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Behind the Baggage in Mozambique

by Josh Ferrell, Associate Producer

When traveling around the world making television, you have to bring a lot of stuff — cameras, batteries/chargers, tripods, lighting & grip equipment, etc. When traveling to Third World countries, you usually have to bring even more necessities, including extra food, medicine, and other odds and ends. Packing all this gear usually fills up four camera bags and seven large pelican cases (which doesn’t include personal luggage), and getting all this equipment around when you have a five-person team (including Tony) can get pretty tricky, especially if you’re making television in rural South-East Africa. For our shoot in Mozambique, we decided to travel to three separate areas of the country; we would start in the north, landing in Nampula, then fly south to Beira for two days, and then catch yet another puddle jumper to continue south to the capital, Maputo. Quite the ambitious schedule, but we felt this would be necessary to do the country justice with only one hour of airtime. After our first three days of filming, we drove back to the tiny, rundown airport in Nampula. It was quite the ordeal checking all of our baggage — they had never seen so many cases and bags for five people before — and the airline representatives weren’t exactly up to date on their overweight baggage polices. Once we were checked in and all of our bags cleared, we rushed to get through security because we only had 25 minutes left until our flight! Our camera operators and producers always carry the camera bags as a carry-on. Our producer, Tom Vitale, put his camera bag (still attached to his compressible hand cart/dolly) on the x-ray machine conveyor belt and walked through the metal detector without setting off the alarm, but his camera bag and dolly must have caught something inside the machine. There was a rumble, and then the machine itself gave off a last breath of life and shut off.

With Tom breaking the airport’s only x-ray machine, the line for security grew and grew; security guards tried frantically to fix it by unplugging the machine and then plugging it back into the wall. About every 30 seconds, one of the security guards would glance back to Tom, the guy who caused this stressful situation. After about 15 minutes, the security guards gave up, and let EVERYONE in line pass through security without checking their bags or walking through the metal detector. Once on the plane (yes, we made the flight) camera operators Zach Zamboni and Todd Liebler looked through the windows at all of gear being pushed out on two separate carts, and noticed that while one cart approached the plane to load, the other stayed back at the terminal. Realizing half our equipment might be staying in Nampula, Zach jumped out of his seat, rushed out of the aircraft and onto the tarmac. He pleaded with the baggage handlers to load all of our equipment on the same flight. It’s a good thing Zach knows some common phrases in Portuguese — they all agreed, the baggage handlers rushed the second cart to the plane, and Zach climbed back into the aircraft and let out a mighty sigh. That’s the one thing about the No Reservations crew… we have a lot of baggage. See what I did there? I said we have lots of… nevermind. —Josh Ferrell 

What I gathered from Chernobyl… literally

by Josh Ferrell, Associate Producer

Visiting Chernobyl was a very sad and scary experience.  I think I can speak for the whole crew when I say that if we were just visiting Ukraine on vacation, we would not have gone there. For the sake of the show, we decided to check out the power plant and the town down the road, Prypiat. Our guide, Sergey, gave us a long list of do’s and don’ts while filming in the Prypiat area. Most of them were don’ts.  Don’t touch anything.  Don’t wander off any paved roads.  Don’t let any leaves or branches touch you.  Don’t walk on or kick any moss that’s on the ground.  Don’t eat or drink outside our vehicles.  Bottom line: watch what you’re doing.

Not ten minutes after Sergey repeated these instructions, he led us down a dirt path surrounded by bushes and trees with low hanging branches.  We tried our best not to touch the branches, but we all ended up touching leaves and shrubs, and a few of us even got smacked with branches. Our guide told us to be sure to wash our clothes a few times before wearing them again. But for peace of mind, once we returned to our hotel, I, like everyone else on the crew, threw away the clothes I was wearing, as well as my shoes.

