Attention independent filmmakers – if you don’t have the right location, it could ruin your whole film.
A location may not seem like a big deal at first, but it’s one of the biggest factors independent filmmakers need to keep in mind.
If you find a great location – especially one for free – it can add production value to your film. It can make it look like you opened your purse and poured all your savings into the film and all your friends’ and families’ savings too.
This is something that takes work, but if you’ve got a tenacious spirit and are ready for some hard work, keep reading…
THE RIGHT LOOK
This may seem obvious, but when I watch an independent film, I often think, “Why in the world did they pick this location? It looks like a dump when it should be a palace.”
When it comes to finding the perfect location for your film, everything should be aiding the story.
Even the details.
Take the above photo as an example. It’s a stunning location: great furniture, cool windows.
On the surface it looks like a perfect location and for some story it is. BUT, if my story is about a sixty-something woman, who’s lived in this apartment for forty years and has an affinity for all things antique, can you imagine the same space being used?
Don’t look at the furniture, look at the space. What do you see…? Windows in every wall, exposed ducts, white walls and wood floors.
I can’t imagine my character living in a place like this.
The windows and exposed ducts are too modern for my character.
While the wood floors don’t hurt or aid this character’s living space, it’s more likely for they would have carpet throughout the apartment.
The only way this location would work, is if the owners would allow you to add a fake ceiling to cover the ducting and to hang curtains to try to hide their more modern flare. Even if they say yes, you have to consider the cost and time. Will it be cheaper to find a better location? Or will the time and money work in the end?
THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
When it comes to finding the right location, you gotta make sure you’ve got the right attitude. Also, do the location owners have the right attitude?
Are they flexible with their location and belongings?
Do they know what it’s like to work with a film crew?
If you’re the location scout, make sure the owners have a full understanding of what they’re getting themselves into. To do this well means you’ve got to be straightforward and honest, while not scaring them into a “No.”
Remember to say “Thank you.” Make sure you give a good estimate of how many people will be coming to their home/ business/ or resort. Create clear boundaries with them.
- Which bathrooms can you and the crew use?
- Where can you keep the equipment so it’s near where you’re filming but out of the way?
- Can you stay longer?
- What days work best for them?
- Can you move the furniture?
- Can you use their power?
- If it’s a business, what days are they closed? Would it be a better day to come film?
- Will they be ok with having 30+ people on their property?
- Where should you park vehicles?
Think of everything you may need and make sure the location owners are going to be ok with the army of independent filmmakers about to descend on them.
In my experience, most people have been pretty relaxed about my film crew showing up. Once they understand how much we value their location and want to protect it, they start handing us “props” or “set dec” from other rooms in their house.
Most of the time, they let us “move in” and “make ourselves at home”.
This is because our reputation goes before us. We’re known for cleaning up and leaving the place as spotless and perfect as when we arrived.
One way we do this is by making sure we abide by the rules of the location (ie. taking our shoes off at the door, keeping curfew hours in mind, etc).
We want it to look like we were never there. This impresses people and makes them want to work with us again.
Also, we treat location owners like their a part of our quirky little family.
We want them to know how much they’ve given to us, and so we make sure to shower them with thanks and invite them to the wrap party and any screenings we may have. They did us a huge favor and we want to honour their sacrifice.
THE RIGHT POWER SOURCE
I mentioned this briefly already, but make sure you have the power sources you’ll need on set.
If filming at someone’s house, make sure they’re ok with you plugging the 750 and 800 watt lights into their power before you do it. Otherwise, it might get a bit tricky when you have to let the location owner know you accidentally tripped the circuit breaker or blew a fuse.
This becomes an even more important factor if you’re shooting outdoors. The last feature I worked on, half of the shoot took place in the woods. Power became the all important need.
Every department needs power.
The hair and makeup department need it for blow dryers. The camera department needs it to charge camera batteries, and even craft services needs it for making the great elixir of life (also known as coffee).
In our case, we had to hire a generator, which can be a pricey expense.
There are still ways to avoid the cost, see if a friend has a small generator you can borrow. Or better yet, find an outdoor location close to Base Camp. This can help with power needs and cut fuel costs.
Which ties in with our next point…
THE RIGHT DISTANCE
How far away is the location? And how accessible is it? As independent filmmakers, we can’t rely on a big budget where we can hire helicopters to take cast, crew and equipment to remote mountain tops an hour away.
We have to think more practical. Yes, it restricts us, but it also enables us to find solutions. It’s a chance to apply some innovative thinking and be tenacious.
Once upon a time, I was directing a short film which took place at a lake…
A couple friends and I, including fellow TII writer Brenden Bell, dug up several locations we thought might work. We headed to one and ended up spending most of the day hiking through the woods to find this lake that was meant to be only ten/ fifteen minutes from the carpark.
Needless to say, we didn’t pick the location. We had fun hiking through the rain, dodging fire ants and seeing wallabies, but the idea of carrying the equipment, generator, etc. – not to mention asking our cast to hike for hours into the middle of the woods, didn’t feel like the right thing to do.
In the end, we found the perfect location down the back of a friend’s property. Which was easier to navigate and closer to things like a working toilet and power.
THE RIGHT SPACE
Choosing [a] location is integral to the film: in essence, another character.” – Ridley Scott
Keeping all the above factors in mind, ultimately, you need to find a place that ticks every question and resolves questions you never even thought to ask.
One last key to keep in mind is – will it fit your crew, equipment and cast comfortably?
I remember shooting at a luxury law firm. They gave us free reign of the place, as they were closed on the day we were to shoot there.
Everything had it’s own space. The extras sat in one board room, while we shot in another. Craft and catering had a huge space and video village had an entire room to themselves.
Makeup had their own room, and so did wardrobe.
The cast were set up in an executive lounge and we had our set dec prepping rooms while we shot in others.
It was one of the most efficient days on that specific production and the ultimate #filmmakergoal for you in finding the perfect location.
Happy hunting my fellow independent filmmakers and remember to be tenacious in your scouting.