Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Bring A Change Bag To The Airport


18th October 2005

For the first time domestically, I have had to break out my changing bag at the airport security checkpoint and guide a TSA through opening and examining four rolls of exposed film. Previously I have traveled maybe 10 times with exposed film in the US. The airport was in Cleveland, OH, and the TSA folks were very professional but were not going to let me go without getting their hands on the film. I did have a French cop check some exposed 16 once when I flew through Paris. But he tired after the third of ten rolls and let me go.

The whole thing makes me very unhappy with the options available for shipping. Does anyone have a better way to do this?


Rick Lopez
Website :

>The whole thing makes me very unhappy with the options available for >shipping. Does anyone have a better way to do this?

Go with FedEx.

Jeff Barklage, s.o.c.
US based DP

The whole thing makes me very unhappy with the options available for shipping. Does anyone have a better way to do this?

Try USPS, last time I checked it was less than $5 for a roll(domestic)no X-ray problems at all

John Babl

The last time I went through the airport changing bag drill one of the TSA inspectors said that they thought there was a process for calling ahead to the airport to expedite your film's travel through security.

Has anybody else heard anything similar?

Jake Capistron

Here's the relevant blurb from Kodak (with my italics) from here :


Security precautions at US airports have been significantly tightened following the tragic events of September 11th. Among precautions that travelers can expect will be the increased use of new, high-intensity x-ray scanners for checked baggage and hand-carried baggage. Passengers should be aware that these high-intensity x-ray machines will fog and ruin all unprocessed film of any speed, whether exposed or not. Kodak recommends that air travelers do not carry unexposed or unprocessed motion picture film.

If it is unavoidable that film is carried, passengers should contact the airport in advance to request hand-inspection, allow additional check-in time for such procedures, and follow the advice given below.

Jack Kelly
Cam / Dir / Prod


The unfortunate reality of post-911 security in the USA is, from what I see.. every airport & every screener will react to you differently, irregardless of the ever-changing policies. I always call ahead and warn the airline I'm flying with. With American for my flight to London this upcoming Saturday, it took them 20 minutes on the phone to finally find a regulation for photographers who are traveling, in this case it is my ASMP membership that is going to prove helpful. She reminded me to bring my ASMP card, but, until I mentioned it, didn't even think of noting the whole thing against the ticket in my file. If I had not asked her to make the note, she wouldn't have, even though it took her that long to track down the info - something you surely don't want to deal with at the gate.

I don't mean to rant, but always error on the side of caution, and assume that nobody at the airport will ever have seen a roll of motion picture film before, much less a box of it coming through. I always assume they will put every roll into the changing bag and open it up.

If they don't, I consider myself lucky.

Speaking of the TSA - here are 2 links :

David Mallin
Cloudchaser Films LLC
PO Box 170267
San Francisco, CA 94117

In conversations with FedEx, they could not promise that the film would NOT be X-rayed. Kodak told me that they have a special arrangement with FedEx so that none of their shipments get X-rayed.

And the USPS makes me a little nervous. Even if they don't x-ray, I would worry about relying on them for shipping something so valuable. And is it really certain that the USPS does not x-ray?

Rick Lopez

>And is it really certain that the USPS does not x-ray?

I have shipped with them quite a few times and no X ray issues.

By the way, as I recall, bonolabs only accepts USPS, no Fedex after some sort of incident-and since it appears that no one from bono is on this list, we'd have to contact them to know what did happen -Or, check out dr rawstock and see how they send film around the country...

Best regards,
John Babl

I have just got home after finishing a 35mm job interstate. The last job I did with this same Production Co., the DP & I traveled together interstate where I had a black bag with me to bring the exposed footage home to have processed at our local lab. On that job we were flatly refused any possibility of a hand check of the exposed footage. No matter how politely we stated our case for not allowing the exposed footage to be put thru the X-Ray machine, the standard line was always the same "everything that goes into the cabin goes thru the X-Ray machine"- end of discussion.

As it happens the 'frontline' security at the airport has been contracted out so even the airport duty manager cannot override their decisions. In this particular instance, the manager informed us that the unaccompanied (cargo hold) baggage was not X-Rayed. On that occasion we had no other alternative, we reluctantly sent the cans into the cargo hold. All the rushes were fine. On this occasion, we took the film to the local reputable lab near Panavision for processing before driving to the airport.

Paranoia is a real problem when your job is impacted by another industry....hang on, there is a shit-load of paranoia in our industry!

Angelo Sartore
1st. AC

> In conversations with FedEx, they could not promise that the film would > NOT be x-rayed.

Not even FedEx Ground? Sure, it might take an extra day, but if you're out of options...

