Select and Secure Your Dream Shooting Location

Written by Gwendolyn Lewis


Have you ever seen a movie where shots of the landscape or background made your jaw drop? The world is filled with so many beautiful locations just waiting to be captured by an independent filmmaker with the right equipment and a keen eye. The hunt for the perfect location will take some time, so plan ahead… way ahead.

Work within your budget, and use economic incentives to your benefit.

The number one thing on most filmmakers’ minds, aside from the movie they see in their dreams, is money. The budget required to shoot in one location as opposed to another can vary enormously. Most state governments offer tax incentives for individuals and organizations making movies within their borders. Of course, if your film is set on a beach, Kansas probably won’t be your first choice. Obvious terrain/biome limitations aside, the best place to shoot your film could be the last place you expect, so keep an open mind and consider your options.

Crossing state lines just might save you a fortune. In the United States, filmmakers may be eligible for certain incentives, depending on the state they select to film. Some states allow filmmakers to shoot for free at sites owned by the state. Other incentives include exemptions for sales tax and/or lodging taxes, rebates for a portion of the production’s incurred expenses, available grants, and tax credits. These economic enticements begin at a specific budget threshold and vary from state to state, so it will take a bit of research to determine how they may affect your project.

Figure out which members of your crew you’ll hire on site and which you’ll bring with you. In order to get the most out of the tax regulations for a potential location, a certain percentage of your crew will have to be people who are local residents. When planning for your crew, take this into consideration.

Visit potential sites.

When you have created a shortlist of potential locations, visit them. Bring along a camera and shoot around as you’re scouting locations in person. This will not only serve as a memory aid – which may or may not be much-needed depending on how jet-lagged the trip has left you – but a video record will also allow you to see what the place looks like on the screen.

Plan for unpredictable weather.

When you go, plan your trip with the climate and seasonal changes in mind. Some areas are more prone to heavy rains during certain parts of the year – e.g., Florida during hurricane season – and, similarly, coming out of the rainy season, there may be some cleanup going on. This can affecting the aesthetics of the landscape. Take this into consideration. Similarly, shooting up north in the winter can pose some challenges. Aside from low temperatures and high heating bills, heavy snows may affect transportation schedules. If a snowy clime is an absolute must, you’ll want to pad your shooting schedule with snow days, just in case. Best case scenario: you finish early. Worst case scenario: you’re forced to take some down days, but in the end, you get the shot.

Determine the feasibility of filming the location.

Think about the logistics of filming a project at the location you’re scouting. Things you’ll have to take into account aside from transportation to and from the site include parking, dealing with garbage, access to electricity to run equipment, and access to comfortable facilities for actors and other crew members. If needed, you can always bring in temporary structures, generators, and third-parties to handle the waste management, at an extra cost to the production.

Obtain permits and permissions.

Certain locations require permits from the local government, law enforcement, and permission from the owner(s) of the property. Check with the local government to determine what you have to do before you can start rolling. Depending on the location you’re considering, there may be a local film office to guide filmmakers in site selection and to assist with the paperwork. New York City and Toronto are just two cities in particular that run film offices for this purpose.

Keep your mind open to shooting on set.

Of course, there is always the option to use a studio to film your project. Constructing a set is, in many cases, a cheaper alternative to traveling en masse and throwing yourself at the mercy of the sun, clouds, wind, and major climactic events that TV meteorologists refer to using names that end in -geddon. With a studio project, what is won in convenience is lost in the awesome natural beauty of a filming location and the profound effect it can have on your crew and, ultimately, on your film.

When planning your next independent film project, consider the production’s needs from every angle and think about worst case scenarios to ensure your film has the look and cinematography to win accolades and a solid fan base. Finding a shooting location can be a fun way to step into the story you want to tell, and an unforgettable adventure in itself. With some solid research into economic incentives and a look at the feasibility of filming in a given location, you can transform the movie of your dreams into a reality on the screen.

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