A story of a poor, dumb American filmmaker shooting abroad

A funny anecdote about my first filmmaking assignment in another country. A valuable lesson for pro filmmakers shooting abroad.

Ron with C300 camera case in Calgary.

Or, what NOT to say to a customs agent when doing freelance work abroad

My first trip to Canada was back in 2009. I was traveling to shoot a promotional video abroad for a wedding, portrait, and lifestyle photographer in Edmonton, Alberta.

When crossing through the customs at the Calgary airport, the customs agent asked me “What brings you to Canada?”

I innocently (i.e. stupidly) told her the truth. “I’m here to shoot a promo video for a photographer.”

Now, those of you savvy travelers out there already know where I messed up. Don’t you? And you probably know what’s coming next.

“Can I see your permit?” She asked.

Permit? What permit? Who the hell said I needed a permit? I’m going to be in and out in a day. Badda-bing, badda-boom. I don’t need no stinkin’ permit.

Oops! My bad! Apparently I did.

Ignorance is not bliss

Apparently, it’s not legal for a foreigner to do work in the country without some kind of legal paperwork.

And apparently, you can ONLY get that paperwork if you can prove that NO ONE ELSE in Canada can do the same work.

Are you joking?

She wasn’t.

So she asks me “Where does this photographer live?”

I said, “Oh, I think he lives in Alberta.”

Now, if you live in Canada, or if you have a half-way decent geography education, you know how idiotic I sounded. Saying he lives in Alberta would be like being at the LAX International airport and saying I was meeting someone living in California.

Canadian wedding and lifestyle photographer Gabe McClintock
Lifestyle and wedding photographer Gage McClintock. He lives in Edmonton. Which also happens to be in Alberta. So technically, I was correct.

I think the nice Canadian lady probably thought “Poor, dumb American” and felt sorry for me. I say that because she called my client and allowed him to come down meet me, and pay for a 3-day work permit (at a few hundred Canadian dollars).

The moral of the story: when you’re a professional filmmaker or photographer and you’re shooting abroad in a foreign country: YOU’RE ON VACATION! (Also, learn about the geography of the country you’re visiting for crying out loud.)

Oh, by the way. Here’s that promo video I shot. I think it holds up pretty damn well after nearly 11 years!

Note: I should probably make it clear I’m joking with regards to my advice. You know that right? I would NEVER advocate breaking international laws when it comes to working abroad. You absolutely 😉 should make sure 😉that you get whatever permits 😉you need. 😉

Header photo credit: Photo on the right is by CDC on Unsplash. That’s me on the left. I no longer look that young and I’m considerably more hirsute in the face. 😀

Author: Ron Dawson

Ron Dawson is a brand and content marketer, satirical author, cinephile, and filmmaker traveling the world. He has strong opinions. For the love of all that is holy, Do NOT get him started on the plight of the Star Wars saga or the final season of Game of Thrones. He also believes 500 Days of Summer is a perfect film. Naturally, he loves the movie Blade Runner (pick your version.)

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