Location, Location, Location! / by Chris Weigl

You’ve written a good script.  You know exactly how it’s going to look.  You’ve got your actors, most of your crew and it seems like you’re ready to shoot.  There’s only one problem: you have no location!  One of the first questions any good producer is going to have is: where are we going to shoot this?  In order for a producer to get an idea of what they’re making they need to have a visual.  As a writer, one of the biggest favors you can for yourself is have a couple locations in the back of your mind that you could shoot at right now.

A good question to ask yourself during the revision process is: is this so simple I could do this myself?  The more you ask yourself this question the more direct your writing will be.  Some writers think they get some sort of bonus if they make their script cryptic.  They think it adds suspense for the person reading it, but remember this one rule: if you can’t take the scene out of context and still understand what’s going on then you need to re-think the scene.  Think of your script like a maze.  You don’t want it to be too easy or the reader will feel like it wasn’t worth it to get to the end and don’t make it too tough or they’ll give up before they get to the end.

If you’ve written a story that feels like a maze and has an ending that makes it feel like it was worth the journey then you’ll need to get the right people on board.  The right people need to know it’s geographically possible for them to get involved.  Our studio is in the Midwest, so if there are writers that we’d like to work on a project that live in LA then they’re probably not going to be able to be a part of this project.  It’s usually too expensive to fly in your talent unless you’re dealing with actors or anyone on the crew above the pay grade of a writer. 

The other thing to consider when assembling your crew is to make sure you have interesting locations.  Do you have any idea how a grip feels sitting on set for twelve hours?  If you’re making movies you should not only know how it feels, but understand the feelings of all your crew.  They may not say: “I love you” at the end of the day, but if the call comes and they’re asked whether they’d work with you again you’ll get a positive answer if you take them into account.  A smart producer does their homework on writers just like they do with all other cast and crew that are worth paying.  They’re going to know how easy or how hard their lives are going to be and you can open a lot of doors for yourself by putting in the time to find good locations.  Now, you may be wondering: “what constitutes a good location?”  Good question.

A good location has something unique about it, but is also serviceable for food, water, and storage space.  How much space you need depends on the crew you’re working with, but a good gaffer isn’t going to leave their equipment exposed in the sun.  The best thing you can do when looking for a location is to do what you do best: think like a storyteller.  What makes for the best story?  If shooting at a supposedly haunted house for a couple days seems like a possibility imagine the story that it will make for the people who worked on your set.  They’ll be able to tell people they worked in a haunted house.  Not everyone gets to do that and that will make your shoot memorable.  At the same time, you also need to make sure that the traffic coming through or around your location isn’t too large.  Shooting at a mall on the weekend just isn’t going to work.  Trust us, we’ve tried.  You may be able to do some exterior work on the weekend provided you stay away from the parking lot, but aside from that good luck. 

The most important consideration when looking for a location is simple: does it serve the function that the writer intended for it to serve in the script?  That’s a question that only the writer can answer.  This is why it’s best if you think through the locations first yourself.  That way if there’s a problem you’re there with a backup or if something happens and you need an alternative location you’ve got something serviceable.  The more resourceful you can be, the more value you bring to a production crew and that’s what the crew needs when they’re shooting: resourceful people.  Do your best to be one of them.