In big budget movies, it not uncommon for sets to be built on a sound stage wherever possible, this is usually due to the amount of control the creative team needs over the set, i.e being able to remove walls, lighting, shooting around the clock. If you're shooting on a budget its unlikely (although not impossible) that you can build your 'Church Interior' or 'Canadian wilderness' from scratch as a set on a sound stage. This usually means that you have to find something the preexists in the world.
This is both a blessing and a curse. Finding a pre-existing location means that you have less control over things like weather, power, access, angles, food establishments and the list varies drastically from place to place, meaning a lot of prep and compromise most of the time. The upside however, is that you get something real, something that you can't build, something raw and lived in and that is really what adds the value to your films.
FINDING YOUR LOCATION
Following are 3 ways of sourcing locations when you are working on a limited budget, These 'suggestions' are by no means the best , or the only, ways of finding the right location for your film, but hopefully they'll help you think creatively about what you need and help you look at where you shoot in more productive way.
1. unique circumstances
This is basically looking at what you have access to personally. Can you make a film out that creepy looking shack your dad built at the bottom on the garden? Does your Aunt work at a High School after hours? Does your mate have the keys to the warehouse on a weekend? All these are great starting points to finding a great location to shoot in that isn't 'Mark's Studio Apartment' and also a brilliant way of getting the creative juices flowing. There a few things than coming up with a scene or even an entire film based around an amazing location.
I always 'try' to write locations based on something I know we have or can get access too, even if that means taking a pause from writing for a moment and throwing it out there to people I know with a "Does anyone have access to..." and usually I receive a "No, But I have access to...", sometimes this will dictate where the film is set and sometimes the direction a film will go. You have to be creative and compromise when it comes to low budget filmmaking.
For Example, I originally wrote Slasher House to take place in an old run down mansion, when we were offered an abandoned prison, it was too good to pass up and we adapted and it worked out for the better, both visually and thematically. It also meant we had to adapt one scene to be set in a 'Gallows' which was a pretty awesome, if not terrifying, experience and also added another dimension to the film
2. your network
Other filmmakers are a great conduit for resources, this is because, just like you, they spend their time making movies and, believe or not, have come up against most the same problems you have when it comes to getting locations and come out the other side. Its a great way to to find creative solutions to problems, by talking to people who have already solved those problems and getting their advice.
The biggest advantage of this, is that it gives you a new perspective and helps you think outside the box. One of the biggest mistakes I see people making in terms of locations is that they need something so they look for "INSERT LOCATION HERE" and that alone, when one of the key ways to solve the problem is finding something that can do the same job, but provides earlier access. Other filmmakers will have been through this and will be able to help advise you and what can substitute your needed set.
What I mean is, for example, on Legacy of Thorn we needed a hospital, but getting one that looked operational was tougher than we could have imagined. Instead we found a section of our old college that looked very similar to a hospital corridor (along with first aid room) and dressed it up to stand in for it. Throwing in some posters, a couple of extras in long white coats and nurses uniforms and we had a what we wanted but without the red tape of shooting a real hospital.
Sometimes its worth talking to other filmmakers about how they made it appear that they shot in a location.
3. just ask
The real issue with this approach is that it can become a numbers game and thats a lot of ground work, but if you're willing to put that work in, you'll almost certainly find the location that you're after. Just find the type of location you're looking for and make a list of suitable candidates, from here your kind of politely cold calling and explaining your project and what you want to do. Some people won't care, some will be interested, but won't be able to help you and you'll come across those who will do whatever they can to accommodate what you're doing. Its pretty much that simple.
For Slasher House 2, we needed a government facility (or something that could pass for one). We actually live in the town that has the government facility that solved the Enigma Code (now a tourist attraction), but they were a flat out 'NO' out of the gate. We decided that we would have to found something that could work instead of and figured a 'Lazer Quest' could work. We emailed every Lazer Quest in a 100 miles radius and out of 25 we got a response from 2, we met with one. It didn't work out due to the times we needed, but we had the location should we want it.
We eventually went in a different direction that worked out better for us, but I'll talk about that in a future blog.
Just like any aspect of filmmaking, employing creative thinking is your friend and if you think about what you need in front of the camera creatively you might even surprise yourself in what you come up with what you think of outside the box or sometimes its as simple as just asking.
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