Recalling the tragedy that was Chernobyl is spooky enough, but actually visiting ground zero and the surrounding areas of the nuclear disaster will leave a lasting impression on anyone who visits.  And apparently, a lot of people visit. When we were leaving Prypiat, we noticed more vans coming into the secured area.  Those vans turned out to be tour vans, filled with tourists mostly from Russia and Eastern Europe taking pictures of everything around them.  I knew they weren’t journalists because most were dressed in Euro-trash-themed clothing and nearly all had disposable and pocket-sized digital cameras.  It seems that one way to make money to help build a new sarcophagus over the old sarcophagus that covers Reactor Number 4 is to charge money to explore the grounds of one of the biggest man-made disasters of all time.

After packing up our equipment, we drove beyond the 30-kilometer security perimeter, back to habitable grounds.  We pulled over at the first convenience shop we saw to get water and snacks for everyone. It was a dim lit, mostly empty space, with a few bare shelves, but they did have water.  However, instead of necessities that you would normally find in your neighborhood store, this place predominately had merchandise.  Chernobyl merchandise.  T-shirts, coffee mugs, calendars, the list goes on. All of which read “CHERNOBYL 4-26-86” with the universal sign for radioactivity replacing the “O” in Chernobyl.  It almost felt like a scene out of Spaceballs.  “Chernobyl the lunchbox, Chernobyl the breakfast cereal, Chernobyl the Flame Thrower- the kids love this one.”  So I did what any late-twenties American would do.  I bought as much stuff as I could carry.

one of the coffee mugs Josh brought back for the office…

Crew blog: Naples

By Josh Ferrell, Associate Producer

I was told while filming abroad, always be on your toes.  The No Reservations crew is considerably small, but we make up for it with all of our equipment: cameras, rigs, lights, etc.  Needless to say, all this gear adds up to a pretty penny.  Actually, not just pretty, but a beautiful, gorgeous penny.  With this kind of merchandise, we all do our part to make sure none of our expensive equipment grows legs and magically walks away.  We do little things to help prevent this: always double check to make sure we lock the production van doors, we make sure someone stands watch over any gear we might pile up on a sidewalk.  But unfortunately, all of these precautionary measures don’t stand a chance with the sneakiest thieves of the world.

We had just finished filming a scene at a pizzeria, near the train station in Naples.  This was quite the busy part of town too, and it being lunchtime, the sidewalks were crowded with all walks of life.  And the street was jammed packed full of cars, trucks, and buses- with scooters and motorcycles weaving in and out of the spaces between the vehicles trying to make the light.  Somewhere in the confusion of all this, one of our cameras, a Sony EX-1… disappeared.  My best guess, some one spotted us with all this equipment, and drove up on a motorcycle and snatched the camera while we were loading other equipment into our production van- and then zoomed off. 

But the important thing is that no one got hurt.  So the next step was to file a police report.  We had a back up camera, so there was no need to stop production for this minor speed bump- so the rest of the crew went on to the next location to film.  Our local Production Assistant, Mario, and I took a taxi to the nearest police station where we waited to talk to a detective.

Mario was my translator for my conversation with the detective.  We went into his office, which was very bare.  Nothing on the walls and the only thing on his desk was a computer circa 1994.  We sat down and I started telling Mario what happened, to translate into Italian for the detective.  After Mario told him the long, drawn our story, the detective looked at Mario and then looked at me.  He spoke a few short words in Italian to Mario- and Mario looked at me and said, “What do you want him to do about it?”  I then explained that I needed a police report to give to our insurance company.  Don’t get me wrong, the officer was extremely helpful, but I’m pretty sure it was his first police report he had ever filed, because I was dictating to him what should go into the report.

Once the detective finished the report, he printed me a copy.  I asked if he could also email it to me so I could send it back to our production company in New York City.  He asked Mario to inform me that the police station didn’t have Internet access.  So then I asked if I could use their fax machine, but it turned out the station didn’t have a fax machine either.  The detective must have seen the look of disappointment on my face, so he offered Mario and I cups of espresso.  He came back with the little cups, with sugar already added, and set them down on the desk.  He sat back down in his seat with a smug look on his face and waited for us to try the coffee.  It seemed he was very proud of the drink he had just made us and was waiting to see our reaction to the espresso.  I tried it and realized why the police station didn’t have Internet access or fax machine, or any other basic office equipment for that matter.  They must have spent their whole budget on an espresso machine, because that was the best damn cup of coffee I’ve had in my life.