When it comes to locking in locations for indie filmmakers, it truly comes down to budget, what we have in mind vs. what we can afford. The quality of your film could be better when your locations align with the character and mood of the scene. Check out , Importance of Location Scouting in Film-making
When you can’t find free locations and money is tight, the result is shooting in the car, some abandoned area, or just guerilla-styling it. I’m not judging you, trust me. I had to shoot in Walmart at 2 am to get the scene. I mean, always get what you can get when you can. Never let a location stop you from filming. Film Location cost has skyrocketed, and some of the bare minimum locations start at $300-$500 an hour. I’ve had sets where it has taken 2-3 hours to get into a good groove.
I remember I needed a metaphysics shop for one of my productions, and Atlanta only had a handful. My favorite place to visit was Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore, and I knew it would fit the scene perfectly. But, after writing the scene, I thought, “how the hell am I going to afford that?” Two things I knew for sure, I didn’t have the money for the location, and I was going to film my scene there. I also needed a University, Cupcake Shop, Cookie Shop, etc. the list went on and on with my no-money production.
I spoke to my team the next day about all the locations we would need for the film. Guess what? I got every location needed for my TV Series Build- A -Boo using the four tacts below. First, make sure you have broken down your script so that you can know what locations you need. I have a template that you can download here for all your locations. Locations Needed Checklist
Let’s get into it.
4 Simple Ways To Get Free Film Locations
1. Ask Your Friends & Family
I know this may seem cliche, but ask; seriously, you will be surprised how a simple ask could get you a yes—of course, having the answers to how, when, what, and who will help determine your outcome.
- When will you shoot?
- How long will you need the location?
- What’s all involved?
- Who’s all involved?
It would help if you were confident when asking friends and family about using their home or business for the day(s). When dealing with friends and family unfamiliar with the filming process, you want to provide them with as much information as possible. Imagine knowing nothing about filmmaking just to come home and see 40 people in your house, lights, a camera, and a few broken articles.
It can be overwhelming, and you want to make a good impression just in case you need to film again. So here are a few things to consider before you ask the big question.
Be Upfront With Friends & Family
- When will you shoot? Sometimes we get excited and want to ask without having the cast even know a date. I advise waiting until you know the exact date and DON’T cancel or reschedule. (Remember, you’re gaining trust and a possible referral; they will tell their friends to trust me. People love for people to film at their house. They feel Hollywood, lol.) Remember to add any days you want to stop by to view the locations or do pick-up shots.
- How long will you need the location? Be realistic; your friends and family will hold you to that time. When asking friends and family, I tell indie filmmakers always add 2-3 hours for emergencies. Weather, traffic, or anything can cause a delay. Also, some friends and family are at work for the day or running errands while you film. So make sure you’re being considerate of their schedule and time. They will be happier knowing you left earlier than later.
- What’s all involved? Make sure you let your friends and family know what type of scene you will be filming. Inform them of all the areas of the house you will utilize. i.e., garage, pool, spare room. Your friends and family can tidy those areas and put away personal items. They need to be aware of if you need to move furniture, hang fixtures, or hang lights outside. They should be mindful of all that will be involved. If your shoot may include interrupting the neighbors, make sure they’re aware.
- Who’s all involved? You don’t need to give them a list of names, numbers, and roles, but make sure you assure them who will be in their home. Remember, you are responsible for everyone, and they trust you. So let them know how many people you anticipate in their home or business.
2. Free Permits
You will be surprised to learn that many cities offer free film permits. Cities want to get a piece of the film pie and offer filmmakers free access to shoot in their towns. Many filmmakers avoid getting permits because of cost, but having a film permit also protects you and your production crew when you film. It gives you and your production film rights and the possibility of not being fined by officers.
Many city film offices assist in location scouting services for free and offer free locations at properties they own. So always check the film office in the city where you want to film for assistance. You can always check out the Free or Dirt Cheap Film permits blog that’s updated regularly for quick access to locations in your state.
