Locations Can Make or Break Your Film or Screenplay (Part 2)
Most films, whether they are a short or feature length project, generally start out with a written script that tells the story in action and dialogue. The writer has created the story settings with characters and locations that may be part of the story structure. Sometimes location are changed in production to facilitate schedules, budget or other reasons, much to the dismay of the writer, who may feel that their story is being destroyed by the production.
The reality is that obtaining the locations can sometimes be the most difficult and challenging part of a film production. Unless you have a significant production budget (read over $1 million), some locations may not be feasible due to the requirements of cost of usage, permits, set dressing and last but not least, an ever increasing cost in insurance.
It is often said to screenwriters: "write what you know". This is sound advice to create the most richly detailed story you can. But, you should also "write what you own", or at least have access to.
For filmmakers doing their own screenplay and directing the film (as well as producing), it may be wise to consider writing a story around locations you have easy access to, including the home you own, a place a friend owns or has access to, or a public space area where the local community leaders are okay with and allow filming.
This is crucial, because if your screenplay story takes place in an amusement park, it is unlikely that you will be able to film it. But if it takes place in a wooded area, as in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, then chances are you can easily find a location to film that is free or very inexpensive.
When considering costs one thing I have found through scouting is that the closer you are to L.A./Hollywood or a major metropolitan city area, the more difficult and expensive it becomes to get a location. A restaurant location in some small town is far easier to get as a filming location than one in downtown Los Angeles. There are a few reasons for that, but mainly property owners in big cities (particularly Los Angeles and New York) have been accustomed to receiving large amounts of money for the use of their locations. Permits and insurance also tend to run very high.
So next time you venture out to write a new screenplay story that you either intend to film yourself or have someone do it as a low/no budget film, consider your locations in terms of difficulty to obtain. Can the screenplay be shot in minimal locations that can easily be found anywhere? Can alternate locations be used while still maintaining the overall flavor of the story?
- George L. Heredia, Screenwriter/Director