As you all know, us humans don’t live in a vacuum. Life is full of interesting stories that happen in various places. Whether it’s in an old creaky elevator, on a challenging hiking trail, or just in the backyard of a friend’s house, stories need a location to unfold. This is a challenge that all filmmakers, whether seasoned or newbies, face: finding the perfect place to bring their vision to life. So, where do you start and what should you look out for? Well, I’ve got some useful tips and a couple of the latest AI tools to help you with location scouting.
Embarking on a location scout, or a “recce” as we call it, can feel a lot like the casting process. Just ask writer and director Rubidium Wu, who dedicated a whole module to this in his MZed course “The Indie Film Blueprint”. He’s got some valuable insight and approaches that I’ll be sharing with you. Of course, you can always check out the full course here if you’re interested.
When we talk about “filming on location” in the industry, it means finding a suitable existing place, whether it’s indoors or outdoors. This is different from “filming on stage”, which refers to soundstages that are custom-built for film and TV production. Now, these soundstages are pretty damn expensive. We’re talking over a thousand dollars a day just for an empty room. And you’ll need time to set up the sets and tear them down after shooting. So, if you’re just starting out, forget about it.
But fear not, there is a more affordable and convenient option: standing sets. These are super common in LA and can be found in a massive warehouse. Inside, you’ll find different shooting environments like a police station, a hospital, an apartment building, or even a restaurant. These sets have a standardized design that can be adjusted by your art director. They come with high ceilings that are helpful for lighting, loading doors, truck access, and plenty of parking. Now, they aren’t dirt cheap either, costing around 1,000 USD a day depending on how many rooms you use. But according to Rubidium, they’re totally worth it because they allow you to shoot multiple scenes in different scenarios without having to move your whole team around. Plus, while you’re breaking down one set, your team can be setting up the next one, making the day flow more smoothly. So yeah, standing sets can definitely up your efficiency game.
Now, there are other fancy approaches like LED Volume, mobile virtual productions, and green speed sets. But let’s be real, in most cases, you’ll be filming at an actual existing location. So, let’s focus on scouting those instead.
When it comes to location scouting, Rubidium suggests starting simple, especially if you’re an indie filmmaker working on a tight budget. Take a look at your own apartment, studio, or office. Can you tell your story there? If not, move on to houses, schools, or offices that you can get for free. Budget-friendly options, my friends.
If you can’t find suitable locations through your personal network, Rubidium recommends checking out platforms like Peerspace or Gigster. These portals offer affordable spaces for rent, much cheaper than the typical Hollywood location fees. And you can even negotiate the price down if you’re renting for longer periods. Another option is to try your luck with Airbnb or show houses that are empty and used to showcase interior design solutions.
Alright, now let’s talk about this cool language model called ChatGPT. This bad boy can be a useful tool during the brainstorming and research phases of location scouting. Instead of aimlessly scrolling through Google Maps, you can have a simulated conversation with ChatGPT to get some ideas. Just throw in a request like, “Hey, where are the best locations in Salzburg to capture a beautiful sunset and film a romantic date scene? Give me ten choices.” Or get even more specific like I did when I asked where I could film a dark fantasy short film about a witch in the woods around Salzburg. ChatGPT came up with some awesome suggestions for me. It even reminded me to check permits, follow regulations, and respect the environment. It’s not a universal remedy, but it can definitely help you get started if you’re filming in unfamiliar territory.
When you visit potential locations, there are some key details to pay attention to, as Rubidium suggests. Is there enough space to set up your gear and take breaks? How does the natural light hit the rooms at different times of the day? Are there enough parking spots? If the location is above ground level, how will you move your equipment? Is the elevator big enough? These are all things you need to consider to ensure a smooth shoot.
You’ll visit the location three times in total. The first visit is to assess if it works for your story. The director and cinematographer will take a look and decide if it’s a go. Then, the second visit is to block out the scene and involve other key crew members like the art director, gaffer, and sometimes the sound person. The sound person will be interested in factors like background noise and mic placement. And finally, the third visit is when you’re filming or dressing the set.
Remember, the fewer locations you have, the cheaper your film will be. And don’t forget that accidents happen, equipment gets broken. It’s just part of the filmmaking reality. So be prepared and budget for repair costs.
Alright folks, I hope these tips and tools help you in your location scouting journey. Remember, finding the perfect locations for your film is like finding the perfect ingredients for a delicious recipe. It’s all about creating the right atmosphere and bringing your story to life. Now go out there, explore, and make some movie magic!