View Full Version : Advices on filming documentaries in Tibet/China

03-05-2006, 02:10 AM

I read the very interesting post "Legality of filming in Thailand" on this forum, specially Petrus 's experience in Tibet.

During 2 months, I envisage to explore Kham, one tibetan area in the west of Sichuan.
For pictures, see TheMexican,

1. I wish to film the festival of Litang where Khampas meet with horses. I worry about the batteries about my DVX: small cities as Litang or others do have hotels which have power supply?

2. I want to film Tibetans in their everyday life. It seems to me interesting to have a local contact who speaks English: he could be my guide, interpreter and intermediary with people. He would be naturally remunerated and would go with me. Would you have advices to give me?

3. A PortaBrace cover seems an essential material under these difficult conditions of dust, rain. What do you think about it?

4. I always taking movies with one shouder pod,
but a tripod is very useful. I worry about the weight of the whole of the material. Have you any advice about one video tripod for this kind of hard journey (I am alone).

4. Every advice of any kind would be greatly appreciated specially about the Chinese/Tibetan interaction with the foreigner filming.

Best wishes,
Xpl from France

03-05-2006, 04:52 PM

Stock up on DVX's own $79 batteries: http://www.dvxuser.com/articles/battery/
(just in case, I'd also recommend a spare charger)

This will help IMMENSLY, but it will depend on this person's willingness to help YOU; so in any event it will help if you can build up a good relationship with such a person, preferably (but not necessarily) in advance of your arrival at the location.


A small tripod is certainly a good idea also: here's a small one that is lightweight: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?O=productlist&A=details&Q=&sku=416390&is=REG&addedTroughType=search
but there's a TON of choices out there, all depending on your BUDGET, and weight restrictions.
You also don't say what cam you use, so giving good advice will be limited.

03-06-2006, 01:32 AM
Gee, thanks!

1) Nowadays you'll find electricity in surpricing places even in Tibet, if there is a hotel, there is bound to be electricity. In my experience the biggest batteries run for about 4 hours or about half of what is promised, when no LCD panel is used, no unnecessary zooming is done and the tapes are not rewound and viewed, which is not safe anyway out there (more possbilities of a jam). Thus 2 or 3 big ones can get you thorough a week or so (depending on how much you film, of course) without recharging. The wall plugs usually take the normal european 2-prong plug and the voltage is the same 230v/50Hz or at least tries to be.

3) I think it is usefull, it not only protects, but also conceals the camera a bit.

4) I had a Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod with the lightest (magnesium?) video head. The combo recommended above is the next heavier and better choice in that respect. It also depends on the camera. A featherlight CF monopod would also be usefull and weighs almost nothing. Everything exept wideangle action shots should be shot using at least a monopod. Monopod can be used also collapsed and tucked under the belt.

All professional filming is heavily restricted, so it is imperative not to look or act too professional. An innocent and eager hobbyist is the role to play.

Have a nice journey!

03-09-2006, 12:59 AM
vidled & Petrus,
DVX users,

Many thanks for your very useful feed-back.

1. I have noted the DVX's own $79 batteries and the technical characteristics of chinese electricity..I should not use the LCD panel to save energy.

2. I have well understood it will be preferably have any local contact in advance of my arrival at the location I must indeed seek if I would not find one tibetan anglophone student in Changdu, Sichuan, the great chinese-tibetan gate-door. I wonder whether there is there the"Alliance Française", a structure which encourages the diffusion of the French language.

4. On the fields, the rather good question :
4a. Shoulderpod Vs monopod ?
the CF monopod is rather has good idea but but, I ask myself if it doesn't make double employment with my shoulder-pod ?

I nevertheless found the GITZO G1560 monopode Monotrek with with kneecap bowl,
What do you think of that ?

4b : best high-end solution : tripod + shoulderpod ?
If shoulderpod allows stability in carry camcorder, tripod is not only ensures a frightening stability, but it makes it possible to make forget the camera. I tally, rule the parameters (WB, zebra, iris, audio), then I film in sequence- shot. I locate the out-field (limits of the cadre). Then I draw aside me from the camera and record. I think of investing in a true fluid head Manfrotto 503, which seems to me best price report-quality for fluidity.

