Tips for Filming in Cold Climates

The snow must go on.

Certain climates can be really challenging to shoot a movie in.  While many films are shot in warmer climates, some live in areas where below-freezing temps are part of the norm... I am one of them.  As a lifelong resident of Michigan USA, I know first hand that filming in the snow is a totally different beast. Honestly, just living in a climate strangely similar to a walk-in freezer is a different beast (winter driving anyone?), but film production has a funny way of really taking those snowy struggles to the next level. Here are a few things I've observed about cold-climate filming that make it different from all other seasons in film:  

#1 - Everything Slows Down

People, cameras, vehicles... everything. So it’s best to just plan on everything taking longer than you’d like. Build padding into your shooting schedule and maintain a secondary schedule of things you can shoot indoors if the outdoors is not cooperating.  
Your mission, should you choose to accept it: outsmart the weather and keep moving forward no matter what.

#2 - Not Everyone Comes Prepared

Preparation is everything when it comes to working in winter weather, but sometimes we forget how harsh the cold is until we’re freezing on set.  
  • Clothing is your first line of defense Cold weather is A LOT more manageable if you’re dressed appropriately. Wear long underwear, dress in layers (you might actually get hot if you’re doing heavy work), and invest in proper snow clothes! (it’s funny how those high prices at The North Face seem more reasonable when you’re shivering next to a camera amidst blowing snow, in the middle of the night.)
  • Knowledge is power Put together a cold weather survival packet for your cast & crew and send it to them before they show up on set. If they have never lived or worked in a cold climate before they may not know how best to prepare. Include things like types of clothing, recommendations for hand and foot warmers, & tips for winter driving.
  • Don’t forget about your extras Extras can be an afterthought, but on a winter set that normal lack of consideration can become a miserable, possibly dangerous, situation. Make sure that they are dressed appropriately, have warming stations available, and possibly provide a hot beverage to help them stay warm.
  • Nobody is less prepared than your camera Technology and extreme weather don’t exactly go hand in hand. It’s essential that you protect your camera gear from the elements and monitor its performance while working in the cold. One of the simplest ways to protect your camera is with a plastic bag/cover, but you can also purchase more specialized protective gear. Also, never expose your camera to any big temperature changes. Start acclimating your camera to the cold before you need to start shooting, and then warm it back up slowly when you’re finished. Any significant temperature shifts can cause condensation inside your camera, and we all know moisture and technology do not go hand in hand.If you do happen to deep freeze your camera, check out this video on how to defrost it properly.
Pro-Tip) Carry extra batteries, you’ll burn through them more quickly in the cold. Be sure to keep your spares in your pocket so that they’ll stay warm.

#3 - The Sun is Brighter… When it Shines

Most winter days are just a blah-blend of white and grey, but when the sun does shine it can really blow out everything your camera is trying to capture. Use filters on your lens (sunglasses for your camera) and make sure to check your white balance as often as you can. If you’re trying to work at night you won’t need to contend with the sun, but keep in mind that full snow cover acts like a giant reflector, making a little light go a long way. So take it easy and double check each lighting setup.  

#4 - Complaining Does NOT Help

Winter weather is like a refining freezer that can bring out the worst in even the most hearty, but complaining doesn't help. Trust me. It just causes you, and everyone around you, to focus on what’s hard right now instead of looking ahead to where we’re going and why that’s awesome. It will literally make you feel colder. Being on a film set, even a winter set, is always a privilege, it’s worth being cheerful about!   Hang in there, the cold doesn't last forever... and remember, you could always go get a job indoors (I’ve heard Starbucks is hiring baristas).  ????   Check out this article for more cold weather film solutions.   For your viewing pleasure, here's a little clip from my favorite winter movie:

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Leslie Ruiz

Leslie is a filmmaker, artist, and businesswoman; she’s also a devout list maker, shops for relaxation, & has a strong aversion to the color red.

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