Anything Goes : Finding Locations by Tom Williamson

Tom Williamson

Finding Locations

I'm a no-budget filmmaker (OK, wannabe filmmaker) and the biggest problem I seem to be facing is finding locations to shoot in. How do you walk up to someone in (for example) an office building and say "hi - I'd really like to take over your lobby this weekend and drag a bunch of actors and equipment through here! Is that OK with you?" I really haven't the slightest idea where to start on this. I went to a "How to find locations" seminar locally (I'm in Phoenix AZ) and the people were nice people but they were totally focused on (relatively) big-budget productions. For example, one piece of advice was "make sure the location has enough space for you to park all of your production trailers." That would be helpful if I was Michael Bay's production manager, but parking space for trailers is not a problem on a no-budget film. Anybody have any advice on this? Who would you talk to in, for example, a coffee shop? The manager on duty? The owner? No idea where to start here.

D Marcus

Tom, it's really just that easy. And that difficult. You just walk up and ask. Of course you know to give more than a few days notice. In a coffee shop (for example) you would talk to the manager. That person may not be able to give you the final answer but will point you in the right direction. Be prepared; when you meet with the owner have the exact number of people on your cast and crew, the exact number of hours you need the location, what equipment you will have and what you are offering for their time and location. Keep in mind that if you want to shoot during business hours you will be disrupting business. If you want to shoot during non-business hours someone from the coffee shop will have to be on site the entire time.

Zach Rosenau

Planning your shoot before you have locations set helps a lot. So if you enter into a shop or knock on someone's pretty house and have all of your day plans and scene breakdowns and even loose shot plans with an estimate set-up and take down duration that is honest, people will be more willing to bite. There are two universal facts that should motivate you to ask anyone: 1 - people are bored. So you coming and filming in there space is new and unknown and they're intrigued. Most people have no idea that filmmaking is boring. 2 - Businesses are always looking for new ways to grow, and no one really knows how to do this. Maybe being featured in a short or feature film will grow their business. Is there any proof that it won't? No, there isn't. So be uberprepared and understand that most people don't have a very good reason to say no. Good luck!

Samir Zahir Pettersson

Just ask them, if you are lucky. The manager will find it exciting and help you.

Doug Nelson

Tom – you’ve received a lot of good information so far. If you’re shooting in a public space (street, park, playground…) check with the city. Some issue permits (for a fee) some don’t. Many state parks let you shoot for free – but just let ‘em know so the cops don’t show up to spoil it. You may be able to shoot some Gorilla style (mostly in the ‘burbs or rural scenes) but just be quick about it. Check with local Realtors – they may sometimes have hard to sell properties to sell that may benefit from being a “movie set.” Mostly, just start asking around – you’ll get a lot of no’s but just keep asking.

Erik A. Jacobson

Tom, have you seen any of the no-budget movies Ed Burns has shot for $5000? They're amazing. And I can guarantee you that he has not asked for permission to shoot on busy Manhattan street corners, coffee shops, cemeteries, or many of the other locations used. Until you get the big bucks to get permits, insurance, and location fees, I'd recommend you do the same. If you use a tiny, barely-noticeable crew, no one will question you, as a rule. Just act like YOU BELONG THERE and that what you're doing isn't a big deal and 90% of the time you'll be okay. Remember that everyone is running around shooting video with a Canon 5D or iPhone these days. But plan it well, rehearse in advance and be prepared, because you'll need to shoot quickly and move on without lingering for multiple artsy retakes. If you do have to ask, say something like "Could I use my camera here for a couple minutes? I'm studying film over at ------- University and need to pick up a little footage for a project I'm working on." If you smile and are genuinely friendly, that will go a long way towards getting them to let you shoot. I've shot in all sorts of forbidden places without permits or fees so I speak from personal experience. But if you're a timid or fearful person, not a risk taker, this probably isn't for you.

Simon © Simon

Try and sell from a standpoint of strength. When asking as mentioned by JBP. Tell whomever is making the decision that they will receive a thank you if the credits, where they can use that for promo if they desire. OR if they chuckle at that ask if an exec credit will do so they can have some bragging rights at the next BBQ/Party. Play into their ego's if ego's were not prevalent Facebook would be non existent.

Erik A. Jacobson

Yes, offering to list them in the credits can work wonders. I walked into the office of an airline at LAX and asked if I could speak to the chief executive about a movie. The startled secretary got him on the phone instantly. Next thing I knew I was in his office, waving a script and asking for 14 free round trip tickets to Hawaii for my cast and crew in exchange for credits. He agreed right away. Once in Hawaii, I asked the manager of the exclusive Turtle Bay resort on the North Shore for free rooms and food for my lead actors, offering film credits. Again, I got an immediate "yes" , all for a micro-budgeted movie!

Simon © Simon

Without getting to hung up on that football stadium you need... A thought to chomp on. If you needed a football stadium or a train, etc There was a French Director who insisted on a steam locomotive, the producer told him the night before that the locomotive is not in the budget nor is the 100 extras. So he asked for a locomotive wheel and a steam maker with 3 extras. Just because you shoot the outside of a building (Stock footage with release) and then bring us into an office or break room, does not mean that we are in that building for real.....

Other topics in Anything Goes:

register for stage 32 Register / Log In