Filmmaking on a budget (or no budget) can be a stressful thing to do. As an independent producer you wear many hats; you’re busy putting cast and crew together, looking over breakdowns, making sure you’ve arranged for all props and wardrobe…one of the things you might not give enough thought to until you’re trying to obtain one or even until you have actually gotten there, is the location. There are a few things to remember as you shift your attention to this very important factor.
1. Start Looking Early
I’m assuming you’ve planned plenty of time for pre-production. The less money you have, the more time you’ll need (remember the old axiom: you can have two of the following three, but never all three – fast, cheap and good…you want your project to be good, count on it taking awhile). Sit down with the script and a location breakdown and make a list of all the requirements of each location. For instance, the short we are working on now requires two different slightly upscale restaurants, both which have bars. We lucked out with the first and found a fantastic place that was eager to help (Ribelle in Brookline, MA). Another thing that may help is to think of a few keywords that describe your film and research restaurants whose image falls within those parameters. In our case “edgy and controversial” is exactly what Ribelle is all about (check out their daring food and drink menus!) and that went a long way towards helping us secure the place.
2. Have a Back Up Plan
No matter how early you line up your locations, it always pays to have a backup, especially if you’re not offering money for use of the location. I learned this the hard way. The other restaurant/bar we had lined up has fallen through and as of writing this post (Wednesday) we have no place to shoot (on Saturday). Get your first choice lined up but make inquiries about other places and see if anyone else would be willing to bail you out, should the worst occur.
3. Get Insurance
There are insurance agents that specialize in production insurance – for all size films. If you can possibly scrape the cash together for this, I personally think it’s worth it. Others may disagree. But when push comes to shove and there is an accident (which happens when you’ve got 10 – 14 people rushing around with expensive equipment in places where there may be breakable objects or damageable property) I’d rather have shelled out several hundred at the beginning than several thousand at the end.
4. Location Contracts
Put together a contract covering your butt as far as rights to use any and all images, moving or otherwise, that you take of the place in any existing media or media that will exist, now and in perpetuity. The owner of the location (especially if it’s a business) is going to want to see a certificate of insurance and a contract that says you’ll cover any damages. This is not only morally right but also professionally correct, as well.
5. Clean Up After Your Messy-Ass Selves
Sets get cluttered and crazy fast. Let your crew know that you expect them to treat the place with respect (yes, they will probably already know this, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate it) and to treat anyone there in friendly manner. “Civilians” don’t understand that you are all intensely concentrated on what you are doing and might mistake your desire to keep out of their way as much as possible as being cold or even rude. You may also want to discuss this with any non-film-related people before you get started. When you’ve wrapped, make sure that you return the place to as good, if not better, condition as you found it in. Then have everyone check it over and then double check it. It’s really easy to miss something after a long day or two of shooting (especially, as the producer, you’ve had your head full of a million other things) and again, non-film people are not that forgiving of this fact. If there has been an accident and some property gets damaged, the above 3 & 4 will go a long way but it’s also important to ‘fess up to it as soon as possible and assure the people who own the property that you will correct the situation as soon as possible. This will mean the difference between a location owner’s “good” experience or “bad” experience. And that means it will determine if you, or any other film crew, will be welcome back.
I hope this was useful! Wishing you a happy and smooth pre-to-post-production process!