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Film locations

Film Preproduction - Filmmaking on Location

Every Hollywood movie has scenes shot on public streets, in office buildings and in exotic mansions. Why shouldn't your movie? Depending on your budget there are some very good reasons.

Besides, many of those scenes in Hollywood movies are actually shot on sound stages. Even Alfred Hitchcock had to create his own mini Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest. Here are some of the issues you will need to deal with.

Where does everyone fit when you're on location?

When you go on location there are always a lot of vehicles to park. Is there a place near that busy downtown street corner for everyone's cars and trucks?

Is there a comfortable place out of the weather where people can rest, change costumes, put on makeup and eat? Will you be able to fit all your lights, cameras, dollys and actors into the location to be able to shoot them with good angles?

Are you going to have to drive so far from your home base that you'll lose half the day just in getting there and back? What about catering?

What about light and weather?

What if it rains? Is the lighting good? Even a slight breeze can make location sound impossible. Is there only one time during the day when the weather is right? If you shoot on a sunny day and then need to do retakes but the forcast is for overcast skys you will have a serious continuity problem.


All but the smallest micro-budget productions should have a $1,000,000 commercial liability insurance policy. Getting location permits will often require the filmmaker have proof of insurance.

When you're on location there is a much greater risk of something getting stolen or damaged depending on the neighborhood. Assign some people to just be security guards and keep an eye on your things.

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Do you really have permission?

Just because someone said they don't mind you filming somewhere doesn't mean you can really do it. Most people have no idea of how disruptive a film crew will be to their lives. They need to know how many people, how much equipment and vehicles and for how long the filmmaking will last. The novelty of being involved in a film production wears off very quickly.

Make sure they understand what the story is about so don't suddenly have a moral or political objection to your movie. Also get them to sign a property release form.

Make sure the person you ask really has the authority to give you permission. Your friend at the coffee shop can tell you it's ok, but what about when his boss shows up unexpectedly?

Neighbors can be the biggest problem. They get easily upset when all the parking places are full of your vehicles and they see lights and crew wandering around. In some neighborhoods you will suddenly find all the neighbors turning their ghetto-blasters up to full volume. Hopefully bribes of $20 to$100 will stop the racket. Every filmmaker needs to keep lots of cash in his/her wallet for these emergencies.

Even with the owners and neighbors permission you may still need a permit from the municipality. Ask at a local film office, city clerk or police department. When you film in a residential neighborhood you are actually running a business. That's against local codes in most places.

Nothing is worse than getting shut down in the middle of your production because you didn't get everything cleared ahead of time.

Film commissions

Sometimes local film offices or commissions can be very helpful. Their job is to encourage people to shoot films in their locality. Often they have lists of interesting houses and locations people will rent out to film companies. Many places will only give you permission if you have gone through the local film office. They can often direct you to local crew, also.

But beware that what they are really looking for are big Hollywood productions that will drop a lot of money into the local economy. They will make sure you get all the proper permits (which may be free) and that you have plenty of insurance (not free). If you are on a micor-budget project and they start to ask you questions about what your budget is and how much insurance you have just politely excuse yourself, and run.

Filmmaking in public places

Most public places are technicallyoff limits for the low-budget filmmaker. If you ask for permission you will have to show proof of liability insurance, have to hire one or more local cops at an outrageous fee to "control traffic", buy an expensive permit OR worse yet just be told you can't film there ... against local ordinances.

In these times of terrorist threats it's gotten harder than ever to get permits for filmmaking.

The fact is that most of the time if you aren't actually filming in the street or on a sidewalk the police will just ignore you.

Guerilla filmmaking

Low-budget, independent filmmaking is guerrilla filmmaking. That means you don't ask questions about whether you can shoot on a public street. You get organized, move fast, and get out before anyone calls the cops. It's easier to apologize than ask for permission. If you get caught claim you were doing a class assignment and didn't realize you were doing anything wrong .

Keep it simple

If you're a low-budget independent (and who isn't?), always be thinking in terms of how few locations you can get by with. Everytime you move your set you lose a day. Even moving to another room will cost you at least a couple of hours.

Think you can't make a Great Film in one location? Most slasher flicks are shot in one location and all of the following were shot in mostly one location. Some were literally shot in one room.

