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Finding locations for filming is complicated even if you do have a budget for them, especially in Los Angeles. Filming in LA is a major industry, so the city makes sure you’re paying for the privilege, no matter how big or small you are. If you fail to obtain the proper permits and insurance, you can be shut down entirely …and imagine how much THAT will cost your production.
There’s a lot to be said for just getting out there, making something, and learning as you go. Filmmaking is a funky business; you need to learn on the job and be as hands on as possible but you can’t do that without being experienced, so how do you get experience. Digital filmmaking & the web have been great platforms to share your developing skills without the burden of studios and networks. Which means that sometimes, yeah, the solution is going to be go rogue and just shoot the thing.
Rule one: stay inside. It’s much, much harder for anyone to see you inside of a private residence, which means you probably aren’t going to get caught. It’s when you venture out of doors that problems arise.
If you can shoot with permits and all the sundry items… you really should, especially if you’re in a film market town. People call the cops, productions get shut down, it happens. It even happened on Classic Alice!
But if you can’t… where the heck do you shoot?!
Tried & true: Your House. That’s right, your house.
And yeah, you probably will eventually burn out that location. But you can get at least two locations just by swinging the camera all the way around to shoot the opposite side of the room. You can also build “walls” with fake wood or flats or even just bookcases. You can buy wall decals. You can drape cloths over furniture or buy slipcovers to change the entire tone of the room. Your DP can also accommodate by shooting tight shots if the film calls for that; you might get away with some creative camera work.
Double up. Find a location that can serve as multiple things; the fewer company moves, the better.
There’s also a lot to be said for paying for set decoration. In the hands of a skilled set designer, the sky is the limit. On The Long Dig, Michelle was able to transform a downtown LA warehouse into a post apocalyptic underground monster home. Locations are expensive. Set designers are more reasonable AND they’re trained to be able to see what the camera sees so you aren’t spending time and money on something that won’t even be in the shot.
Then there’s mooching off your friends. Especially people already involved in the production. Steal the director’s yard. Borrow the actor’s bathroom. Make the project as much theirs as yours and embrace the extra space that comes with it. If your parents live nearby, even better. They might even throw in some craft services!
If you need business locations, try to approach places where you have a personal connection. They’re so much more likely to hand you the keys to the castle if you or someone on your team knows the owners. Also make sure that you’re asking to film during their off-hours; you can’t ask a restaurant to close down on a Saturday evening so you can shoot for free, that’s just not considerate!
Eventually, however, you will reach a place in your filmmaking career when you need to start paying for space. If you’re trying to avoid having to pay for permits or insurance, try Airbnb, Peerspace, and LocationsHub. All three tend to have more indie-friendly pricing. Make sure you visit the spaces and map out your shots; if you’re paying for the time, you are going to want to be incredibly efficient on your actual shoot days.
How about you? Where have you managed to shoot on little to no budget? Leave a comment or hit me up @HackettKate on Twitter!
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First up, obviously, it’s illegal to discriminate based on gender, skin color, religious beliefs, disability, etc. Don’t do those things. But it’s also important to have many different voices making up your set experience, so I’ve gathered a few resources that might help you find women to hire who you might otherwise not bump into in your search.
All the Resources
Alliance for Women Film Composers
The Director List
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An overview of each department on most film, television, and digital sets (especially the bare bones ones!)
– Actors – These are the people on your screen. I encourage you to go SAG and to pay these people. Generally the actors are the first to go unpaid and that gets so old and so unfair after a while. If you’re a shoestring, at least give them gas money.
You must feed the actors. They get hangry.
– Producers – On a TV show, these are also your writers. On films, they tend to be the money people. On a digital series, they’re everything. Both. All of it. They are probably doing eight other jobs as well on your super low budget material. It’s tempting to ask a producer all your questions, but please do not. They’re the top of the food chain; only go to them if you have already checked with other departments.
– Director – The dude in charge of the shot! He’s the one we think of as holding his hands in a little viewfinder box. He’s the one with the baseball hat and the chair. Directors are in charge of ALL the different departments and are responsible for the integrity of the entire piece. I personally hate it when directors go on about MY VISION, but at the end of the day, the piece you get is, really, a lot about his or her vision.
– Makeup/hair – Sometimes combined into one wonderperson, makeup & hair makes the actors look good. I’ve found that this team sets the tone for the entire shoot day: if they’re happy and friendly, your day will be happy and friendly. Make sure they’re happy & friendly. 90% of their job is telling the 1st AD to calm down and they need 4 more minutes, REALLY.
– Wardrobe – In charge of the costumes for the actors. They tend to work fairly closely with hair & make up and have the same kind of time crunch from the AD. Hire someone good with a thread and needle and with a creative eye!
– Art Department/Props – They make your world. They’re in charge of dressing the set and supplying all the STUFF that populates it. Art has a great eye for what the camera will pick up and dresses for it; they want to make sure the frame isn’t just actors standing by a wall.
– DP (aka, cinematographer) – He or she works very closely with the director to create “the perfect shot”. They agree on the look and tone of the movie and the DP directs his department to light and otherwise fill the environment to fit the tone of the piece. The director and DP also create a color palate, a shot list, and are basically in charge of everything visual.
– Lighting – they’re in charge of moving lights around! To put it very simply. They work with the DP to create the right mood for the moment.
– Sound – Do you want to hear the words your (paid?!) actors are saying? Hire a sound mixer for the day. He or she may or may not have equipment, but budget for it. You might need to rent microphones or other bits and bobs for sound.
– 1st AD / Production Assistants (PA) – The first AD is in charge of keeping everyone on schedule, which is one of the toughest jobs on set. They have to be upbeat and kind enough to make people love them while they’re cracking a whip. That’s hard. That’s a skill. Bless you if you are an AD. PAs work under the 1st AD and run around like crazy people making sure everything is where it needs to be; they are also wonderful.
– Scripty – In charge of the script! Actor goes up on a line? Scripty’s on book to tell him what it is! Actor changes a line? Scripty says so or makes a note if the director doesn’t mind.
– Crafty – THE FOOD. Be nice to crafty. They feed you!
Next month (June!) I’ll be sending out an even MORE in depth break down of a lot of the roles on set by sharing how I break my budgets. But it’s for Patrons only! If you’d like to see that, make sure you join the community here at katehackett.com/patronage!
I updated my reels! Just a thing actors have to do once in a while. Hope you enjoy them — there’s new footage in there, new shows, and other changes.