Location Location Location! (On a budget)

****KICKSTARTER UPDATE!***** We are now 86% funded on our Kickstarter page! Thanks to all of you WMMM readers out there for supporting this film. We are now at the home stretch with only a week and a half to go, so please continue to spread the word! If you haven't donated yet, go ahead and click the Kickstarter link in the sidebar!

Things should be getting pretty interesting around here in the next few weeks with pre-production revving up and so much to do. Be sure to check out our featured article on Sundance.org. It's a great way for all of you new readers out there to catch up on the earlier parts of this crazy process.

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Since the last post, I've been getting a tremendous amount of questions regarding film locations and location scouting. Where do we find them? How many do we need? What are we looking for ? How do we manage to secure them?

Because of the do-it-yourself nature of this project, we are operating without a designated location scout. Instead, myself, my producers, and our production designer, Marie, are all doing the legwork of finding worthy locations for our movie. Although it is extra work, the amount of people looking for these locations permits us to cast a wider net and hopefully come up with a variety of choices as opposed to one "use-it-or-lose-it" choice.

As it stands, there are 12 locations for our film. That may not sound like a lot, but for a low-budget independent film, it is a fairly ambitious number to have written into a script for something this small of a scale. Beyond those locations, there are also a good deal of non-specific exteriors to be used throughout New York City. But, those locations should be relatively easy to secure once we have our city permits.

What do we have to work with? Well, there's no real location budget to speak of, so whatever we can't get for free, we will squeeze out of our budget somehow. This is why one should try to write around locations that they already have. But even if you've written around your resources, there are always unforeseen issues. Each location has its own specific needs to fill, but there are a few critical things to be considered for any location.

  • Space
  • Light
  • Cost
  • Aesthetic

Space -  Even a small film crew tends to take up a lot of space quickly. In New York, space is a such a luxury, that even if you can find a space large enough to suit your needs, it ends up being cost-prohibitive. But the space consideration goes beyond logistics. The layout of the particular location needs to suit the action of a scene. For instance, if a scene requires a character to throw a spatula at another character from the kitchen to the living room, the space layout has to facilitate that. (No spatulas in this film, unfortunately...but I still have some rewrites to do.)

Below is a shot from a recent scouting of a theatre we are hoping will serve as our "Broadway Theatre" location.

Light - Our goal is to always take advantage and find value in what's available... and what resource is more available and adds more value than natural sun light? It provides beautiful illumination for the action onscreen and also cuts down on the amount of artificial lighting we have to pay for and set up. The less lights there are to set up, the faster we can move.

Cost - We try to avoid this word as much as possible. Unless there is a location that we absolutely cannot do without, we will always try to find a friend or relative that will let us use their home or office or restaurant for free. But that's not always in the cards, especially in New York where every business has a pre-printed film location rental form. If we do have to pay, we search long and hard for the most affordable option, but sometimes we end up either re-writing or getting a little creative with how we shoot what we have.

Below, an apartment under consideration for our main location. All criteria must be met for this one to work!

Aesthetic - This sounds like a superfluous luxury for a filmmaker on a budget, but if you take the trouble to be a little picky, it can really raise the production value of the movie and save you money in the long run. For instance, when you have little-to-no money to spend on production design and set dressing, it's incredibly valuable to have a location that already suits the aesthetic you are looking for. The less a location needs to be camera-ready, the greater the savings on art department materials and labor. This kind of fringe benefit also extends to the camera department, who may have to light around awful paint jobs or lighting that just gives the wrong mood for the scene.

These four things to consider come in varying orders of priority depending on the specific needs of the location. The reality is, I'm not willing to sacrifice any of these criteria. It means a little more work for me and my people, but the payoff will be great.

So how do we go about finding them? My mantra throughout this journey has been that if I don't know the person who can help me, I probably know the person who knows the person who can help me. Or at least the person who knows the person who knows the person. So in addition to doing all the googling and phone-calling to find our locations, we continue to talk about our location needs to anyone who will listen. Hopefully, we can get all of those nailed down in the next couple of weeks so we can fine-tune the schedule and technical needs of each location.