Monday, 24 March 2014

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION : Getting The Most Out Of Your Set

READ THIS** Ok once again, this is just my approach to filmmaking, its not here to cause offence or tell you you're doing it wrong or that i'm doing it right, its just here to share my approach to the process. There is no right way, if this all seems to basic for you then maybe you don't need to read it, or it might serves as a nice refresher for you, it purpose however is to help people who don't know where to begin. But once again this is just how I do things and you don't have to listen to it. 

Locations are extremely important when working on any film. However if you're working on a low budget movie, it can make or break your film. I've lost count of the amount of films I've seen filmed in someone's mom's kitchen, living room, back yard, the field out the back of thier house. I'm not judging, you have to work with what you've got, I mean the sheer amount of movies I shot as a teenager in these kinds of environments is staggering, But it really helped me learn many filmmaking lessons, the most important one being, a good location is everything. 


When I was writing Creepsville, I spend a good few weeks wondering around at night, To judge what the locations would actually look like after dark. It would amaze you the amount of sets I've been on where people have done a recce during the day and then been surprised to find that it was completely unusable after dark. So I waited till the environments were how I would want to use them and then wandered around finding interesting locations to shoot in, places that were well lit or just looked interesting. Then I looked at which of those we could shoot legally (without a permit) and then chose my locations around that. 

For one of the films set pieces I knew that I wanted to use a garage space that they had at the university. I'd used it in my short film Before The Dawn (2006) and it had added incredible production value to my little low budget short and knowing I had access to it in the evenings, I wrote it in. We spent about 4 nights shooting one night inside and then 3 nights on the exterior before our lead took ill for a couple of weeks, knocking us back and behind schedule. 


The Original Garage Scene from Creepsville
About a week later I was wandering past the garage on my way to the University and noticed that the garage looked exteremly light inside. I got closer, only to find that they had completely removed the roof. I was in a panic as we still had about 4 more interior shots to tie the whole inside and outside scenes together. The next day I returned to find that the whole building had just gone, just like that. No warning, no nothing. We couldn't complain, as they had been kind enough to let us use it for free. But we did lose one of the biggest, most expensive looking scenes in the movie. Which was down to some solid acting by two of our actors and of course the huge expansive realism of the location.

The less ideal Reshoot Scene set in House
Luckily one of the most important things about shooting movies is 'Always have a back up', especially when it comes to Locations. We had to re shoot the scene in an abandoned house (which we had looked at for choice when scouting) about a month later, it still worked, but not on the same scale. We also lost our only real stunt sequence in the movie because of it. But more on that another time.

The biggest loss, was that the garage was a working garage during the day, and boy did it look like it. That added so much production value that we just couldn't have put in ourselves building it as a set, there were old fridges, trees cuttings mattresses, two large pick up trucks and oil and dirt everywhere,  it was incredible and it felt, well, real. Because it was.


When we came to shooting Slasher House, we began to struggle finding a building that was run down enough, yet safe enough to let us shoot in throughout the UK. We sat down and started to talk about building the set, as a bunch of interchangeable panels. It wouldn't be ideal and we would lose the realism that I wanted for the film. In my eyes the house had always been a character in the film, an ominous presence and I felt that bulding it on a set would see us lose that. 

Luckily, thanks to our leading man Adam Williams, we found an abandoned prison on the Isle Of Man, who, after a bit of persuasion, allowed us to shoot there for a small price. Of course we had to get our cast and crew out to an isle off the coast of England, but, once again, thats a whole other story. The location was everything I was looking for, it had a character all of its own, that we couldn't have artificially created in a million years. It may have cost us about a third of our budget, but hell, it worth it. 



When it came to finding locations for Legacy. Of Thorn, we had to be a bit smarter. It was written around 2 main locations, but in reality was probably about 5 or 6. The trick we had to employ here was finding an existing location that served as a potential production base whilst also bring production value to the film whilst at the same time encompassing all the other locations that we needed throughout the film. A warehouse, a hospital ward, a rooftop and some kind of medium sized cabin. A lot to ask, but essential in making a low budget film like Legacy of Thorn work. Boy did we get lucky.

The school that doubled as Avondale High
Our producer Anna managed to get us into an abandoned school complex that housed all but 2 of our locations. It was kind of incredible and, of course, there's nothing that looks more like a school than a school. However because of the size of the complex the other locations, 'the warehouse', 'the rooftop', 'the abandoned outhouse'. They were all there too and they had all been used and then abandoned, and looked horrible, which made them perfect for our movie. 

The school, we had to clean up, as it needed to look operational, which also included us re flooring the gym, whilst also trying to shoot scenes (not fun for sound). 

But everything else was gritty and dirty and perfect for the look of the movie. If we had tried to turn a set into this kind of thing, we would have been well over budget by the end of it and still would have had nowhere near the realism that we wanted. The warehouse room doubled for the store room with some clever shelf movement, but still leaving us with that used looked we wanted.

The Gym we had to refloor for the Cheerleader Massacre
I think when finding locations when you are on a shoe string budget, you have to try and be efficient. If we have one main location, I always try and make sure that we can also house the cast and crew there if possible. This also saves travel headaches, and keeps your head in the game. It also means that you have your actors with you at all times (as long as they are scheduled to be there for a few days) when it comes to quick retakes or ADR or anything like that. 

I understand that getting a location to shoot your movie seems very obvious, but by being meticulous and getting the right location will change everything about your film. It will add expense and style and most of all it will really help your actors get into scene and character and all of this will improve the final product immensely. Or maybe your film takes place in your mom's kitchen, in which case ignore all of the above.


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