So you’ve got the cameras, lights, grip, audio and the talent. Now you need to find a suitable location. This obviously depends hugely on what it is you’re filming, but over the years I’ve had a lot of experience with blagging, hiring and hacking locations.
Why is location important in film?
Firstly, finding the right location is imperative for your project. If it’s an advert, it needs to not only reflect the product or service being sold, but also the brand. It seems obvious to some, but if it’s too sparse, cold, dirty, rugged or grungy you need to ask yourself whether the company you have been hired by want to associate themselves with that particular aesthetic.
If your lighting equipment is lacking, you need to consider the use of natural light within the space you’re filming. Set up potential interview loci within the space nearby windows or sun traps. Simply adding diffusers to a light source such as a window can offer you some exceptional conditions to film in.
If your subject is part of a narrative within a space, does the location contribute to the feeling you’re trying to convey? If the actor is supposed to feel stressed, trapped or under duress, an enclosed space would naturally exaggerate this emotional message. On the flip side, a light and spacious location works wonders evoking feelings of freedom, positivity and joy.
I could go on in a lot more detail, and will do at another stage, but you came here for tips…
Here are some helpful ideas below:
Someone somewhere works somewhere cool. Or not even cool, but somewhere with some kind of space. Often when I’ve been hard-pushed to find a venue, I’ve asked a friend or member of the cast / team to speak to their bosses or colleagues and see if we can haul our gear into the most suitable looking room in their place of work - after hours.
You’d be surprised how many different 'scenes' can be made by simply shifting a few pieces of furniture around and changing the lighting. It’s obviously really important to ensure any sensitive materials are out of shot, and that you know what the hell is going on if the fire or intruder alarm goes off. If you behave yourself this time, and show your colleagues / boss, they may be more inclined to help you out in the future.
2. Industrial estates
Those security dudes with Alsatians walk round and round and round and round often praying for something interesting to happen. In the past I’ve spoken to them prior to a shoot and told them about the exciting new music video / scene I’m going to be shooting for my ‘university project.’
8 times out of 10 I’ve been allowed access after hours to a number of really dramatic looking industrial locations, with a number of useful props (oil drums, crates, bits of metal, skips, strange discarded thingies). Make sure you give your security guard homie loads of Haribo or other sweet treats and again, they may be swayed should you need the spot in the future.
3. Friends or family homes
OK. You may not have permission to film in one of these, but if you do, the chances are there are a plethora of rooms that are decorated really nicely and are a comfortable spot to set up camp for the day or week.
Set up your own relevant insurance coverage and make sure you are responsible for keeping a tight lid on all the damages / breakages that hopefully won’t occur. Remember. The more respectful you are during your time there, the more likely the home owner will not mind you coming back. Show them your work and get them invested in the project. Perhaps ask them to offer some creative ideas to get them behind the shoot.
4. Spontaneous locations
You’ll be so surprised at how much incredible content you can film simply by driving around and looking for random locations. If you have all your gear prepped and ready to go in the car or van, you can simply rock up, jump out, set up and by the time you’ve filmed your piece, nobody’s noticed, poked their nose in or told you how one of their ‘niece’s friends is big in film.’
Beach fronts / woodlands / shop fronts / parks / leisure centres etc….
Small independents are often hoping for a bit of exposure without having to pay for it. I’ve often found a small, funky looking cafe and approached them in the morning to ask permission to film their at a suitable point for them in the late afternoon. Typically 3pm-6pm is relatively quiet, and you can set up a light, couple of cameras and lav mics and capture an interview in a stylish looking venue simply by being respectful and buying a few coffees and pastries.
Now we’re entering the realm of hired venues. Albeit relatively inexpensive. I contacted my local All Saints Church in Marlow as I had to shoot three live music performances for an audio manufacturing company ‘Focusrite.’ I tracked down the appropriate 'Gladys' or 'Ethel' to talk to, and asked what they would charge for three days access to the Church. I had to explain in depth what equipment I’d be bringing in, the names of my runners and band members etc.. and they charged £600 all in. Compare this to a hired venue such as ‘Shoot Factory’ and you’ll see a significant saving. Plus, they were really nice helpful people.
7. Air BNB
It’s a no brainer, but Air BNB is a hugely successful unofficial location company for indie film makers. You have the luxury of browsing the rooms and properties online first, and it’s affordable for the low-end budgets that bring us oh so much joy. Often they will ask you what you intend on doing there. I have always told them the truth about filming something small for a project or advert and they either love the fact you’ve chosen their place and ask for a recommendation, or they try to squeeze a bit more money out of you. Even with the additional squeeze, it’s still worth it if you find the right aesthetic feel for your project.
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