By Josias Jensen
Getting the right locations for your film is an incredibly important part of the filmmaking process. No matter how expensive your equipment is, your footage simply won’t be interesting if you don’t film in an interesting and engaging environment.
On our most recent independent feature; The Out of the Woods Project, I served as the Production Designer and Location Manager. Mansions, penthouses, high rise offices, expensive restaurants and high end hotel rooms… these are all locations we were able to secure for our film despite the fact that we didn’t actually have the budget for it!
It was incredibly difficult, and I learned a lot along the way. So, I have written a list of 5 simple steps to get locations for your film based on my experiences on The Out of the Woods Project.
1. Look the part
It is important that you look and dress professionally when you go location scouting. If you do not act and look like a professional, people are less likely to trust you to bring a whole film crew onto their property.
A good rule of thumb is to dress similar to the people you hope to meet. If you are scouting for a high end location wear something formal, if you are scouting in the woods wear something pragmatic.
As filmmakers we ought to know that presentation really does matter!
2. Use the Right Channels
Although it is easier to stay in the office and write emails to people it is simply not very effective.
Showing up and meeting in person is the most effective way of establishing a connection. Sometimes a phone call needs to be made to set up a meeting, but always seek to meet in person.
Upon arrival at the location, ask to talk to the manager or owner of an establishment since they are the people who have a say in letting you film at the location or not.
If the location you are wanting to scout does not look like it is open to the public, always seek to set up a meeting or ask an employee of the company if you may have a look around.
I once made the mistake of going to different levels to talk to businesses directly in a building where members of the public weren’t allowed unless they had previous engagements. The owners of the businesses complained to the building manager and as a result, we lost an opportunity to film there as well as damaging our own reputation. Don’t do that, you will always want to maintain a good relationship with the owners/managers of a location.
3. Cast Vision
When communicating with the managers/owners of a location it is crucial that you impart the vision of your project. They are doing you a large favour by letting your company use their space. Your goal is to get them onboard and make them feel like they are part of the journey of making the film.
If they feel invested in your project they are much more likely to be accommodating to your needs and you may even establish some friendships along the way. Often owners/managers of a location will ask; What is this for? What does your company do? Why should we let you film in our business? How does this benefit us? How does this benefit the community? etc. It is your job to have thought through all these questions.
Know what you want to say, be concise in your communication and always have a friendly attitude when you go locations scouting.
4. Be Organised
You will find yourself having an overwhelming amount of conversations with strangers every single day. It is vital that you keep a record of all your communication with potential locations.
Keep track of the names of the people you’ve talked to, when you’ve talked to them, the gist of what you talked about, what number you called etc.
Creating a shared spreadsheet online is one of many ways that you and your team can avoid losing track, and it is also helpful in creating a more effective plan of attack. Google Sheets is a good platform to do this.
5. Use your network
Networking is one of the most effective tools in filmmaking in general, and on The Out of the Woods Project we found about half of all our locations purely due to our existing network.
When looking for a location ask yourself, do I know someone who would know a place to film or would know someone else who does?
The group of people you have asked will grow exponentially, all the people you know + all the people each of one of those people knows and so on. Sometimes you will even find that asking others will give you new inspiration and ideas for where to search for the location.
Location scouting can be a tedious and difficult task. Sometimes you will talk to a hundred people to find a single location. However, getting the right locations for your film is crucial and will pay off in the end. I hope these will be of some help and inspiration to all you independent filmmakers out there. Now go get those spectacular locations you want for your film!