Filmmakers discuss ‘The Rewards and Challenges of Filming in Cuba’
A group of filmmakers shared their different experiences scouting and shooting a project pitch in Cuba for a series, “Unseen Cuba,” Wednesday, November 1 at the Gutstein Gallery. The panel, “The Rewards and Challenges of Filming in Cuba,” was moderated by SCAD film and television professor Kevin McCarey and featured ten panelists, the majority of whom have ties to SCAD.
The panel was split into two segments of discussion. The first segment focused on travel logistics and restrictions, health and safety and challenges of the Cuban bureaucracy. The second explored location scouting, using local guides, discovering the marine environment as well as the culture.
McCarey said the group’s three-minute demo film, which was played in between segments, will be screened for development executives for National Geographic at the Smithsonian. According to him, they wen to Cuba as filmmakers in an unofficial capacity.
“If we were to go in an official capacity as filmmakers, we’d still be waiting on the paperwork,” McCarey said. “It can literally go on for years, so it’s very very challenging. We went as kind of a pirate group.”
Kyle Maddux-Lawrence, the director of production and co-founder of Madlawmedia in Savannah, said he and the rest of the group did not run into any issues at airport security with the equipment they brought. They took 5D Mark III’s, go-pro cameras and whatever else each filmmaker had individually.
“For the most part, in the airport, they don’t really care,” Maddux-Lawrence said. “They don’t really think twice about it. The two times that we’ve been, we’ve never had any issues. They’re mostly just kind of bored. In terms of the gear, it’s pretty easy. Mine fits in a small backpack, and it’s very discreet. One of my tricks is I’ll set my tripod up and I’ll get the shot and I’ll act like I’m not shooting and just leave the camera there for a few minutes. You can get really good stuff that way because people aren’t paying attention.”
Liz Kaiser, director of post-production and also co-founder of Madlawmedia with Maddux-Lawrence, her husband, did the editing for the pitch, which meant she did not have to shoot much footage. Her job was to take five-days-worth of footage, all one-point-eight terabytes of it, and edit it into the final pitch.
According to Kaiser, there are twelve different visas American visitors can use to go to Cuba not as tourists.
“The biggest issue is the Office of Foreign Asset Control,” Kaiser said. “For tourism, they see that as being the worst option, however there’s a researcher visa which we chose to go under. The easiest one to use up until recently was the people to people visa. That was the easiest way to go not as a tourist but as a tourist.”
Kaiser said people can still use the People to People visa, but when new regulations are made, those using the visa will have to be in an organized group. With the Researcher visas, no documentation is required, and they can be purchased when booking a flight to Cuba.
“It’s actually a lot easier than what we thought when we were first planning,” Kaiser said. “The amount of Americans who have gone to Cuba is not that much. I don’t think anyone in our group ran into any troubles with visas. It’s actually a lot easier to change your American money to Euros.
Darlien Morales, SCAD 2015 alumna and documentary filmmaker, is from Puerto Rico, and served as one of two Spanish-speaking members of the film-making group. According to her, Puerto Rico and Cuba are not just geographically close but also close in cultural relations.
“Every time I go to a different country, I do research, but for Cuba, it was a different,” Morales said. “Any time I would talk to anybody, they would be like, ‘Oh my friend.’ It was very very easy to get around.”
For any production shot in a foreign country, Morales said it it crucial to understand the culture of the place where you will be filming.
“The main thing for any culture is respect,” Morales said. “Any time there’s going to be a miscommunication or any misunderstanding, you have to be as open as possible. You have to understand the language. You have to understand how they’re talking to you. There’s a lot of logistics that are going to happen. So be confident, respectful and empathetic to any situation you will have will take you further.”
Written by Emilie Kefalas