How to Find and Secure Locations for Your Next Film
In this article, we’ll look at resources for finding locations, and how to put the most “money on the screen” — not in the pockets — of real estate owners.
Once you have your actors cast, your script locked, and your camera in hand, you soon realize that locations are a very big and expensive part of filmmaking.
Many filmmakers write their stories with locations in mind, meaning that they first take stock of the locations they have access to, then write a story to match. There are always one or two places that are essential for your story that you have no direct connection to: that pawn shop the hero buys a cursed necklace from, or that elevator for your contained fight scene.
The Importance of Scouts and Managers
Movies and TV shows with large budgets often employ location scouts (who find locations and negotiate prices with property owners) and location managers (who are a dedicated crew position that coordinate logistics before, during, and after filming).
This may seem like a luxury, but if you’ve ever waited with an entire cast and crew for hours outside a locked door because no one can get a hold of the apartment owner, you can appreciate how critical this job is. If you don’t have money to pay a scout or manager, you’ll be doing this job yourself.
While most people think of asking family and friends directly, Facebook is a brilliant resource for finding people who may know people who may have what you’re looking for. You can post on your own page, or with a well-connected friend’s permission, post on their page and access a wider network.
You can also access fellow filmmakers and their resources by posting in filmmaking groups like “The Frugal Filmmaker” and “The Video Consortium.” Each city or country will have its own moderated group that can host a wealth of connections. Just post what you’re looking for, the dates, and if you have a budget or not, then invite other members of the group to contact you with details. The old saying of “Everyone is only six degrees of separation from everyone else” is even more real when you’re dealing with locations.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for in your immediate or wider network, your next step should be peer-to-peer location pages like Peerspace and Giggster. These sites are like AirBnBs for locations, connecting location owners to location renters — for a small fee. It works for film and photo locations as well as events. There are thousands of locations in L.A., from whole mansions and estates down to tin studios. In most cases, you have to specify if you want to shoot stills or video, and how large your crew will be. This is because a team of twenty has a lot more impact on a location than a lone photographer and a model.
Peerspace locations can be pretty expensive, since they’re first and foremost commercial interactions. Directly approaching a desired location by just showing up and talking to the manager is more work, but you can sometimes find a bargain. I once shot for six hours in a diner in the middle of Hollywood for a grand total of $100 because the owner said that customers liked to see film shoots in his establishment.
Cover image by rdonar.
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