Wear layers. Temperatures change. Sometimes you’re not moving, sometimes you’re running around. Being able to shed layers is critical to avoiding getting sweaty. When you sweat, you get wet, and when you’re wet in extreme cold, the end result can be hypothermia. Avoid cotton as it does not wick sweat. Natural fibres such as wool keep the heat in. Down, fleece and wind stopper fabrics are a good choice. Harder fabrics such as gortex can stiffen which is a problem if you are shooting sound. Make sure to cover up carefully as any harsh freezing winds will be felt through the slightest gap in clothing. Fingerless gloves are a good idea so you have the dexterity to operate equipment without having to take gloves off and on.
When removing gloves and boots, be mindful that in extreme locations such as Antarctica, even indoor temperatures can be cold enough for frostbite.
Cover any exposed skin with sunscreen. Also remember that snow reflects almost all ultraviolet light, so be sure to protect exposed areas, like under your chin, that you might not normally consider.
If you’re in extreme weather, chances are you are going to be far from any emergency assistance if you need it. Hire a location manager that has plenty of cold weather shoot experience. Make sure you tap locals for advice. They may know important information you hadn’t even considered. Go in with the mindset of needing to be extra prepared and to expect the unexpected.
Make a thorough risk assessment and decide on a conservative but flexible plan that leaves you plenty of time and resources to get back safely. Remember, teams work much more slowly in cold conditions. Cold is debilitating, so monitor crew performance, and make sure everyone takes regular breaks to warm up and consume food and drinks. Hydration is very important. The cold and hassle of going to the bathroom often means crews are drinking less than they should be.
Make sure your team have adequate first aid training and emergency supplies. Larger shoots should have an on-set medic. All crew need to be properly briefed on how best to stay warm and safe. Some filmmakers planning to stay in extreme cold, remote locations for very longer periods have gone as far as having their perfectly good appendix removed as a precautionary measure. Again, should you need it, emergency assistance is far away (and very expensive).
Extreme cold makes for unpredictable conditions. You may find yourself unable to get back to the warmth of a heated shelter. Before you go, make sure you have adequate wilderness survival skills. Know how to build a safe snow cave and use what you have around to make a fire for warmth.
Batteries run down quickly in cold weather. Keep batteries fully charged. Preserve battery life by keeping them somewhere warm, like in your pocket with a hand warmer. Lithium batteries are best for cold weather.
Condensation is another common problem. Taking a very cold camera inside results in condensation. The condensation can freeze on the glass of the lens. To prevent condensation, place the camera in a large plastic bag before taking it inside or bring the camera into a cooler area first, like a mud room. Or you can leave the camera outside as long as temperatures do not fall before -25°c as this will crack your LCD panel. Note, some lenses have special coatings, making wiping condensation away, easier.
Protect your gear. Use a winter-proof case. Wipe snow from gear with a paintbrush or cloth. Don’t change lenses outside unless absolutely necessary. Heavier tripods with less plastic parts are less likely to snap when frozen. Grease in a tripod may also freeze but there are tripods with arctic grease options available. LCD screens are particularly susceptible so insulated pouches with hand warmers are one way of keeping them from breaking.
Keep in mind that equipment like generators, mobile or satellite phones and radios may also be adversely affected by extreme cold.
Take spares of all essential gear.
Contact us if you are looking for recommendations for extreme cold climate production specialists including producers, fixers, directors, DoP’s, videographers, and photographers.