- Travel is an excellent way to inspire your creativity and to accelerate your skills as a filmmaker, says Rubidium Wu. The unique challenges and constraints are extremely helpful for learning who you are as a creator.
- Wu shares tips for getting the most out of content you create on “fly-by-night” shoots. Hint: Don’t just wing it and definitely don’t use a new equipment brand for the first time, if you can help it!
- Wu also shares his best practices for shooting in NYC.
Does being well traveled make you a better filmmaker? Rubidium Wu of Canon Masterclass argues that it does — or at least that’s how it’s worked out for him.
Although much of his travel has been work-related and the tie-ins to career development are quite direct, the remote production lessons Wu’s learned have been accelerated by these trips and the unique conditions they created.
“I certainly wouldn’t have gone to as many places as I have without filmmaking as my profession, and I definitely wouldn’t be the filmmaker that I am today without all the incredible opportunities that I’ve had,” Wu says in a video for his YouTube channel, Crimson Engine.
In fact, Wu says, “I think making films in other places has taught me more about filmmaking than anything I ever did in my studio at home.”
Filmmaking has influenced his perspective on travel, and it’s also influenced how he travels, which in turn has changed how he lives at home. He explains, “I really love how a new city stimulates your perception of things, and how coming back to your home changes the way that you look at your everyday routine. Everything appears somehow new, offering fresh angles and untapped stories, waiting to be told.”
Additionally, Wu says, “As [travel] filmmakers, we are first and foremost observers. And we strive to condense an entire experience down to a series of images edited together, it underscores the responsibility and the opportunity that we have as storytellers.”
In more concrete terms, “the art of travel filmmaking is an exercise in intentional minimalism, each piece of equipment, every lens, every microphone has to earn its place because you’re going to have to carry it every step of the way. It’s about distilling your toolkit down to the essentials, ensuring each item serves a purpose.”
But rather than complain about this, Wi says he is “constantly looking for ways to further reduce what I have to bring with me. This constraint rather than being limiting, can actually be incredibly liberating. It pushes you to innovate, to think outside the box and to truly understand what’s at the core of the story that you’re trying to tell.”
Travel filmmaking also often means working with a skeleton crew or with people you’ve never met before.
Wu says, “Being on the road often means playing multiple roles, sometimes being the entire film crew, even the talent.”
Going solo can mean “that every frame somehow becomes personal, something new created and fought for. You can’t do elaborate setups and clever camera moves. You can’t distract from the essence of the story.”
Wu says this type of work “reminds me of the dogma movement of the 90s. It was a commitment to raw, unfiltered storytelling. Their idea was to make films without the crutch of big sets, special effects multiple locations, Steadicam ADR, and it really reinvigorated European filmmaking that had sort of lost its way trying to copy Hollywood. It really is a challenge, a call to focus on the human element, and the genuine human experiences that make films worth watching.”
Additionally, “Collaboration is another facet of travel filmmaking that offers many, many lessons,” Wu says. “Engaging with local partners and navigating the language barriers and adapting to their working styles pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to experiment with new processes, new equipment, new ways of doing what you’ve done.”
Travel Cinematography Best Practices
Practice at home. “If you’re doing something mission critical that you can only do once, that you’ve invest a lot of time and money, and you don’t want to leave it to chance, you want to have practiced that thing before,” Wu explains. “You want to have shot a scene similar to it in a similar location, if possible.”
Stick with what you know when possible. “Work with the same gear consistently from shoot to shoot,” Wu recommends. “If you jump from camera system to camera system, or lighting brand to lighting brand, everything works a little bit differently. And you are often going to get yourself stuck in places and having to discover problems that you didn’t know were going to happen on set. Or even worse, when you get back from set in the editing room and something looks nothing like you wanted to look.”
Embrace the challenge. “Another reason to do this sort of filmmaking is to find out for yourself, what kind of filmmaking you enjoy,” Wu says. “What your strengths are, what your weaknesses are, and how you want to challenge yourself. Filmmaking should never be a walk in the park. If it’s too easy, you’re not being ambitious enough.”
Headed to New York?
Wu has a set of tips and best practices just for working in The Big Apple in this installment of his YouTube series, Destination Film. Check them out before you pack your bags, and I guarantee you’ll arrive both inspired and better prepared.
Things to keep in mind:
- Traveling with your gear across town will be time consuming and pricey. You’re not going to want to lug 70 pounds of expensive equipment up and down flights of stairs to the subway.
- In fact, everything is going to cost a lot: food, hotels, travel. Budget accordingly.
- You don’t need a permit to film on the street — if your crew consists of five or fewer people.
- People won’t bat an eye when you’re shooting, *unless a really big celebrity is involved.
- Spring for the hotel room in the city. You’ll want a central location and a place to power up your phone between takes.