This page is primarily for television dramas or comedies looking to shoot in foreign countries during their regular season. It summarizes what Master Key does and how we can help. Our goal is to help shows shoot at locations around the world they didn’t think they could get to, either because of cost, or because of lack in confidence that it would work.
In a nutshell, we make sure it doesn’t all fall apart, and that’s its efficient and cost effective. We deal with all those details that main unit doesn’t have time for (visas, carnets, permitting, etc.).
We’ve done this for many shows in dozens of countries for NBC, ABC, FX, USA, SciFi and many other studios and networks.
So . . . the million dollar question is “Why doesn’t the show just produce it themselves? Why use Master Key or another company like it?”. It’s a good question.
The biggest pitfall most television dramas can make when going abroad, is approaching the problem like they do on main unit, with trailers, larger crews, etc. The trick is that you don’t necessarily need all that if you’ve flown all the way to an exotic locale. Most of your production value is obtained by just being on location.
Our philosophy is to maximize the production value you’ve obtained by being on location. If you’re in Colombia, or Paris, or a volcanic field in Iceland, your production value is largely coming from shooting at cool locations in those places, not from excessive art department or lighting setups.
Below, we’ll lay out how we can achieve this.
PART 1: Efficiency
In a nutshell, we deal with most of the details you shouldn’t be dealing with. This is where most productions get hung up trying to deal with all this, because their production office staff is already busy with main unit. They also have generally never shot abroad before, which comes with its own set of issues.
- Local Production Company – We have a network of dozens of companies around the world, who know how to work with your director, DP, and actors. If we shoot in a country where we don’t have a contact, guarantee one of our contacts does. And we’ll do all of the work of vetting to make sure they’re legit.
- Visas and Permits – We deal with all of this, and help production through the process of getting whatever’s necessary for the actors, director, DP, producer, etc.
- Shipping and Carnets – We’ll get props, camera, wardrobe, whatever, in and out in the correct way. This is something than can easily cause major problems if done badly.
- Travel and Hotels – We help the show to do this correctly, so we still follow all contractual rules with the actors, director, etc, but it’s the right place, near location, has the right amenities, is production friendly, etc.
Part 2: Cost
How much do we aim for a typical shooting day to cost? Brass tacks, we aim for $120,000 USD per shooting day or less, all in, including travel and hotels. Often its much less, but sometimes more if there’s big stuff planned, stunts or lots of extras or five cast members, or we’re in the middle of Paris (an expensive place). But even expensive places can be shot economically if planned correctly.
Also, the more days you shoot in a given country, the lower the cost per day, as we can amortize the fixed costs, like flights and prep.
Part 3: Advice
We’ll help a given show to structure a foreign unit properly, as much or as little as they’d like, in terms of crew size, how to maximize your time there, how to schedule it, where are the biggest “bang for your buck” places to shoot, where are the hidden gems, etc. Especially things that a show would never know otherwise.
If requested, we’ll advise as to how to write to this kind of unit, and more specifically, what to avoid.
On “Covert Affairs”, every year we created a research document laying out potential countries to go to that year, with the pros and the cons, how easy it was to shoot, the flight time, etc. and it helped them figure out what to write to.
We also did a great deal of the preliminary location scouting ourselves, to help “Covert Affairs” find the very best locations in each city for a given story.
Part 4: Insurance
This is a big one for the studios, risk aversion. By using Master Key, we act as a layer between main unit and the foreign shoot. If anything at all goes awry, we would try and deal with it first on our end, then it would pass through. This give the studios one more layer of risk management.
Our insurance policies meet the requirements at ABC, NBC, CBS, and all of the other studios and networks we’re aware of.
In addition, we’ve proven we can do it. That matters more than any insurance policy. This includes walk and talks, stunts, vehicles, large crews, small crews, helicopters, the works.
Part 5: Keeping it Tight
How could “Covert Affairs” do this 4 times a year, and visit over 24 countries in 5 seasons? By keeping it tight.
What this means is adopting a philosophy of only taking what you need. All is subject to a given show’s needs of course, but here’s what most shows bring on NBC, ABC, USA, etc.
Typically travelling from main unit:
- Sometimes a producer/writer
Locally we typically hire:
- Operator (s)
- AC’s, 1st and 2nd
- Props / Set Dresser
- Location managers
- PA’s, etc
- Grip and Gaffers as needed, but minimal.
Obviously, if it’s a show with different needs, more lighting or grip (like “Hannibal” for example), we can adjust.
Hair / Makeup: For hair and makeup, there are a few options. We have cultivated a couple of key personnel who can manage even a #1 on the callsheet female actor (such as Piper Perabo on “Covert Affairs”). This is often a big question for shows, as they are loathe to trust their actors to someone they don’t know.
My response is an example from “Covert Affairs”, that really did this well. We rarely had a hair / makeup trailer. Usually we were doing hair / makeup at the hotel prior to shooting, followed by touchups on location, or in restaurants, or in the van, etc. Same thing with Piper’s changes, she would change anywhere required. If we had brought in a bunch of our crew from Toronto every time, we would never have been to keep it small and cost effective, and we just wouldn’t have travelled as much as we did.
Of course, we can bring in a show’s hair and makeup, that’s fine, but it brings the unforeseen consequence of sometimes making a given show’s crew ask, “why aren’t they flying out all of us?”. Just something to consider.
Transportation: This all works better when you can move quickly. This means relying on sprinter vans and small vehicles. We try and only use trucks when we have to for whatever reason.
But in terms of philosophy, if you can keep things mobile and quick, it makes everything cheaper and easier.
Our whole approach is to give you the biggest bang for your buck, so you can focus on making a quality product. We want you to shoot in Colombia, France, Istanbul, Hong Kong, Iceland, etc, wherever you want. Our pitch is that it doesn’t have to break the bank, and can be much easier than you might think.