Images of smoke and flames engulfing parts of the Amazon rainforest have been in and out of the international news headlines in the past few weeks. With Brazil still at the start of its dry season, experts in Brazil have predicted that the worst may be still to come, so we’re expecting to see more and more foreign news crews heading to the region in the coming weeks.
The Amazon is one of the most challenging environments in which to film at the best of times but reporting from the worst affected regions requires an extra level of planning, given the added risks from the fires and the spike in violence at the frontlines of deforestation.
Staying safe, being comfortable and having access to the latest information are all essential for foreign camera crews. Read on for Story Productions’ advice on what to pack and how to mitigate the many risks inherent in shooting in The Amazon.
- Hire a security detail
Not only does the Amazon have a broad range of residents, from indigenous communities living on protected reserves to rubber tappers, it also has a number of national borders. When it comes to security, the risks are just as varied, and can include river pirates and armed illegal loggers in some areas. Combine that with the recent IBAMA – Brazil’s environmental agency – budget cuts, which has left the agency without resources for patrolling and enforcement, and the need for a private security detail for shoots is more important than ever. We recommend carrying out a thorough risk analysis during pre-production to assess the security needs.
- Hire a local fixer
Having a local fixer on hand is essential for obvious reasons that include securing access to people and places and solving unexpected equipment needs. In the current crisis, however, a local fixer is also important for finding the best locations to film, whether it’s getting permission to access private land or having up-to-the-minute information from official sources (such as military police and the fire brigade) on the direction the fires are spreading.
- Bring the right equipment
When it comes to gear, it’s important to be as lean and efficient as possible, especially if the crew is small, or the logistics involve travel by boat – the most common means of transport in the Amazon. Big fires can be unpredictable and spread fast so using long telephoto lenses – higher than 400mm – means you can capture images at a distance. Local drone operators drones are an alternative, for affordable aerial shots.
- Protect equipment against rain and heat
Rain in the Amazon can arrive with no warning and be torrential, so crews must be ready to protect equipment quickly. When using camera rain covers, make sure that air can still circulate underneath as the combination of heat and humidity are a disaster for any electronic equipment. Bring microfiber towels to dry cameras. DSLRs and digital cameras are especially sensitive to heat, so opt for robust cameras with their own ventilation systems.
- Stay charged
Crews will need to bring enough batteries to keep all equipment powered for a full day without recharging. Overnight accommodation might only have electricity for a few hours each night so bring a surge protector with multiple outlets to charge a few batteries at the same time. Most airlines ban flying with lithium batteries with more than 100Wh or 12V power, although some Brazilian airlines will allow batteries of up to 100Wh to be carried on board, albeit restricted to two per passenger. Some airlines ignore their own rules, but it's not worth taking the risk, so Story Productions tends to rent batteries from local providers in the Amazon.
- Plan transport logistics
Think of the Amazon as an unpaved wilderness where the condition of the roads can change from one day to the next at the whim of the weather. If travelling any distance by road, plan for the worst and hire a 4x4. It’s worth noting that a special licence is required in Brazil to drive a vehicle with more than six seats. Boat may be a more efficient alternative, be it a private speed boat charter or a larger, slower bus boat. For GPS signal, find out in advance if your cell phone provider has coverage in the region you plan to visit; not all of them will, especially in rural areas. Buying a prepaid SIM card for the operator with the strongest local network will make life a lot easier.
- Invest in aerial footage
Getting up above the trees in a helicopter or light aircraft is often the only way to access some parts of the Amazon, such as protected reserves or areas of primary rainforest. It’s also the most efficient – albeit expensive – way to get around. Flights can depart from a number of domestic airports in the Amazon, as well as from airports outside the region, such as Brasília.
- Wear the right clothes
To stay focused on filming, the crew need to be as comfortable as possible, as well as protected. Ants and snakes are not uncommon. Boots that protect ankles as well as leather gaiters to cover the shins are a good idea. Long sleeves and insect repellant go some way to avoiding the mosquitos, whilst sun screen and hats are essential.
- Bring a first aid kit
This might sound like another obvious point, but given the remote nature of most shoots in the Amazon, being self-sufficient is a must. Insect repellent is never 100% fool-proof so be ready with antihistamines and anti-itch creams. Anti-malarial drugs are recommended when travelling to the Amazon and it’s also important to make sure your vaccines are up to date.
- Bring drinking water
Don’t drink the tap water in Brazil, even in nice hotels, and don’t rely on bottled water being easy to buy when you are outside towns. If you’re planning to be away from civilisation for a few days, a packet of water purification tablets will come in very handy.
For more advice on filming in the Amazon, check out our production guide. Story Productions can provide support from pre-production through to local bilingual on-the-ground support during a shoot.