My Filming location checklist!
For the past fifteen years I have produced and directed my own films. I have created a Filming Location Checklist which has served me very well.
One of the biggest successes I have had over this time is my ability to find unique locations to facilitate my productions. I have shot in prisons, government buildings, hospitals, industrial complexes, airports, studios, major shopping centers and on the Las Vegas Strip. One thing I’ve discovered over the years is that a good location means a variable of things, not just what looks good.
Here is my filming location checklist:
1- Good Sound – Duh?
It goes without saying, if you have a lot of dialog, you need a place that can help you manage sound. There are plenty of great locations but horrible on sound. These places will make your production experience a living hell. I try to avoid locations that are near airports (unless your filming at an airport) or any other place that has a steady flow of noise disturbances.
I typically take a few minutes to sit and listen to an environment before making a decision. I’m listening for traffic sounds, air traffic, hums and drone (such as air conditioners or machines), human disturbances, and or music from schools, or sporting events. Its also never a bad idea to take a sound person with you when visiting locations. He or she may be able to help you determine whether or not a place is filmable.
2- Dependable Location Staff
Several years ago, we landed a modern office building to shoot a movie. This location gave us an abundance of high production value for our film, and the look was perfect. However, when it came time to confirming our arrival times and dates for the call sheets, the location contact was missing in action. We sent emails and called multiple times, but never heard a response back. Now, even though we already had permission by the owner of the building to shoot, we ended up finding an alternative location that was not as nice as the first, but gave us the access and control we needed. We later found out that the first location contact had left for vacation and forgot all about us. Had we went through with moving cast and crew to that location, we would have been pretty much screwed. The back up location worked really well and still allowed us to capture some creative shots.
3- Facilities on location
Number three on my filming location checklist is facilities. One of the biggest complaints I hear from production people (especially on low-budget movies) is that the facilities were awful. This meaning, there were poor, or even worse “no” restrooms, no place for cast and crew to lounge, eat, or break, or even adequate places to stage equipment.
Now, I know that some sets can be limited, such as outdoor locations. If you’re filming inside a cave, then you can’t expect a green-room. However, you must consider this variable when planning your shoot. If you don’t have money in the budget for trailers, portable restrooms, or catering trucks, then make sure you find locations that are close in proximity to places people can atleast “wee”! By that I mean, it shouldn’t take a 10 minute car ride to find a restroom.
This is actually the first thing I think about when looking for locations. There is nothing worse than shooting for 10-12 hours with no facilitation, or being out in the environment without cover. At the very least, try to bring canopies or tents to create separate areas for staging cast, crew and equipment. Do your best to make set life comfortable and enjoyable.
4- Safety and Hospitals nearby
This seems like the last priority on a filmmaker’s mind when looking for a location, but its something that can ruin your life if not considered. REMEMBER THIS! You are personally liable for the wellbeing and safety of your cast and crew. It is your most important duty to make sure things are safe, and non-hazardous on your sets.
Now, there are always going to be inherent risks associated with filming a movie, either to property or people. But you need to minimize any potential disasters that occur by having an emergency plan in place.
Having a hospital nearby is very important! Most movies have trained and certified EMTs on location at any given time, but for most indie filmmakers, this expense is something unattainable. So, at the very least, know where the nearest emergency facility is when your filming. In fact, most call sheets have the “nearest hospital” listed so everyone knows where to go in case of an emergency.
Be sure to outline all the safety hazards when visiting location sites, so you can brief your team ahead of time. I typically make this a big part of my pre-production meetings with cast and crew.
5- No Gorilla! Permits and insurance is a must!
This is actually the number one most overlooked parts to location hunting.
“Can we actually get permission to film here?”
Now, let me be clear, I am anti-gorilla filmmaking. You should never bring your crew and cast to a location to film if you do not have permission, (in writing) or insurance. By having those two important items, you protect yourself from a long list of liability, including prosecution and jail time.
A few years ago, a young crew person was killed on a train track as a result of gorilla filmmaking. The producers and director did not have permission to film at that location, and they are now looking at prison time for their actions. If you are filming at a location without written permission or insurance, you are taking a risk that could cost you your life!
It’s not difficult to obtain permission. It starts off with asking. From there check with the location to see what items are required to gain access and permission. If you don’t know who to ask, contact your local film commission to find out.
Most liability policies range anywhere from $500-$1500 depending on your movie. Most permits are between $0-$100 in a place like Nevada, so make this a part of your budget.
In closing today, I suggest you taking more time to sit down and really examine your locations. Think about your cast and crew first. A happy and safe crew can make your movie even better than you expected. Oh and never forget, “the movie is made in pre-production!”
Have a great week!
I hope you enjoyed this post. Best of luck. Happy Hunting!
Kelly Schwarze is an Emmy © Nominated filmmaker who has written directed and produced 6 feature films, dozens of music vides and commercials, and has owned successful media companies in Las Vegas.
Kelly also does one-on-one consulting for filmmakers. Click here for more details.
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