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Unless you plan on making an animated movie, chances are that you’ll need to get out there and film somewhere. Unfortunately, one cannot just waltz onto a location with trucks and cameras and set up shop. You’ll need to get permission from local officials and/or the owners of the property on which you’d like to shoot, and make provisions for the cast and crew once on location.

There are a multitude of things to consider when trying to make a video/movie. One recurring challenge that we run into with our clients is obtaining access to locations. Whether it be a feature film or a no-budget shoot, location is a key component to a quality video and a Location Release shouldn’t be overlooked. Location is not only important for aesthetics, it is incredibly important for capturing quality sound and for legally producing films/videos.

If you’ve got the budget for it, consider hiring a location manager and/or location scout. These are people are seasoned vets, are familiar with the area you plan on filming in, and they probably know the legal ins and outs of obtaining permits that you don’t. The scout finds the location, and the manager manages them to get the appropriate leases, insurances, and permits for the locations. Contact your local film commission; they might be able to recommend a location scout/manager, or help you get permits on your own. Depending on the size of your shoot, you may not need a permit. However, you should definitely check twice before setting up a single tripod. When going on location scouts, it’s good to take notes. Here’s a great template to get you started.

Have one for each location and don’t skip anything! The smallest detail may be very important down the road.

If you don’t want to go the old fashioned paper and pencil route (but bring both anyway), here are some apps that should prove helpful. Shoot Local, by Surge Apps, that allows you to find and review locations, organize pictures of the locations, and lets you share them with others. MapAPic is another good location app that lets you save up to 10 pictures per location. Panascout is another good location app. If you have many locations, the more organized you can be, the better and more smoothly your shoot will be. Remember that every minute of production time wasted, is money wasted.

Locations should be approached like any other commodity, so be ready to convince the owner, manager, security guards, etc, why they should let you use their space. After all, film production is a huge undertaking and once you’re in a location, you need it to suit your needs and help accomplish the film objective in that location. Also, you should leave it looking as good if not better than when you arrived. If someone is gracious enough to let you use their space, respect it and clean up afterwards - this is also where your location manager will make sure you save face incase you need to come back to that location. The last thing you want to do is to disingratiate yourself to the owners of the location. The following are questions you should be prepared to answer, and aspects to consider before approaching someone for Location Access.

Scouting a location yourself - Things to think about

Bring a camera and take lots of pictures. Wide angles and panoramic shots are the best because you get a broader view of your location. You can review locations with the production designer/art department at a later date.

Be sure to go to the location on the day/time you wish to film. A location on a monday afternoon may be very different from the friday night you plan to film.

How far removed from the city are you? Will you need to have cast/crew transported?

Where are the bathrooms and are they far from where you have the set?

Where are you going to park vehicles/gear and do you have permission?

Do you need police assistance for traffic or security to watch your equipment?

If you have a location manager and/or you get to speak with the owner of a piece of property you want to shoot on, or you call up your city’s film commission, here are some more questions to think about.

Questions they might ask you

  • How big is the crew/production?

  • How long will you need access to the location?

  • Does the location need to be void of people/workers/employees?

  • Is the crew insured?

  • Is the crew bringing in heavy/large equipment?

  • How will you need to alter/change the space?

Questions you should ask them.

  • Are we able to control the HVAC system?

  • Are the lights able to be adjusted?

  • Do you have photographs of the space?

  • Are there intercoms and can they be muted during filming?

  • Are the shades/blinds adjustable?

  • Are there power outlets available and if so, what are the total loads on the circuit? Don’t be the one who blows the fuse box for the whole town.

  • Is there parking for the cast, crew, equipment vehicles?

  • Is there an elevator available for “loading-in”?

  • What is the process for entering the building with equipment?

  • If we need to control traffic, can we have police assistance?

Think outside the Box

Be prepared to get creative in negotiating. Unfortunately a “special thanks” in a credit scroll ranks very low in the value added list. However, you may already have things to barter with, things like advertising, writing, or access to the footage you are recording. The following are a few scenarios to help get you thinking in the right direction.

  • If you have an active fanbase or following, consider offering a detailed blog post in exchange for a space.

  • If you have a website that incorporates advertisements consider offering free advertising in exchange.

  • You may even be able to offer your own space in exchange for a space. Your office or space may not be a great location for your production, but it might be just what someone else needs.

  • If you sell products, consider trading your products at discount in exchange for access to space.

Remember that above all, you need to make sure the location is safe. No location, no matter how awesome it is, if unsafe, is worth the health and safety of your crew and actors. Remember Sarah Jones. If you feel that a location may be unsafe, don’t shoot there. In the spirit of indie filmmaking and DIY enthusiasm, don’t be so quick to avoid the proper channels of getting permits and scouting and considering all aspects of the location for safety. And at the end of the day make sure everyone gets home for their 4 hours of sleep!

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