Film Locations for Indie Video Projects

Exterior shot for When Fact Met Fiction

So, you’ve got your scripts, you’ve secured your crew and talent and you are trying to figure out film locations to shoot this thing. When you are working with a below minimalistic budget the thought of paying for a location can feel wasteful. I mean, surely we can find somewhere for free. If you live near great outdoor locations and you’ve decided to script the series to match it you may be out of the woods (no pun intended). Or if you’ve written something you can shoot in your house you just might be able to avoid forking out more money.

Our Story

That wasn’t the case for us when we decided to produce When Fact Met Fiction. Our story primarily takes place in the fictitious offices of Southern Sunset Magazine. We needed a film location that could look like a small town professional space and we needed it fast.

We had time constraints for pulling everything together. Our primary producer was heading out of town for two months to work on the feature film Gold Dust. It is being shot in the Mojave desert and we wanted all of our principle photography done before he left.

Time constraints can be a budget buster. Lack of time means you don’t have the runway necessary to bargain and barter as much. After scouting several film locations that we felt could be transformed into our Southern Sunset office we settled on three possibilities.

The first location…
This space was small but FREE.
This space was small but FREE.

…was inconvenient to the cast and crew. It was smaller than we felt we needed to accommodate our cameras, lighting and stage area, but it was available for FREE.

Our second option…
This space had some great aesthetics, but was chopped up into several smaller spaces.
This space had some great aesthetics, but was chopped up into several smaller spaces.

…was a good sized co-worker space. It had high ceilings for jib work and looked super cool and sleek. However, it was chopped up room wise in ways that we felt could be difficult for staging. But it was do-able.

The final possibility…
This space was basically a large open space. Not much pizzazz, but we could bring that. NOT FREE.
This space was basically a large open space. Not much pizzazz, but we could bring that. NOT FREE.

…was another co-worker space. This one was much more bare bones in look, but it had a massive room with high ceilings. It would take more to dress it into what we were looking for but it was workable as well.

Weighing the pros and cons

In the end we weighed the pros and cons of all of our options. Free would be nice. It would be a challenge for shooting, but that may not be bad. The space that already looked sleek and professional would save us some work, but the number of times we would have to reposition cameras to get all of our shots would cost us valuable time.

Making the final decision

We finally chose the big bare bones space and decided to spend a little effort on set dressing. We feel that the extra money we had to fork out ended up worth it. The time saved by having a space that would accommodate all of our equipment, not only saved money in other areas but also saved us the stress of figuring out how to schedule around camera shots.

Finding budget-friendly film locations

The most sure fire way to get free locations for your project is to write projects around the locations you have available. But at some point you will most likely face the need to lease a location. Thankfully, many people with properties are happy to help.

  1. Building relationships with people who have establishments that may make a good film locations helps. Restaurants, storefronts, even office buildings can often be donated for your shoot if you know the right people.  Several years ago we were shooting a music video and needed a restaurant to shoot in. Because we had built a relationship with the owners we were able to shoot there for free. We had to shoot at night so we wouldn’t upset their schedule, but it was worth the inconvenience. Important: Always leave the place you are using in better condition than when you arrived. Respect for people and their property will go a long way if you ever need another favor.
  2. Consider trading a ‘shout out’ about the establishment you are using in exchange for  the use of the film locations. In the Asheville area there are many independent shops and restaurants. Be happy to give a little free advertising to friendly people. If they aren’t comfortable with letting you use their place for free they may at least give you a price break.
  3. In the state of North Carolina it isn’t too difficult to acquire a permit for state property, whether it is a state run park or even a historical building. Most states have a film commission that can help you process permits and often fees associated with them are minimal.
  4. Get involved with film groups in your area. Other people in the business may have resources they will share with you. A connection Stefan made at The Asheville Video Alliance gave of the idea of looking at co-working spaces for a location with an office like feel. That was exactly what we ended up using.

If you find yourself having a difficult time acquiring a location don’t lose heart. From our experience someone out there will be happy to help. They simply need to be made aware that there is a need. So go build some relationships and make some calls. That location is out there waiting for you to find it.

Thanks for reading.