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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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