Secrets of Indie Filmmaking

Secrets of Indie Filmmaking: Stealing Locations

Christopher Comrie and Samantha Swan discuss the practicalities of Secrets of Indie Filmmaking:
Stealing Locations.

On a big budget shoot, when the shoot crew leaves the studio and hits the streets for some on location photography, the number of crew members usually increases by anywhere from 30% to almost double the in-studio number. More vehicles, more drivers, more equipment, more crew to move the equipment, more support staff to “lock down” the location. Not to mention that, in international ‘film cities’ like New York, London, Toronto or LA, special permits are also required by production to shoot in the streets.

But on a No-to-Low-budget shoot, it makes far more sense in general to reduce the crew. This is never more true than when you’re hitting the streets for location shooting.

Even if you’re in a place that does not require location permits, by definition, public places are an “uncontrolled” environment where anything can happen, unlike in the studio. Weather and people are unpredictable. You may attract ‘harmless’ onlookers who nonetheless interfere by inserting themselves into the shoot — by wanting information from you which costs you time you don’t have, or money from you which costs you money you don’t have. So to that end:

Leave everyone and everything you can behind. The idea is, by the time anyone out in the world realizes that you are making a movie, you’ve already got your footage and taken off in your escape vehicle. 

It’s more like shooting documentary war footage. Strap a mic on your camera and run.

Scout the location first, take pictures, and carefully block out the action and rehearse your actors before you head to the location. Because once you’re there, you want to just shoot until you’ve got what you need. Work it out so that you call for action once per scene, and then quietly say, “go again from here” over and over again, getting all your angles, and only call cut when all the footage for the scene is in the can.

We once shot a pretty involved scuffle involving four actors in the middle of the night on a busy city street in Mexico. Just as we began, we noticed a police cruiser coming towards us. Now, this particular city did not require permits to shoot, but who wants to lose time to explaining yourselves to officials? And if the police decide you should move on, you’re not going to want to argue the point.

We ceased filming, hid the camera and sat on a bench. The cruiser went on by. We resumed filming. But this damn cruiser just kept circling the block. We timed how long it took him to come around and that determined the length of our takes.

It was like timing the jailers doing their rounds in a prison escape movie. But, we got the shots, and the added adrenaline of playing cat and mouse with the cops helped the scene.

 

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