Locations: The Reason We Invented Green Screen

I'm more of a "classical" George Lucas fan. Classic Lucas gave us Indiana Jones and Star Wars and the wackiness of THX-1138. Modern Lucas gave us midichlorians, whiny Vader, and Indy vs. Aliens. I consider my position to be one of considerable strength.

One quirk I've consistently given Lucas hell for, though, is one I'm reconsidering. I never understood, and actually outright loathed, his obsession with creating these digital, video-game locations to put his actors into. It's difficult to drag out a proper performance, it overwhelms the story, and, worst of all, it just doesn't look or feel real.

After a few weeks of working on locations for the $1000 Feature Film, I'm definitely not saying I want to paint every wall in the DigiCave green, throw some actors up against them, and who-gives-a-shit if they can't act, they'll act poorly in an awesome location. I'm not ready to say all of that... but I get it.

Finding locations is hard work. You start with words on a page, a loose description of a building or a field or a towering spire of obsidian rock. Most of the time, these words do not correspond to any real life spot, but rather one the writer dreamed up out of the mulch pile in his or her mind. Sometimes, as was the case with many of the 1KF's locations, the spot is some dimly remembered set from the writer's childhood, something that may or may not even remain in existence. In either case, it's now the crew's duty to take these vague specifics and translate them into an actual real-world location. To do this, they simply have to find the 20 or 30 perfect spots, narrowed down from every physical location on the surface of the earth.

OK, fine, budgetary considerations will quickly eliminate used car dealerships in Finland. But at some invisible point, they're on the table. Everything is on the table. At the first pass, maybe you'll stick to your ideals and demand that there simply IS a late 19th century log cabin with moss growing off the north face, surrounded by poplar trees and at the edge of a glassy lake. And, dammit, you're going to find this cabin 10 minutes from your house. After a few weeks of searching, though, it's possible your standards will be lowered to that filmmaking binary: INT. or EXT.

"We need an Oval Office for the President's big speech."

"My brother's friend has a rug with an eagle on it in his room."

"Take some pictures."

But even if you survive these dark urges and find the perfect, pristine, exact location, the one that popped off the page and nestled snugly into the realy real world, just for you... there is still a lot of work to do.

- What dates is this location available?
- At what TIMES on those dates is the location available?
- What are your lighting conditions?
- Are there plugs nearby for additional lights?
- Do they work?
- Will you explode your crew trying to make them work?
- What about sound?
- If the light thing didn't work out, will you have loud, cranky generators running?
- Is there an airport, oh, five minutes away?
- Is traffic going to be starting and stopping your shoot?
- Who owns the place?
- Who will care when you fuck up the furniture?
- Will you need insurance to secure the location?
- Will the cops come and arrest you if you shoot without permission?
- Will they care you're making an entire feature film for only $1000, or will they expect a packet of hush money?

And so on. Any of these, and hundreds more, are potential dealbreakers and absolutely must be sorted out before you can move a location into the "found" pile. And even once you finally have, you must repeat the process for each and every spot in your modest-budget movie.

So there's some stress involved.

I'll update again as the process continues. Stay tuned.


The Wonderful World of

The Wonderful World of Film-Making.

Mattatius | Wed, 04/02/2008 - 18:49

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