12 Low-Budget Location Tips

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When you’re working with a micro-budget, the choice of location can be just as important as the actors you have cast. If the location is too small, you will feel constricted and miss out on a wider shot coverage. If the location is too big you will start to lose control over the elements of the location. From previous experience, I’ve always found the before to be the biggest problem. I acquire a location thinking it would be perfect for a certain scene and that it should be big enough. Come the day of shooting and there’s several lights, three actors, a sound operator, myself, a camera assistant and the actual camera, the room becomes a lot smaller than it was.

On a micro-budget, the best notion is to acquire a location that isn’t going to cost you a penny, be it at your dad’s workshop or your uncle’s café. You want to be able to shoot at this location at any time of the day without interruption. Twice I’ve been allowed to shoot at a location to be prematurely shut down because the owner has wanted us to leave for one reason or another. Without any form of payment, it’s hard to try and negotiate, if you’re shooting at a location that belongs to a family member there is a lot more leeway. It’s also a point winner as you can return at a later date if needed. Before you start to write your short film, make a list of all the locations you have readably available and try to use these locations in the short. If you have a scene that takes place on an army base yet you have no access to one, that script is going to be sitting on your shelf for a very long time.

In a previous article, we posted 12 super tips on writing with a low budget, tips that were pulled from the great book The Guerilla Film Makers Pocketbook. The useful book has once again put together a list of tips that adhere to finding the right location on a budget.

  1. Shooting on location can be a major advantage as you will have to do minimal set work, merely dressing.
  2. Space can be a major problem, as even the biggest of rooms will become sardine-like with a full screw.
  3. Shooting outdoors can be a problem as there is no way to control the weather.
  4. Always try and get permission to shoot wherever you intend to be. Sometimes, if you do foresee problems it is best to simply dash in, shoot and get out as quick as possible. If someone turns up to find out what is happening, try and get them interested and involved, and claim complete ignorance.
  5. Getting to and from difficult locations can be very costly in terms of time – one-hour travelling is one hour less shooting.
  6. Use movement orders, this is a piece of paper with a photocopied map (the route picked out with highlighter pen), explicit directions and mobile phone numbers for those who get lost.
  7. Facilities for the crew on location can be a problem – a place to eat and sit will be needed, and a toilet must be provided – you can’t ask your star to squat in the bushes.
  8. Closing down streets is difficult. The police will be as helpful as they can, but they have crimes to stop and don’t relish the thought of holding the hand of a new producer.
  9. When choosing a location, don’t forget the sound.
  10. Film crews trash locations. Clean up after yourself, leave muddy boots outside, ban smoking inside etc., Remember, you may need to return to the location if there is a problem.
  11. Think creatively, many locations can double for several different parts of your story. This will minimise the time you waste moving between places.
  12. Beware of the cool location that is impossible to either light or get cameras into, buildings with big windows cause lighting problems turrets with narrow stairwells are tough for carrying kit, anywhere in big cities will cost you in simply parking alone.

These tips aren’t to be looked at as hard laws that cannot be broken. but they are great guidelines to follow to help keep your head above water when searching for a location. You can download a location release form here.

About The Author

Lewis McGregor is an aspiring filmmaker, photographer and online content creator from Wales.