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“Shoot fit” has a whole different meaning when you’re biking across 30km of jungle tracks in sweltering Thai heat. But if you’re the adventurous type and interested in making your own outdoorsy video content, here are some hot tips from hard learned lessons along the way.

1. The weather is unpredictable

Melbournians are infamous for their “fOuR sEaSoNs In A dAy” catchphrase. But with climate change affecting weather patterns across the world, this is a very real consideration for film crews moving forward. Our outdoor shoot in Thailand was timed for the dry winter months (between November – March). Firstly, for trail safety, secondly, camera gear protection. But this dry season is no longer a guarantee and we experienced this first hand. During another 5am start we ran final weather checks for the peak: just 2mm of predicted rain. Totally doable. 

So with fully loaded bags we took off up the long steady climb for Mount Suthep and Doi Pui – 25.6km of cycling with a vertical climb of over 1500m. As we reached the village at the peak, a vast, vertical wall of cloud swept up from the valley below. The sky filled with loud thunderclaps and a torrent of rain poured along the village streets. As we’d started our climb early, we were thankfully just in time to shelter at the homestay. Drying off by the fire, we reflected on how different things would be if we’d been caught out on the mountainside. Check the weather often, do bring that waterproof layer, and choose your dry bags very carefully too.

2. Be prepared to pivot 

As unpredictable as the weather can be, so too can your bikes. Being total newbies to the scene, we borrowed two mountain bikes for the trip – tapping into the generous spirit of Chiang Mai’s bikepacking community. Big shout out to Pnuc from Triple Cats Cycles and Canadian Pat! 

But on the very first day of filming, just 4km into our seven day expedition, Izzy heard a crunch. Her derailleur had bent during a gear change and was beyond fixing on the roadside – despite Sam’s valiant efforts. This meant freewheeling back down the hill to the bike shop for the first of several rescues by Pnuc (another shout out to Triple Cats Cycles!), and starting the trip again the next day. It was the type of gear failure that comes unexpectedly with years of use and is very hard to predict. The only downside of borrowing unknown bikes.

On another day, we had just climbed 1300m in elevation up challenging dirt tracks. Brain power was low and exhaustion was setting in. Out of nowhere, Dan’s bike chain broke. A single weak chain link meant the only option was to push a fully loaded bike 8km to the next village. How do you plan for that? We all nodded in silence, put our heads down and got on with it. These curveballs are challenging when they happen and rewarding to overcome, but will eat into your days, mess up your schedules and spoil your shot lists. Plan thoroughly, but be prepared to re-plan… and then plan again. 

3. Ask before filming

Getting consent from the people we shoot is always front of mind when moving through different cultures and countries. From famous faces to street sellers it’s important that anybody captured on film has the equal power to decide if they want to participate. There’s sometimes a strange imbalance of power as a Westerner visiting poorer countries. So wherever possible we asked for filming permission.

Plan A was via broken Thai phrases and a thumbs up or down. Plan B was a pre-recorded audio message in fluent Thai. This explained what we were doing and asked whether we could film. 99% of the time people were delighted to be involved and being asked meant we got the best of them. And honestly, this made us feel more comfortable too. Pointing cameras towards people’s houses, shops, and children can feel weird and voyeuristic. So don’t assume, be polite and always ask.

4. Learn some Thai

Taking the time to learn basic words and phrases can get you a long way in the mountains –  and often unlocks a side of locals that not every farang (foreigner) gets to see. Alongside big smiles, occasionally you’ll get extra helpings of food too. Need we say more? Thailand has a wonderful judgement-free culture and they’ll almost always appreciate you giving it a go. So try to get familiar with simple words like: hello, thank you, water, toilet, spicy, little, sugar, one, two, three, camping, hotel, bike. On that note, always ask for help if you’re in a tight spot too. Many a traveller – bikepackers included –  have flagged down locals for assistance and been blown away by the generosity of their rescuers. From sourcing help in the wider community, to dropping off punctured bikes in the next town. Nothing ever seems like too much trouble.

5. Don’t stress over wi-fi or charging points

There is a brilliant network of affordable campsites and homestays across northern Thailand. We were pleasantly surprised by how reliable the internet access was too. Even the smallest villages had a solid wi-fi connection, which really helps for planning at the start and end of the day. And it makes sense really – the Thais love a good social scroll as much as the rest of us. There was a surprising amount of charging points available for our film gear too. We pre-planned and packed around the worst-case scenarios, but it helped take production pressure off. A welcome relief when there’s so much else to consider. That being said, there are always curveballs. 

Consider scenarios like: the only charging points are exposed to the rain, strangely slow charging speeds, or eco-friendly hotel rooms that turn off mains power when you leave the room. “Why is this battery only on 56%? …ohhhh.” Our other top tip for filming overseas: bring a power strip from your own country. With one Aussie-to-Thai adaptor, we could have four devices charging at once. 

Dan

Dan has been in the engine room of video production and marketing agencies over the last 10 years, delivering content, campaigns and strategies for some of Australia’s most well-known brands - and some fun, feisty challengers.

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