The Self-Taught Producer: How To Find Locations
When I began writing onscreen stories, one of the biggest positives (and hurdles) was being able to write situations that happen in actual locations that would look like real places, instead of a stage set that would represent places. This offered a sense of realism to my stories and still brings me pleasure to see a world I created in my computer come to life on screen in what looks like real life…because it is.
The hurdle I parenthetically mentioned is the task of actually finding these locations. It can be a daunting task that may take longer than you’d think. Sometimes even locations that seem easy can take a surprisingly long time to find, especially on an indie budget.
WANT SOME TIPS on how to find locations that you can actually use without breaking your bank?
MY FIRST TIP is to make a list of your resources. Do your close family and friends own a business? Do you know someone who works in a restaurant that is closed on Sundays or not open until 4PM? This is a great place to start. Odds are, not only will these people who champion your work allow you to use their locations, they will most likely do so at no cost.
So, if you absolutely positively have to set a scene in a ballroom and don’t have to access to one? First, make sure that you actually don’t have access to one. PUT OUT A POST on your social media profiles and see if anyone in your network might have a connection to one. An email to your contacts is a good idea, too. Or get creative. If it is supposed to be a ballroom, is there another location that could look like a ballroom? An event space, an old home with large rooms, a school cafeteria?
If that doesn’t pan out, MY SECOND TIP is to go online and search for ballrooms, make some COLD CALLS and ingratiate yourself to strangers. How to do this? Try to get whoever is on the other end of the phone excited about your project. BRIEFLY mention what the script is about and how their space will be featured. Be sure to mention the following things, too:
· YOU HAVE A VERY SMALL CAST AND CREW
· YOU'RE WORKING WITH A SHOESTRING BUDGET
· YOU'VE SEEN PHOTOS OF THE SPACE (OR BETTER YET HAVE BEEN THERE) AND KNOW THAT IT WOULD BE THE PERFECT PLACE FOR YOUR STORY
· THE SPACE WIL BE MENTIONED IN YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA POSTINGS WHEN THE FILM OR SERIES DEBUTS
· THE SPACE WILL BE LISTED IN YOUR ENDING CREDITS
Most of us indie filmmakers do not have a huge budget for locations. As you’ve already mentioned that you’re making your project on a shoestring budget, ask what their rental rate is. It may be in days or hours. If you think you can get what you need in a matter of hours, let them know. If they only offer day rates, ASK IF THERE IS ANY LENIANCY within that rate, perhaps on a notoriously unused day (i.e. Mondays) and again mentioning your small budget. For some businesses, SOME MONEY IS BETTER THAN NONE.
What are the odds of getting your dream location when producing indie projects? It really varies. There are kind people out there who want your filmmaking dreams to come true if they can make it happen. Some people will be unwavering in their staunch belief in sticking to the rules. However, although you might be disappointed, you may have dodged a bullet. If the temperament of the person renting a space is less than enthusiastic, you may have a negative experience while shooting, even if you have their requested budget. You may be watched like a hawk, asked to explain why that light has to go there or even nudged to speed it up. These are not merely suppositions…I’ve been there and it’s uncomfortable.
THE GREATEST TIP I can offer you comes into play while you’re writing your script. As I have become a more seasoned writer/producer, I rarely set scenes in places that are challenging to find. I err on the side of producibility when writing. For the indie projects that I produce, it just makes sense to me to do so. Therefore, think realistically before writing INT. HOSPITAL ROOM. It may take some script changes but it will be a lot easier to set your scene somewhere you have access to. Maybe whatever discussion that would be ideal to happen in a hospital room could happen after the fact or before in an easily gotten location. Or maybe, if the discussion happens over the phone, you can skew the angle on your actor in a bed to make it look believable that we’re in a hospital. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THOSE CAMERA ANGLES WHEN YOU CAN.
When writing and producing indie projects, you will discover that your creativity will be used in many ways. Getting creative with your locations is just one of them. But a very important lesson to learn.
As always, please let us know if you have tips to offer or resources that can help indie filmmakers to tell their stories.