On the morning of December 4, 2016 I got a phone call at 8:30 AM telling me I booked a commercial that was shooting in Santiago, Chile and my flight was leaving at 7 AM the next day.
Exciting? Yes. Did I get all my shit together? No. Tomorrow a friend of mine is flying to Chile to shoot a commercial (lucky duck), so I thought I’d share some of my insights on traveling and working in there so others can learn from my experience of last minute work travel and shooting a non-union commercial abroad.
Before you get yourself into this situation here’s what you need to have:
- A fantastic boss and coworkers at your day job/ joe job/ side hustle who get it and are able to help you out when an amazing opportunity comes your way. Remember to buy them booze and treat them nice throughout the year.
- A passport. Duh. Well, you wouldn’t have booked the gig if your passport wasn’t valid.
- A positive attitude because you’re in for an adventure.
Do Some Research:
You are going to a new country. If you can take a few minutes to research the city you’re going to, do it, even if it’s on your five hour layover in the Dallas Fort Worth airport. Check to see if there are any travel advisories. Worried about Zika virus? Don’t! It’s not in Chile.
- The NYT has a slightly dated 36 hours in Santiago from 2011
- The Guardian has a great locals guide to Santiago published only a month ago.
- Centre for Disease Control information
I found Santiago, Chile to be a modern city with a European feel. This is likely because I haven’t traveled to South America before and have mostly traveled in Europe and the only other Spanish speaking country I’ve been to was Spain. The people are friendly but most do not speak english. I had a funny relationship with my driver who didn’t speak a word of english but kept speaking to me in spanish, like I was going to magically pick it up over the five days I was there. Sorry Julio, I let you down.
Shooting the Commercial:
Nearly everyone on the production spoke english. The director and the DP were American. The same goes for the agency and the client. The crew were locals and they were pretty much all bilingual.
I had a great experience on set but I have heard from other actors I know that sometimes these non-union commercials shot outside of North America can ask actors to do some things they wouldn’t ask you to do at home – like carry a 50+ lbs fridge on your back while walking down stairs in heels (ya, that happened). Remember to speak up if you ever feel uncomfortable.
One of the things that excited me the most was how beautifully the table was set when we broke for lunch. There was a tablecloth and cutlery was set out; it felt so much more civilized than the plastic table with fold up chairs I’ve normally used on set.
What to Bring:
Pack light. You’re only going for a few days.
Here’s what I brought: two t-shirts, one pair of jeans, yoga pants (to wear on the plane, so I could be comfortable and “stylish”), a sweater, a denim, top, a dress, a skirt, a jacket (for Vancouver and Santiago weather – I chose my vegan ‘leather’ jacket), underwear (of course), a swimsuit (sadly I never used it), a gym top, a pair of sandals (wishful thinking about going to the beach – which I did use!), a pair of running shoes (wishful thinking about a hotel gym), and ankle booties. I put all of that plus my toiletries in my carry-on.
In my “personal bag” I always have the following for airplane travel:
Antibacterial wipes because they do not wipe down the arm rests, screen, seat belt etc. Gross.
EmergenC – It might be the placebo effect working but I always pour a package into my water bottle and drink it before my flight.
Nasal Spray – I keep flying with head colds and it hurts so much. Imagine the feeling of someone shoving a screwdriver into your ear. My doctor suggested I get some decongestant nasal spray, which was something I never tried before and it helped almost instantly. Also putting a hot compress outside of your ear will help to get things moving but that’s hard to do on a plane.
Lotion – I always get so dry on airplanes so I like to travel with heavy hand cream. Remember to keep it under 100 ml (or 3.4 oz) otherwise the TSA will take it away and you’ll be sad.
Water bottle – If you’re traveling in North America (except Flint, Michigan) the tap water is fine. Fill up your bottle once you’re through security. It’s important to stay hydrated and bottled water is a sham: it has less regulations than tap water and it’s horrible for the environment. Seriously, there’s no reason to buy bottled water.* Stop doing it. Please.
Except, I’m a jerkface. Once I had settled in my hotel room in Chile I brought a 6 litre bottle from the grocery store nearby because I didn’t want to risk getting the squirts.
Zopiclone – I suffer from insomnia and I’m so thankful to have discovered this magic pill. I was able to get a few hours sleep on the plane and a restful sleep the first night because of my little blue Z. I also brought melatonin to take at my new bedtime in Santiago. I think taking it helped with my jet lag.
Vega All In One – I mostly eat vegetarian and I wasn’t sure what the food situation would be so I brought a mason jar to use as a shaker and some of my favorite meal replacement/ protein powder in a plastic bag.
Plus a book and notepad, but I hardly leave my house without those supplies anyway.
Things To Do Before You Leave:
- Don’t worry about exchanging your money before you go -you’re rushing to get on a plane to shoot a commercial – you don’t have time for that shit! It’s likely the production will give you a per diem in American cash when you arrive. If you need money go to a bank when you get there and take money out on your credit card.
- Learn some spanish, at least the basics. Make notes or print out common phrases. Learn numbers (so you can find your hotel room) and please and thank you.
- Pack your smartphone & charger. They’re going to have to get a hold of you somehow. It’s a wise idea to get some sort of travel plan. If you’re traveling for work you can write it off come tax time. Warning: if you’re with Fido and going to South America you’ll run through your data in one day. I did and I’m pretty good about turning my data off. Make a note to contact your MP when you get back to work on getting better cell phone plans in Canada.
- Get a power adapter – Just make sure it works with your computer cord. I learnt this the hard way (see photo below). If this happens to you ask the hotel you’re staying at if they have one you can borrow/buy, they often have spares because you’re not the first person to go to Shoppers Drug Mart and buy the only adapter they have even though it’s a P.O.S.
- Don’t bring your curling iron or hair dryer. Your P.O.S. power adapter likely will kill it in some way. It’s not worth it. Someone will do your hair when you’re on set. Your hotel should have a hair dryer in the bathroom and you’re on vacation, let your frizz fly!
- Buy sunblock, bug spray when you get there. Since you’re doing carry-on you need all the liquids for your regular stuff.
- Don’t worry about what you’re going to say at customs. They didn’t even ask me what I was doing in the country.
I lucked out and had two and a half free days to explore the city. Here are some of the highlights.
- The food! All of it. So good. The desserts! The seafood! The beer! The wine! I want to go back.
- Barrio Bellavista, is a vibrant cultural district. I went to Pablo Neruda’s house, La Chascona and I’m kicking myself for not buying the salt and pepper shakers from the gift store. Also in that area is a mountain that takes about 50 minutes to walk up, Cerro San Cristobal. If you’re lucky enough to go up it on a clear day you can see the Andes and the entire city. I walked up it and took the funicular down, it was scary, fun and would never pass North American public safety inspections.
- Also in Bellavista I paid the equivalent of $5 US to get my photo taken with a llama. WORTH IT.
- Take the metro. It’s safe and a good exercise for your brain to navigate a new transit system. If you’ve been on the NYC subway or London tube, you’ll be fine. This is where I really got to test out my beginner spanish.
- If your hotel is anywhere near Apumanque,where I was saying, be sure to check out Parque Arauco and the designer mall nearby – unless you have an allergy to scents, because every store was heavily perfumed.
Most of all have fun and enjoy how fortunate you are to be able to do this!
Everyone else get ready. The advertising agency I worked with said they’re likely going to keep booking non-union actors from Vancouver and shooting in Chile because it worked out so well.