Film Independent Thu 3.20.2014

Shooting on Location? How To Save Yourself Money and Headaches

Scouting and shooting on location is an inevitable step in production, especially when you’re an independent filmmaker with a tight budget and can’t afford to simply build a set. But as common as it is, the task can be a daunting and confusing headache that can easily burn a lot of green.

So Film Independent dedicated our Filmmaker Tuesday event this week to location education with Rick Surad, a location manager who’s worked in both film (God Bless America) and television (Sons of Anarchy and The Newsroom). “Seminars like these are important basically because some people don’t know the rules or what to expect and they’ll have a false sense of reality,” said Surad, who covered everything from brainstorming the ideal location, to finding it, securing it and even leaving it. He provided tips, tricks and knowledge about what websites to visit, how to deal with permits and agreements, which regions are film-friendly, which regions are not, how to handle parking and avoiding angry neighbors.

Here are a few of the night’s most valuable take-aways.

Be honest and upfront.

Dealing with homeowners and their neighbors can be stressful and annoying. But they don’t have to be! Surad says it’s the best to be upfront about pricing and alterations and to be honest about what’s going to occur (like a sex or murder scene) or the potential damage or mishaps that might happen to the place. Maintaining a good relationship and communication with people in the environment will make things better. No one likes surprises! “You gotta cover your ass,” said director and writer Lula Fotis. “He explained to us that being upfront and everything will mean less problems down the road and less room for mistakes.”

Have a permit.

Thinking about skipping out on a permit? Don’t. Especially on federal land. Surad talked about his friend’s “wonderful” experience filming at Lake Havasu and getting his footage and equipment taken away because of the lack of a permit.

Get a location manager on board early.

What you invest in a location manager’s salary can be offset by their ability to find locations that will save you some big bucks. They can find places that look fancy for cheap or, better yet, multiple locations in one. In a perfect world, Surad said the location manager would be crewed in early and in sync with the director and production manager to brainstorm ideal location aesthetics. Ideally, the location manager will have a month’s worth of preparation to go over the script to know the locations, to scout the locations and to deal with all of the technical and legal stuff that goes along with it.

Jami Kiyohara / Intern blogger