Finding Locations for your film — Filmmaking Advice
A Chapter selection from the Bridgeport Film Club Guidebook
As independent filmmakers, finding locations has been one of the most challenging aspects of putting a film shoot together.
One story I think about a lot happened during production of my second short film. I needed a bar for a location and there was one guy I knew who had access to a bar. I was also interested in his bar because it was a classic neighborhood bar; once you walked through the entrance, there was no light. It could be the middle of the day outside and it looked like nighttime inside. I asked him for help and he said yes. Part of me felt like the yes was too easy.
The morning that we are meant to shoot the film, my crew start showing up at our meeting place, a coffee shop across the street from the bar. I pay for any coffee drinks anyone needs, and I’ve brought doughnuts from the local bakery. The bar owner doesn’t show up. My cast start showing up at the coffee shop. I get them drinks and feed them. The bar owner hasn’t arrived. It’s getting to be an hour after we were supposed to load into the set. My Production Coordinator and I walk down the street where this guy lives, I call him, I text him, and I email him. No response.
It’s pushing 11AM and we were scheduled to start filming at 11AM. I tell my Production coordinator to call some bars down the street as soon as they open at 11AM to ask if we can shoot there.
She calls the first bar right when they open, and they say yes. My cast and crew make a company move about a half mile away to the new location. I pay for street parking for everyone using one of my credit cards. We set up the lights on the location, quiet any background noises we can fix, and my DP and I adjust our shots to the new location.
We’re in a bar, it’s 11AM, and there are customers at one end of the bar. The location we had scheduled would be closed until we wrap. The bar we moved into is open.
During filming, I would call out “quiet on set” and the guys at the end of the bar would quiet down until there heard one of the jokes in the film. That happened pretty much all day. They didn’t bother us and we were able to get all the coverage we needed. When we wrapped, I walked down to the end of the bar where the drinkers were and I thanked all of them for their patience.
When you are looking for locations, it is best to work with a lawyer to draw up a location agreement. You want to define when you’re filming, and the person who manages the location might want to know how many people are going to be on set. As always, I am not a lawyer and do not take this as legal advice.
Finding a location can be very challenging. We reach out to our network, social media, our cast, our crew, our friends, craigslist, and keep going until we find a suitable location. Sometimes not-for-profits or professional institutions can be helpful for finding a location. On one film I was involved with, the Producer finally hired a gallery space so we would have a place where we could build our sets.
It usually comes down to word of mouth, or going door to door and asking coffee shops or bars or stores for help in person. Sometimes it may feel like it comes down to luck, but it’s really a matter of tenacity and finding the right person.
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