The classic films “The Third Man” (directed by Carol Reed) and “Foreign Correspondent” (Alfred Hitchcock) are still how most people imagine the conditions faced by writers, reporters, photographers, and other media makers overseas- sixty years after it wasn’t even true then. The glamor, danger, and intrigue these movies celebrate and exaggerate are still present in war zones like Syria and Afghanistan, and probably in mysterious and unstable areas like Russia, Africa, and Washington D.C. But from my experience, reporting overseas is more an exercise in inconvenience, and unforgettable people and moments.
I just returned from twelve days in northwest England: Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and the Isle of Man. Half of it was playing, the other half working. I’d never been to England. I have shot stories in Belgium, France, Iceland, Germany, Canada, the North Pole, Mexico, Tibet, China, and supervised corporate media coverage from the U.S. in South Korea, Israel, and many other countries. It’s become less difficult technologically to work in foreign countries in general. But concerns about terrorism, and the sophistication of security systems have made the job of foreign correspondent no less intriguing.
I shot for two different clients: one in Manchester, one in Birmingham. I’d never driven on the left side of the road before (intentionally) so I decided not to rent a car and only take public transportation. In northwest England, this takes the form of trains, buses, taxis, boats, and ships. It’s easy getting around without a car. You have to carry cash (pounds) and watch how much baggage you have. I was carrying a lot of stuff for my work but because I do this regularly in the U.S., I consolidated as usual it to one rolling bag with electronics, one with my camera, and my tripod tube which doubles as a suitcase.
The first shoot in Birmingham was great. I’d worked for Delcam UK for nearly four years now and never met the English-based crew. They were well-prepared, friendly, and had a full day packed. I worked from 9 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. without lunch, caught a ride and a train and got to Manchester by 7:30 p.m. The next day I began shooting a four-day educational conference. This assignment was more demanding in that my room at the Holiday Inn Express was about four blocks away meaning I had to walk twice a day two and from the meeting halls with all my gear. I had a rolling case but the bumpy sidewalks of Manchester claimed it: a wheel fell off on the third day making it useless. The final day I stripped down the amount of stuff I took and carried it on me.
The room at the Holiday Inn (pic above) in Manchester on Oxford Street was perhaps the most challenging aspect of the trip. Shaped like an isosceles triangle, the work area was about the size of a closet. Because I shot so much video, I spent a lot of time off-loading the data to make room for the next day’s material. FYI: don’t forget to bring those UK power adapters. I had three and they still weren’t enough. I worked well into the early morning most days. My shoulders are still hunched.
Overall, it was an incredibly successful trip (so far). No equipment except the case broke. I was able to find batteries and other emergency supplies I needed. So far, all the video (I double backup everything, constituting about 1 TB of data) has held up. Now, I have to edit it all which I’m just now getting to after catching up with all the work waiting for me back home. I’d love to hear about your overseas shooting and reporting experiences. Leave me a comment!