The right location can make a film, the wrong location can break it.
Recently, my family went looking for a home in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I had my list of wants, which included a man cave, a garage, and a nicely sized yard. My wife wanted a spacious kitchen with an island, and a house with no neighbors in sight. And my daughter wanted enough room to build a tree house. All of these criteria had to be taken under careful consideration. It wasn’t easy—even for a professional location manager—but eventually we found our perfect spot.
They say “location, location, location” for a reason. The right sense of place can make or break a film. A location often acts as a central character, a la The Grand Budapest Hotel, or contains the entirety of the action, like the courtroom in 12 Angry Men or the classroom that serves as detention for The Breakfast Club.
When searching for the right location, a moviemaker must take into account not only the overall vision for the film, but also how well the location functions for the gaffer, grips, assistant directors, art department, cinematographer, truck drivers, and even the caterer. Furthermore, anyone from the director or producer to the UPM or designer may be called upon to perform some of the duties that belong to the location manager. It’s extremely important to know what goes into location scouting and management, and how to identify any red flags that could disrupt a production.
Step One: Preparation
You’ve read the script, taken location notes, and talked with your team. The quest begins.
- Research. Great location scouts go online first to narrow down their search. With so many locations with pictures online, it’s easy to get a feel for the building in advance to determine if it’s the right look you need. Look for business hours and potential event conflicts.
- Film Commissions. Film offices, as well as city and county offices like the Chamber of Commerce, want you to find the best looking places their locale has to offer. Seek them out because they know the places (and people) intimately and can be your permit resource, as well as hook you up with local police if you need to shut down streets.
- Local support. Don’t be shy about getting an entire town to help you find locations. Enlist the efforts of postmen, police, firefighters, realtors, and store owners in the search. They’ll feel like they’re on your location crew, give you tons of leads, and in the end, you’ve made a new friend (at least on Facebook)…
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