The following is a guest post by Zeke A. Iddon.
Every film shoot is unique, and with that brings its own set of unique problems to work through. But what about dealing with extreme levels of toxicity, the brutalities of war, or an environment so humid it’ll kill you within ten minutes?
Here we check out five of the most (potentially) lethal places you could ever hope to shoot a film.
The Somalian Coast (and not for the reason you think)
Although it’s not the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Somalia, its incredible beauty rivals that of Hawaii, the Maldives and New Zealand. On paper, it’s a lovely place for shooting a film.
Of course, the reputation of this borderline failed-state – not to mention the well-publicized rise of piracy in the region – often overshadow the inherent beauty of the Somalian coast. But even if you could put aside the bad press, something sinister still lurks beneath the surface…the Somalian coast is one of the most toxic places on the planet.
Thanks to the lawlessness of the region, waste dumping has run rife in Somali waters. Nobody knows the exact scale of the problem, or who’s to blame – the Pirates blame the EU, the UN suspect private companies, private companies blame Asia and Asia blame the pirates. All anyone can say for certain is that it’s not safe to drink, let alone sail in, the water (not that we advocate drinking seawater in the best of times.)
It’s not the most radioactive place on the planet – Chernobyl and Fukushima currently hold that honor – but coupled with piracy and tumultuous politics, the fact that the Somalian coast is in spitting distance of the top of the toxicology list means you’d have to be a brave filmmaker indeed to go shoot there.
Films Shot There: Somalia actually has a comparatively large – and growing – film industry, owing to its rich storytelling culture. Its output is rarely consumed (on a mainstream basis) outside of the region, but it does have its own regulatory body and the industry has grown to a scale that it has attracted its own moniker, Somaliwood.
The Abyssal Depths
To say James Cameron is fond of the ocean is akin to suggesting M. Night Shyamalan likes twist endings.
Trying to get footage from the top of Mt. Everest would have been an equally viable entry on this list, but moving towards the other end of the atmospheric pressure gauge brings with it additional challenges. The sheer cost of getting to the floor of the world’s deepest oceans is astronomical, for want of a better word. In an alien place where a slight mishap can crush your vessel like a soda can under a sledgehammer, it’s a logistical, and technological, nightmare to gain any useful video footage in the blackened depths.
But those who have the capacity to not only survive a trip to the ocean floor but also shoot film down there (pretty much just James Cameron) are greatly rewarded with ethereal footage.
In terms of danger, any underwater filming location – simulated or otherwise – can very quickly turn into a deathtrap even at shallow-depths. Only last year a trained scuba diver tragically died on the location of The Lone Ranger shoot, having apparently suffered a heart attack while cleaning a pool. Similar incidents throughout cinema history have proven time and time again that filming around water can be every bit as dangerous as shooting in a war-torn wasteland.
Films Shot There: If we’re talking about films shot the full 20,000 leagues under the sea, once again refer to Cameron’s back catalogue.
The politics of Syria are as complicated as they are brutally violent. If you thought Somalia was ravaged by conflict, Syria is one of Dante’s inner circles of hell by comparison (but hey, at least it’s not irradiated.)
Somewhat obviously, filming in any country which is in the throes of a bloody civil war – particularly in the Middle East/West Asia region – can be a tricky to say the least. But unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, where some provisions are made for the safety of civilians, Syria is a no-holes barred killing field. Regardless of location, anyone traveling to the country will find themselves in a very real risk of brutality. As such, it’s hardly surprising that hotel occupancy rates have dropped from 90% to 15% since the outbreak of war.
In short, try telling investors you want to shoot a film in Syria and see how you get on.
Films Shot There: No notable feature films, but some civilian journalism footage escapes Syria’s borders (often costing the filmmakers’ their lives). Since civil war was declared last year however, President Assad has placed a ban on foreign journalistic filming.
Cave of Crystals, Mexico
When miners excavating a tunnel in Mexico tapped into a wonderous cave of gigantic crystals in 2000, it took their breath away. Quite literally, in fact.
The geological marvel, located 300m below the desert, is unlike any known place on Earth. The caverns contain some of the biggest crystals ever discovered, many of which weight over 55 tons and have grown to over 11m in length. If Jules Verne were around today, he’d have loved this place.
More remarkable still is the fact that the chamber system isn’t submerged (thanks to continual pumping by the miners), so in theory you could take a camera down and film scenes in this bizarre wonderland… if you have the ability to withstand a constant 136 °F heat and can breath air which is 99% humid.
Without a refrigerated breathing suit, you’d be dead in ten minutes flat. Kinda puts a downer on filming a feature length, sci-fi epic down in the Cave of Crystals.
Films Shot There: The Discovery Channel and a scant few other brave documentary makers have shot short segments down there. But the cave is open to public access and there is an NYFA filmmaking school in nearby Cancun, so it’s not to late to utilize this unique location before authorities carry out its plan to reseal it and let the water level rise again.
Films Shot There: *censored*
Zeke A. Iddon is a professional writer living in England, but he cleverly disguizes his UK heritage it by spelling a lot of words in his blog posts with a ‘Z’. As a film aficionado, he’s proud to work as a lead consultant for the New York Film Academy and enjoys the travel perks of his work, even if they never lead him to North Korea… or do they?