4c. How do you do to take along your value tripod in the plane? I suppose that it is not in cabin with you ? If it is out of compartment, is it in a luggage to avoid breakage and/or conceal ? What advices could you give me please ?

5. "An innocent and eager hobbyist is the role to play" said Petrus. is a very useful advice. You are right, Petrus. What ever is the the size of the camera the element which makes pro is the sound.
If the microphone with its windjammer is assembled on the camera, do you think that a priori, there is no problem with authorities (it is the pole which makes the pro)?

A friend of mine (documentaries pro realizer) said to me : "In TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region), camcorder like Pana DVX100 and Sony PD150-170 are not authorised without enqueries to chinese officials (but I want to record in Sichuanese part of historical Tibet, ie, Kham). Petrus, is-it THE reason explaining why you took Sony TRV-900 ? Is there anyware on the Web a list of camcorders which needs enqueries in China ?

Thank you so lot for your feed-back experience.

03-09-2006, 03:00 AM
The monopod I have is the Slik Pro Pod 381 Carbon Fiber. Tall enough but less than 50 cm folded, fits inside a daypack. With video camera no ball head is needed.

Compare a monopod versus shoulderpod, which feels better to you and looks less "pro".

The tripod I had was a Manfrotto 055MF4 055 MAG FIBER TRIPOD 4 SCT carbon fiber tripod which folds down to 55 cm and weighs all of 2 kg! There is no levelling ball and the head was a (too) light Manfrotto composite one, which I did not find in the catalogue anymore.

Try to take the lightest decent CF legs and the lightest passable head. At least those legs I had are so short folded that they can be even carried in a hand luggage backpack or wrapped in clothes in the suitcase or whatever without worrying of them breaking. Hang a pack from the tripod if it feels too shaky when shooting.

I have used the Rycote Softie handheld, and also zeppelin & windjammer (makes it possible to pick up the main sound and aim the camera somewhere else, often very important) or in a side bracket (Softie & Mini Rover), and I think it still goes under "eager hobbyist" category. Full Windjammer is stretching it a bit for sure.

Using the mic handheld often means you have to ride on automatic exposure, as working the iris with the mic hand is not possible.

The reason for TRV900 was easy, as at that time I had no DVX100. Now the choice is tough, defently DVX100 is more "pro"and makes better video, but if it is really too pro, I do no know. I do not think officials would mind taking one to Tibet though, they never even checked our bags for "pro" gear, or anything but contraband printed matter.

03-09-2006, 03:07 PM
Dear Petrus,

I express you all my sincere recognition for the quality of your personnal explanations, which help me to adopt the best strategy as well for the technical points as relational. I particularly appreciate the precision of your advices. It is not my job, but I try to adopt as possible some requirements which I estimate "prosumer": obligatory stability, quality sound and frame, choice of framing, "to make the standard lamp" as Raymond Depardon, the french documentarist, school of the "Cinéma vérité" like Perrault & Brault.

I noted all the interest to have a tripod, which is not too large once not folded. Indeed, if I use the microphone with the hand, I could only operate that automatically. It would be a pity, because I would not as well as possible exploit qualities of the DVX100BE.

When you put PortaBrace on TRV900 is there any electric risk for microphone with its Windjammer if weather is wet even rain?
I noted in some problem with,

Could the rain cover have trapped moisture?

I have good hope to find an intermediary within Chengdu: there are indeed the Alliance Française there, http://www.alliancefrancaise.org.cn/chengdu/Presentation_fr.htm

I would wish knowledge if your film is accessible on Amazon or a Web site.

I thank you for your encouragements and will think of your good advices when I will be on the location.

03-24-2006, 09:54 AM

Film on Tibet could endanger Tibetans : about documentary film, ‘What Remains of Us’ from

François Prévost et Hugo Latulippe, see

http://www.savetibet.org/documents/pdfs/tpw/TPW200501.pdf (http://www.savetibet.org/documents/pdfs/tpw/TPW200501.pdf)