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Filming location information

This is a list of links to Film Agencies and Commissions in various states in the United States and worldwide. These links may help provide the filmmaker with help researching and choosing a location and then getting a permit to shoot in those locations.

If you don't see a listing for your locality do a Google search for "film commission" + your area.

United States

Alaska - This is a part of the Alaska State page. The page offers lists of possible filming locations with slides and descriptions of possible resources one could utilize while filming. The page also provides a list of links of for production help and support.

California - This page has a link to information about the California Film Commission, including information about how to apply for a permit to film in California through the CFC and which locations in the state are similar to others in the world.

Iowa - This page includes information about Iowan film stars, locations where big films were shot, and economic breakdowns of filming costs in Iowa. It also includes contact information and a guide to regulations, such as permits, taxes, and child labor laws.

Maryland - The Maryland Film Office began in 1983, and offers location scouting, and an extensive library of color photograph of locations throughout the state. They offer pre-production research and act as a liason between the government and the producers. This page acts as an introduction to their services.

Missouri - This page offers basic information about the Missouri Film Commission. An online application facilitates the director in his quest for a location to shoot. Employment opportunities are posted for the job seeker.

New Mexico - This page is a simple guide to personnel and services for film production throughout the state of New Mexico, including accomidations, public relations, equipment rental and production coordiantion services.

Tennessee - This web page offers information about Tennessee's growing music, film and video production industry. The Commission provides production assistance within these rapidly expanding industries, and offers general production resources.

Texas - The Texas Film Commission offers to analyze scripts and survey the state for locations that fit the project's requirements. They act as liaison with other state agencies, local law enforcement, or city and county governments in the obtaining of permits. This page offers copious amounts of information, and is easy to use.

Utah - The Utah Film Commission assists with production needs, from initial scouts and pre-production to principal photography and post-production. It includes a database of production companies and a list of films shot on location in Utah. In addition, they offer a bulletin board for crew/animators/etc. to offer their expertise. This web page offers an introduction to UFC's services.


Austrian Film Commission - The Austrian Film Commission (AFC), offers a wide range of services. The AFC maintains on-going relationships with festival selectors, distributors and buyers as well as the press, concerning new Austrian productions. They also oversee festivals and film events throughout Austria. This site offers and introduction to their services.

Australian Film Commission - This web site offers advice to filmmakers who wish to make films in Austraila. There is information about grants and other funding options, as well as general production assistance. The Film Commission also offers assistance in promotion and marketing of finished films.

United Kingdom - This web site encourages filmmakers to "put Great Britain in the picture". It is graphics-intensive, but offers features copious resources designed for the begining fimmaker. The links page is a list of smaller film commission within England, N. Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

British Board of Film Classification - The British Board of Film Classification acts as a ratings organisation for British films. Included are guidelines for filmmakers regarding content.

British Columbia - British Columbia Film delivers a full range of services assisting in the development, production, marketing and distribution of B.C. film and television projects, as well as labour force development initiatives. This page offers information about how to utilize these services.

National Film Board of Canada - The National Film Board of Canada offers a bi-lingual introduction to the process of filmmaking in Canada. Included are tips for production, resources for new filmmakers, and contact information for various helpful groups. The board is a public agency, created in 1939 "to reflect Canada to Canadians and to the rest of the world". Their main focus is the production and distribution of films, for which they have received many accolades for its excellence.

Iceland - This page offers information about films already shooting in Iceland, but also includes contact information for the Icelandic Film Commission

India - The National Film Development Corporation Ltd. is the central agency in India promoting quality cinema. This page offers a variety of resources for both seasoned and aspiring filmmakers, as well as researchers. Highlights includes a history of Indian cinema from the first talkie in 1931 to the "Golden Age" of the fifties. Also included is censorship information and a ratings scale

New Zealand - On this website you can find information about all the feature films and short films that the New Zealand Film Commission has supported since it's inception. You can also access information about the services that the Commission offers such as financing, ratings, marketing, archival resources. This web page is a celebration of all New Zealand culture through film.

North Wales - The North Wales Commission assists filmmakers in locating locations for shooting and directs them to services and personnel available to assist them. North Wales has been host to production teams from the 40s to the 90s.

Singapore Film Commission - In their own words, this page claims the goal of "nurturing, supporting and promoting" Singapore talent in filmmaking, the production of Singapore films and a film industry in Singapore". In actuality, this page only offers links to films that were shot there, and contact information.


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