Filming in Rio de Janeiro: Tips & Tricks to Help You While Filming On-Location

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

Looking down over the city from up on the Corcovado or Sugarloaf Mountain, the city and its topography start to make sense. Forested mountains frame the city, just a few blocks back from its most famous beaches. Wedged in between is the upmarket Zona Sul (“South Zone”), spreading from Botafogo in Guanabara Bay, round to Copacabana, west to the chic beaches of Ipanema and Leblon, and up the steep hillsides, where expensive condominiums and favelas sit side by side. Heading north, around the shores of the bay and inland lies the city center and the sprawling northern suburbs. And way out west, along the coast, is Barra da Tijuca, with its Miami-like strip malls, long beaches, and the Olympic Park.

The city’s peculiarities go well beyond its one-of-a-kind geography, and using a local production team can help foreign crews avoid common pitfalls. Here are our tips on getting the most from a shoot in Rio de Janeiro:

  1. Avoid Carnaval

“The year only starts after Carnaval” is a common refrain in Brazil. Whilst the nationwide celebration and its warm-up, which gets going in January, is an excuse for free-spirited revelry, it slows the cogs of bureaucracy across the country. Many Brazilians take extended holidays throughout and getting anything organized can be a challenge. This is something we warn our foreign clients who plan to shoot in Brazil during January and February. Especially so in the cities where Carnaval all but brings the city to a standstill, namely Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Salvador, and Recife.

Forward planning, patience, and persistence all go some way to mitigating the headaches of organizing access, arranging interviewees and getting permission to shoot. And when Carnaval is precisely what our clients want to film, we get preproduction under way well in advance, as access and permissions take longer, and the high profile foliões (party goers, samba dancers, and musicians) tend to have their diaries full for the duration.

Filming in blocos (roving street parties) can be easier, as it’s a free-for-all and everyone is welcome; the biggest blocos can gather crowds of over a million people. But navigating a sea of drunk people covered in body paint and glitter with heavy camera equipment is not conducive to capturing the best footage. The secret again comes down to planning, knowing the route the party will take, planning the best vantage points in advance, and keeping the cameras rolling as the perfect images come and go in the blink of an eye. 

2) Use local contacts

Brazilians are social animals. Networking goes a long way to opening the right doors and accessing the right people, especially in Rio de Janeiro where social circles tend to be tight and having personal contacts is fundamental in professional spheres.

“You have to make friends with people,” says Raquel, one of the Story Productions fixers in Rio de Janeiro. “It’s a weird thing but it’s the way things work here. You have to go to the venue before the shoot and you have to talk to people from that place because at some point you might need them to vouch for you, especially if you are filming with foreigners. If the person knows your face it makes it easier to get access or permissions.”

Using our local network of contacts informs all of our work for clients planning shoots in Rio, from booking interviews with politicians and top executives to gleaning information from locals in investigative journalism cases.

When Australia’s 7 Network came to Rio to report on the manhunt for Mario Marcelo Santoro, our contacts led us to an exclusive interview for 7 Network, snippets of which were requoted by dozens of international media groups. Ashlea Brown, a reporter for 7 covering the case wrote about the Story Productions fixer on the job; “Carolina is not only an outstanding translator but also an intuitive, dynamic and skilled journalist. She navigated around hurdles and went above and beyond to ensure our mission to produce quality journalism was successfully achieved.”

3) Bridge cultural barriers

Building up a good rapport with people always delivers the best results on camera. That’s universal. But in Rio de Janeiro, where the locals especially love to talk, honing that skill goes way beyond just speaking the language. Directors and field producers have to be good listeners, put in the groundwork to build up trust, and have a knack for keeping interviewees on point without being impatient.  

It’s a skill that proves invaluable time and again for our clients, most recently on a Texas Crew shoot in Rio de Janeiro. But also in longer partnerships, such as with RTL’s correspondent in Brazil, Benjamin Fuchs, who hired a Story Productions crew to cover the 2014 Fifa World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games with him.

“You can’t underestimate the cultural barriers,” Fuchs says. “We considered flying in a German camera operator for The World Cup, but it was so much better with a local. They had the initiative to step in at the right time, the sensitivity to avoid cultural clashes. They’ve worked abroad, they understand the European perspective, and are great translators of cultural bridges.”

4) Security and filming in favelas

Rio de Janeiro often makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons; the last four state governors are all in prison,  and gang violence is rife. Security is a major factor, therefore, to consider for any production in Rio de Janeiro, and Story Productions’ crew always includes a security detail.

On the beach, even in large open spaces, as safe as a venue can seem it’s essential to always have a professional keeping a close eye on equipment, especially during holiday periods when there are more people on the streets. There are situations, however, when a security guard isn’t the best or only way of mitigating danger. Such as filming in favelas.

Getting approval from the favela residents, or the controlling drug gang if there is one, is an essential first step. “I go to the favela ahead of the shoot and find out the latest on organized crime in the favela,” explains Raquel, one of Story Productions’ Rio fixers. “If a gang is in control, I talk to the leader, or I talk to the police that negotiates with the gang, or I talk to someone who lives there who can mediate with the gang and take me to them so I can explain that the shoot isn’t going to expose them. On our last shoot, in Rocinha, we were with favela residents the whole day whilst shooting – that’s the best security you can have.”

5) Predicting the unpredictable

Cariocas (Rio natives) have a laid back approach to timing and commitment. Yes doesn’t always mean yes, and no can sometimes mean maybe. So no matter how meticulous the shooting schedule, plans can unravel quickly, and it’s essential to have a plan B to get the most out of the day.

“People often cancel or reschedule interviews at the last minute, so if we get a sudden gap in the schedule, we always have a backup plan to get ahead with filming other venues or interviews scheduled for later in the shoot,” says Story Productions’ cameraman Daniel.

The weather is another unknown that can upend the best-laid plans. “In Rio de Janeiro, in summer especially, the sun comes and goes from one minute to the next and it can rain suddenly with no warning,” explains Raquel. “You really can’t predict the weather so it’s important to always have two filming options – exterior and interior.” The Story Productions’ fixers always scout out all locations in advance, looking at the position of the sun at different times of day and making sure there’s shade.

Traffic can be unpredictable although rush hour, and its miles of traffic jams, are a twice-daily certainty. Our shooting schedules, therefore, factor this in, avoiding car journeys at peak times and always using local drivers who know the best routes and the bottlenecks. Depending on their proximity, we usually recommend having no more than two or three shoot locations in a day.

Last but not least, filming in Rio requires jogo de cintura – a very Brazilian expression, invoking an image of a footballer dribbling their opponent, but which means the ability to think quickly on your feet and avoid tricky situations.

Planning a shoot in Rio? Get in touch

About Story Productions

The Story Productions team is a network of talented professionals based mainly in São Paulo, Porto Alegre and Manaus, but they have a toehold in cities in between. Headed by British, Austrian and French producer, Nick Story, Story Productions seamlessly bridges cultural barriers and can work across five languages (Spanish, English, French, and German as well as Portuguese). They help clients to craft narratives with real impact, across documentaries, reality TV formats, news, commercials, corporate videos, and branded content. 

Images source: Story Productions

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