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Shooting High Definition Video Footage in Italy


Italy is without question the place to shoot high definition video. Nearly everything in this sun-drenched part of the world cries out for a photo or video capture. My feelings about the country have never wavered from this opinion.

Having said that, I must also admit that Italy - particularly in metropolitan areas - is a problematic country for videographers. Rome, among other Italian cities, has some of the toughest regulations and laws limiting commercial photography.

My husband, Wayne, and I formed our company - VITA Digital Productions - 5 years ago to shoot European video footage - both for our own specialty-market treadmill virtual walks ( www.treadmillwalks.com ) and to sell as stock footage to TV networks around the world ( www.hdeuropeanstockfootage.com ). We made the decision last year to switch over to HD (High Definition) footage after getting our first request for HD footage.

Our biggest concerns, in planning our recent three-week shoot in May 2005, were 1. the safe transport of our video equipment (all in carry-on bags, for obvious reasons!), 2. the ability to shoot in and around tourist-laden locations, and 3. finding ways to get video footage in spite of the stringent regulations enforced in Rome.

Wayne and I have done this several times over the past five years - researching a picture-worthy destination in Europe, making our own travel plans, and packing up like two serendipitous vagabonds to go forth and shoot (you'd just have to know me to appreciate how foreign this is - no pun intended - to my accustomed, orderly way of life). When I look back to the first part of 2001 (pre 9-11) and our two trips to Italy in spring and summer of that year, I realize now how easy it was to get through customs with unusual looking video equipment.

When the two of us travel on a video shoot, we have slowly learned to take the bare minimum of clothing so that we can accommodate the camera, tripods, SteadiCam apparatus, batteries, filters, wide-angle lens, fluid heads, and tape in addition to spare parts for repairs.

This trip, anticipating problems with airport security, we took pictures of Wayne wearing the SteadiCam vest and showing the camera mounted on the articulated arm. We then tucked the pictures inside the luggage for quick and easy retrieval. When the security agents x-rayed our bags, they never failed to have us open our luggage and inspect the equipment contained. It expedited the process when we were able to produce pictures showing how every piece of equipment fit together. Wayne also mailed a small and inexpensive packet of tools (a screwdriver, a pair of pliers and an Allen wrench) to each of our two hotels so that we would not have those little forbidden items confiscated in the airports. And for some reason, an Allen wrench is an absolute no-no with security agents! I suppose that all of the items could have been purchased in Italy, but time is money on a shoot and we didn't want to waste time searching for a source in a strange city.

Safely arriving with all of our equipment in Italy, we were ready to begin shooting. We had an itinerary and a shooting agenda for each day, but we knew we would have to build in some flexibility to allow for both the weather and the unexpected. We have been extremely lucky in this regard, even on our two previous shooting trips to England.

So how does a videographer shoot around the tourists? If too many people are between the camera and subject or site being shot, the whole effort can be an utter waste of time. And also, unfortunately, the Italian polizia and carabinieri are quick to tell a videographer or still photographer to fold up that tripod and move on!! They do NOT have any patience with a foreign professional photographer, so common sense and a little stealth are requirements.

For tourist-filled sites, we have found that shooting in the very early morning works well for us. For one thing, Italy is a late-night country, so there are few people (and that includes police) out on the streets at first light. Typically, we would get to a site by 7 AM each morning, shoot for a few hours and then return to the hotel for breakfast: then back out into the streets for more shooting.

The first part of our trip focused on the Amalfi Coast where we filmed, in addition to some incredibly beautiful stock footage, a virtual walk through the Valle di Mulino (the Valley of the Mills) above Amalfi, another through Pompeii, a third on the Isle of Capri, from Anacapri to Torre Damecuta, and yet another from Ravello to Atrani into the Piazza Umberto.

The last two weeks of this trip took us back to Rome, where our focus was HD stock footage and Renaissance art - Bernini sculptures and Raphael paintings claimed the lion's share of our time and attention. We spent much of our time filming the Pantheon (Raphael's Tomb and the occulus); the Church of Santa Maria de Popolo and its Chigi Chapel; Santa Maria della Vittoria with Bernini's "Ecstasy of St. Teresa"; the Fountain of the Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona; St. Peter's Basilica and Square; and those delightful Breezy Maniacs of Bernini's along the bridge to the Castel Sant'Angelo.

We devoted a day filming a virtual walk in the medieval town of Viterbo (just 1.5 hours by train from Rome). An historical note about Viterbo - had John Paul II or Benedict XVI been elected Pope in the 13th century, it would have happened here rather than in Rome. Now a well-preserved provincial village, but in its heyday, Viterbo was Rome's greatest rival!

Rome was more crowded with tourists during this trip than we've ever encountered. Much of that could be attributed to pilgrims flocking to the Vatican in the month following the death of Pope John Paul II and the subsequent election of Pope Benedict XVI. We've also heard that more Americans are traveling to Europe this summer than ever before. Whatever the reason, there were visitors everywhere.

At the end of the trip, we were exhausted but satisfied with the 20 plus hours of High Definition footage we shot along the Amalfi Coast and in Rome. There was an unfortunate incident with a French gendarme in the Charles deGaulle airport, but that will remain a story told within the family!

Is a foreign shoot worth the time, expense, and aggravation? I'll give you a resounding yes on that one - but with a caveat: pack an extra dose of patience and a big heart, and both will be rewarded many times over!

My husband, Wayne, and I own a video production company that focuses on European travel. In addition to our Virtual Walks Series, we also shoot stock footage of Venice, Rome, the Amalfi Coast, London, and English villages. We have sold our footage to numerous television networks and production houses around the world.


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