George Hupka
Downstream Pictures
Saskatoon, Canada


I just got into this chain of thought today and am not sure where it is going. I have just finished a 15 week film in Lapland and South Sweden where the exposed neg was sent via two planes to Stockholm for processing. So as far as I am aware the neg was checked through the x-ray scanners once or maybe twice without any member of the crew being there to insist on anything else. our dailies came back fine (apart from the previously mentioned one day being out of focus throughout).

A few shots were a bit blue from the one light TK but otherwise everything was very good. Am I missing something? has the US got harsher X-rays than Europe? I am more worried about the couriers bike journey through London to Soho on my present job shooting a commercial in South London because of an excessive amount of sparkle I have noticed on a couple of days takes.

How much actual damage do x-rays cause?

If this has been covered earlier, sorry but I have limited time to read everything.

Regards to all

Chris Maris

Yes, American X-rays are far more powerful. After all.... they're American. (just kidding, of course)

But seriously, they are different from those used at European airports. Different from what they were a few years ago also.

Blain Brown

There is very little uniformity to the intensity of airport x-ray machines throughout the world. On some machines the operator can jack up the intensity or hold a package in the scan longer to "see" better into the case. That can be a big issue when wrapping film in a "do not x-ray" lead-lined pouch -- the operator could choose to blast away the rads to see inside.

"Monsoon Wedding" was a notable case of unprocessed negative being damaged so heavily by x-rays that insurance paid for portions to be re-shot and other portions digitally "fixed."

Mitch Gross

Went through Heathrow twice with motion picture film stock in the past 2 weeks, both times they allowed for a chemical 'swab' test, (this was not the case 3-4 years ago).

Same at Tegel airport in Berlin - no X-ray, only cloth test. (what are those things called anyway?)

Same thing at Pearson airport in Toronto.

I was given the option at Dulles airport in D.C if I waited 20 minutes., but the 16mm I had was my own, 50asa, personal shooting, so I put it through the x-ray machine.

It was fine...

It's the CTX 5500 and similar you have to watch out for! that will definitely ruin your film!

Always good advice to bring your changing bag.

Also important to bring a dummy roll so you can "show" the customs agents what they are 'feeling'.

It really does reassure them...

Duraid Munajim
Cinematographer, Toronto

Normal X-ray machines will only cause damage, generally, in a cumulative way.

I tested around 12 years ago and found that base fog increased in the worst case in a tiny way only after 6 trips through "normal" airport X-ray machines.

The CTX machines will totally destroy your footage, full stop!

Airport security had tried to argue in the past that CTX is OK, even though some airports actually display signs next to CTX machines saying they will kill film, even though the manufacturers own website says they will kill film.

I suggest you go to the CTX website and print out a copy of their advice.


Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
EU Based

I actually just found an exposed roll of Velvia that had found its way into a corner of my briefcase about 14 months ago.... Which means it's been through airport x-rays at least a couple of dozen times. Had it processed and it came back with slightly less contrast than I'd expect from Velvia, but otherwise nothing untoward.

But I think we're all quite reasonably paranoid when it comes to our "real" work going through the x-ray. Even if only a small percentage of x-ray machines ruin film... Who wants to be in that small percentage?

Not me!

George Hupka
Downstream Pictures
Saskatoon, Canada

Greetings Chris,

Chris Maris wrote:

>an excessive amount of sparkle I have noticed on a couple of days >takes.

What type of sparkle? Same roll or various rolls. Reads like dirt or perhaps film can got dropped,


Emmanuel Sys
Assistant Caméra - Camera Assistant - Kamera Assistent
BVK- European based
Munich .... cml-listmum

Hi old mate ....

Emmanuel asked

>What type of sparkle? Same roll or various rolls. Reads like dirt or >perhaps film can got dropped

I think it was probably dropped film can. The thing is, once the film is out of your hands, there’s so much that can happen to it that you have no control over. It's a scary world out there.

All the best

Chris Maris

Plus, NONE of the security folk seem to comprehend the idea that the effects are cumulative (not to mention the differential effect of fog level on successive frames...)

Sam Wells

Check it out....airport procedures.

Nick Hoffman NYDP

Duraid Munajim writes:

>Went through Heathrow twice with motion picture film stock in the past 2 >weeks, both times they allowed for a chemical 'swab' test

As I passed through security at San Francisco and Phoenix airports last week they insisted on thoroughly swabbing that which should be talked about in CML-video. But only because I hadn't removed the camera from its case before it went thru the X-ray machine.

They told me that if I'd removed the camera first, they would not have swabbed it.

Is that a headscratcher, or what?

Dan "still scratching" Drasin
Marin County, CA

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