“Umm…not to be a control freak, but what’s going on with the pilot who is practicing his low flying loops in his loud bi-plane directly over our shoot?” I remember saying this to our AD when we were shooting Last Day of August, shot in a secluded farm in the middle of nowhere in Cambridge, New York. One would think you could “lock down” such a location. Right? Peaceful serenity…500 acres of rolling hills….Well, apparently, not from the air. We waited for the talented aerialist to work out his aggression, and when sound gave us the ok (because nobody has time for that much ADR), we kept rolling.
We all know there are hundreds of variables in shooting – time, money, weather, money, schedules, and money – that it’s best to do everything you can to make good decisions ahead of time that give you the most control. If your location can be closed to passersby, all noise quieted, production areas and shooting set separated so everyone can keep working while shooting, you’ll end up with hopefully a concentrated team focused on the work, and not too many uncertain circumstances (because it’s hard enough without that, you guys!). Of course, plenty of things will go awry no matter where you are to test the mettle of the team, but choosing a location where you have control is key. If the location is also beautiful, adding to the cinematic experience (and your own personal experience, too), great! And if you’re responsible for the creation of the story, and create it to be shot in one controlled, quiet and pretty location…you pretty much win the day.
Where do you find such locations? Family. Friends. By offering your first born to people when asking them if you can shoot in their house, restaurant, airport hangar, etc. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help artists. Money also may help if they’re not feeling so generous to the indie filmmaker. We shot “The Weekend” at a family place and treated the entire home like a hot set. There was only one tiny area for the equipment, and the rest of the location made the improvised and almost real-time feature feel like a documentary where nothing was off-limits. The location was chosen for that reason, as well as knowing that we could control the whole house, and have no interruptions (except for running out of water…but that’s another story).
If you’re a writer, consider trying to limit your locations (limitations breed creativity, right? That’s a thing people say, right?) in order to focus on story and character, rather than the fancy crane shot over the pool in the Hamptons. If you know you need 30+ locations for your script, know that that choice is going to take most of your budget and time, and inherently include so many hurdles for each location that will make your shoot more difficult. If you have complete and unfettered access to 30+ locations, great! (Also, call me, let’s hang out.) If you have a large budget (or a random sack of cash, no judgment), awesome! If not, try to find creative ways to set your film in limited places.
Craig always says “you live and die by your choices.” Something I think he picked up at Columbia Film School, that smartypants. It’s true for filmmaking, and a good thing to remember for life too. Smart choices lead to good things. And if an airplane shows up to practice loop-de-loops over your secluded film shoot, don’t say I didn’t warn you.