. The ATA carnet, pronounced kar-nay and short for the catchy carnet de passages en douanes, is an international document meant to expedite the temporary importation of professional goods through customs. Everything you’re carrying with you is listed carefully and exactly on your carnet, with serial numbers, country of origin and value.

The ostensible purpose of the carnet is to make the customs process relatively painless and smooth for all parties. In truth, the carnet is a shaggy, mangy monster of multicoloured sections (called feuilles for perversity’s sake) and detachable sheets that will, 9 times out of 10, produce audible grunts of hatred from customs officers the world over.

Here is the set of stocks that the carnet puts you in. There is a better than even chance that you are more familiar with the carnet than is the customs officer who has to fan through the lumpy document. Therefore you’re in a unique position to guide and advise the officer. You’re also in a unique position to get into a world of shit if you try to advise or guide the confused, bored, tired, or pissed-off official who’s holding your carnet.

If you’re lucky, the customs person will ask you what the hell he or she is supposed to do with it. If you’re unlucky, he or she will start writing in the wrong area of the document, or start asking questions that you can’t answer. Then you can expect to be there for an hour as a team of Customs officers crosschecks every piece of equipment you have against the list. That’s when you discover the slumbering bureaucratic beast that lives and grows in the gutters between sovereign states.


7 Responses to “travels with greg – day 1.2”

  1. The Carnet’s my favourite part of this one. Just enough ‘Node amongst the details. More, I say!

  2. 2 LynnieC

    Steve and Cory lost “The Binder” on their way home from a trip to LA in January. Never has there been such swearing etc coming from the basement as the day Casey and I found out that we’d have to get all of our release forms signed again.

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