Choosing the best film location for your next project means more than choosing a few shooting sets. Filming locations can have far reaching implications for your schedule, your budget, and beyond.
In this post, we’re examining the fine art of selecting a film location beyond aesthetics. Below, we’ll take a look at why location matters and break down six key questions for choosing the best filming location for your next production.
Along the way, we’ll highlight a few helpful resources you can use to supercharge your decision-making.
When we think about choosing film locations, most filmmakers focus on the basics of location scouting. We talk about whether the director likes the look of a place, how the cinematographer might light it, and what the production designer might add or subtract to change it.
Conversations tend to revolve around visual aesthetics and how to achieve them.
But choosing a film location is about so much more than visual appeal. If we look at the big picture, it’s clear that different filming locations bring different advantages and disadvantages to production.
Your choice of filming location will change how you build your budget, construct your schedule, and arrange every detail of your logistics. Choosing a film location isn’t just about choosing the right shooting set. It’s about choosing the right city, state, and culture to produce your project.
In the following sections, we’ll break down 6 questions you should ask before picking a film location. These questions are designed to help you consider all the factors that might influence your next shoot, empowering you to make better decisions faster and with more ease.
When debating between film locations, story is the ultimate litmus test. If a filming location doesn’t make sense for your story, it won’t work for your production either.
Louisiana may offer great tax incentives, but that’s irrelevant if your story is a western set on the mountains and plains of Wyoming. Los Angeles is home to some of the best production infrastructure in the world, but good luck making it look like the Alaskan tundra without some serious VFX. Atlanta is a growing production hot spot, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are no desert dunes in Georgia.
By simply examining your story, you’ll be able to significantly reduce the number of potential filming locations for your production. Important questions might include (but are not limited to):
If a given state or city doesn’t have what you need, you can cross it off your list.
However, remember to exercise restraint and consider your options carefully. The first lesson of movie magic is that appearances are deceiving. That goes for film locations too. As any old film location map will attest, Hollywood is notorious for passing off one location as another on the big screen.
The availability of production incentives should be a massive consideration in your choice of filming location. States and some municipalities now offer a wide variety of grants, tax incentives, and other production perks.
Depending on the state, incentives could help you shave thousands - if not hundreds of thousands - off your production budget. For indie filmmakers, the right incentives can mean the difference between a finished film and a film that fails to launch.
Production incentives vary wildly from state to state. Each government offers its own mix of incentives designed to balance costs against economic advantages.
The good news is that today’s filmmakers have a lot of incentive options to consider. The bad news is that those options can be tough to compare.
Unless, of course, you know about Wrapbook’s Production Incentive Center.
Wrapbook’s Production Incentive Center gathers powerful resources that help you tap into up-to-date incentive info with greater speed, ease, and confidence than previously possible.
Our State Comparison Tool, for example, allows you to compare incentive options from multiple states literally side-by-side. With the State Comparison Tool, you no longer have to dig up vague details from a dozen different websites.
Instead, you can simply click on the states you need to research and compare them within a single window.
If you throw a rock in Los Angeles, you’ll probably hit someone who works in film production. Because the city is home to so much of the industry, quality crew members are easy to find. The same goes for production hubs like New York City, Atlanta, and Chicago.
However, that’s not necessarily the case in Butte, Montana.
The ability to hire local crew is a serious boon for a potential filming location.
From a financial perspective, local crew offers productions a chance to save money on the travel and lodging costs of out-of-state crew. From a logistical perspective, local crew can connect productions directly to local resources and knowledge. From a strategic perspective, local crew can provide productions with a wider range of skilled crew members.
When a filming location hosts a community of qualified crew members, the ability to hire local presents a major advantage. It comes with no downsides, and a decision can be made for each individual position on your crew.
If you decide to hire local at your film location, don’t forget that Wrapbook can make it easier to pay them. Our digital startwork solution streamlines the onboarding process, and our intuitive dashboard empowers you to manage the entire payroll pipeline from anywhere at any time.
With Wrapbook, local payroll is faster, easier, and more efficient. Check out the demo to see for yourself.
Film location maps often highlight notable movies or television shows that have been shot at a particular landmark, building, or area. However, while we love knowing that Bruce Wayne and Daniel Plainview share a mansion, popularity isn’t necessarily good for a film location.
There are real risks to consider if an area is too in-demand.
Again, it’s not just about aesthetics. While no filmmaker wants their movie to look like a dozen others, there are many creative ways to modify a familiar set. Instead, producers should be concerned with the secondary consequences of high demand.
If you open a film location app, you’ll notice that the price tag of any unique location increases with its popularity.
And that makes sense. The location is in demand. It offers something that filmmakers clearly want. Therefore, the owners of the location can charge a higher price.
High location fees are never great for your budget, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If a film location is a production hotspot, competition will increase for essentially any local filmmaking resource.
It may be harder to hire local crew, reserve lodgings, or rent local equipment. You may even find yourself bidding with another production to use a particular building on a particular day.
The popularity of a filming location can impact your bottom line and should not be underestimated. Note, however, that there are ways to mitigate its risks.
For example, you might be able to shoot in a particular area off-season. While there may be some tradeoffs for weather or other factors, you’ll also face less competition over critical resources.
Access to basic tools, supplies, and infrastructure is essential for production. Therefore, the availability of filmmaking resources can make or break a film location.
Ask yourself question like:
The right questions will vary from shoot to shoot, but it’s important that producers ask them. These are questions that film location apps won’t answer. Instead, they require individualized analysis and consideration.
Some scarcities may be manageable with a little planning, but others may force unavoidable risks or costs. It’s up to you to calculate their requirements and decide whether a given location can meet them within reason.
Dealing with adverse weather is one of the great challenges of professional filmmaking. Not only is it logistically difficult, but it can be tremendously expensive as well.
An hour of rain can cost a production thousands of dollars, while a week of unexpected snow might cost millions.
When you look at the costs, it’s no surprise that the production industry took root in a place where skies are blue for 80% of the year. However, the risk of adverse weather is sometimes unavoidable. That’s why it’s important to examine vulnerabilities and act to minimize risks.
Some cautionary steps should be obvious with a little consideration. For instance, it’s probably not a great idea to shoot in Florida during hurricane season. Hurricanes are extreme weather events, and you should avoid them.
But don’t forget to address weather variations that fall within a more normal range as well. You can prep for most reasonable weather scenarios by designing a smart, flexible schedule. For example, a summer storm is less likely to slow your shoot down if you have an interior set on standby.
If you’re prepared, you can push your exterior scenes to a later date and keep your production moving at the right pace.
The impact of weather and other environmental variability will depend on the unique characteristics of your production. If your entire movie takes place outdoors, the prospect of rain or snow should weigh more heavily on your location choices. It’s up to you and your team to figure out if a location’s risks balance out its rewards.
Choosing a film location requires a unique blend of logic, creativity, and risk management. You can use the questions above to design a rubric specifically for your next production. With a little luck, the perfect filming location will be just around the corner.
Once you’ve locked in your preferred location, be sure to check out our guide to nailing your tech scout. Don’t forget to take advantage of Wrapbook’s Production Incentive Center to maximize the value of your state’s incentives.
At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice. You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.