3. Knock on Doors & Businesses
Less common than the other two, but this one works. It does take some confidence and ability to accept rejection. But this one gets you the yes AND the location of your dreams. Let’s say you need a location with a pool and basketball court; imagine how much that would cost. You can scout out areas with homes like the one you need; once you find a few houses, it’s time to ring doorbells. Looking as professional as possible, a nice polo with your company’s logo, or you can purchase a location scouting shirt from our store. Make sure you have important information, business cards, and a one-page portfolio of your film.
You can also include links to your IMDb or portfolio for reference. If they have questions, you have answers, remember? Your what, when, who, and how.
Here are a few things to have with you while your scout and knock on doors:
- Have your E & O Insurance forms with you. Having your insurance paperwork will assure the homeowner that if anything was to happen, their home is safe and covered by insurance.
- Film Permit application or confirmation that you can film with the city. Having your film permit will assure the homeowner that you are registered with the state and have permission to film.
- Have a few copies of your location release form. Leaving a copy of the location release form will allow the homeowner to look it over. Trust me, they feel more comfortable when you leave it.
- Reassure them that their time and effort will allow you and your team’s career to advance and if they have any further questions or concerns, they can call or email you. If you have a professional email, use it.
4. Email Locations
When I started location scouting for my projects, I was scared to ask business owners to use their locations. I was afraid of what they would say. However, emailing locations are personable, and it also breaks the ice if you’re shy and don’t know how to start the conversation.
I love that most businesses now have websites making it so much easier to get email contacts without calling the location. You want to ensure you’re documenting all the locations you reach out to, your first reach, and when you anticipate doing a follow-up. Here are the steps to sending your email.
Google Maps will be your best friend when you’re compiling your List of locations for inquiry. For example, suppose you’re looking for an Italian restaurant; you would select an Italian restaurant and ensure your search is open. People often like to be close to the city, but events, traffic, and parking can be a hassle for the cast and crew. Many restaurants in the city may also be busy and packed, which can also be why you hear no. So make sure you have a wide enough search, giving you options.
- Go to the restaurant website and browse for an email or contact box.
- Copy and paste your location email, edit your intro, personal touch, and closing statements, and hit send. Now, how simple is this?
- Location scouting is very time-consuming, and a lot of dedication is needed. Therefore, I suggest dedicating a specific date and time to the location scout. Also, ensure you’re following up and constantly emailing new locations until you hear a yes.
Location Scout Sample Email
My name is (your name), and I’m Executive Producer/Location Scout for Indie Film Productions. We are locked to film our short film on January 18-23, 2023. Our short film needs an Italian restaurant for one of our scenes, and your restaurant would complement our film. Our short film is a comedy that we are entering into a film festival. The film’s working title is called Lotto, and it is about a lady named Carol who wins the lottery and needs to meet up with an attorney before cashing in. The two plan to meet at an exquisite restaurant and, on a recent visit, I noticed that your location would be perfect.
We don’t have a budget for film locations, but we would love to see if we could barter services. We have all the paperwork from the city and E & O Insurance to film, which covers your restaurant, employees, and our crew if anything happens.
Our production company has been filming in Atlanta for years and has well-respected location references upon request. We are a small crew and would need 4 hours at your site. However, we have a lot of flexibility, so we are there on whatever day and time you can accommodate us in our filming window.
Is your restaurant interested in being featured in our short film? Please allow us a few hours at your location. I would love to speak to you to answer any further questions or concerns you may have.
Please email me some dates and times you have available next for us to speak, and I’ll send you an invitation request.
I appreciate your time and consideration.
Location Scout/ Indie Film Productions
End of Email
Imagine sending about 20 of these emails a day. You are bound to find your location. Remember to make your email personable and fun.
Key Notes for Finding Free Film Locations
- Remember to clean up your location; it would be nice if you replaced any products that your cast and crew may have used.
- If you don’t have the money for a thank you gift card or basket, buy a greeting card and have the cast and crew sign with thank yous!
- Make sure there is enough room for parking.
- Be aware of any neighborhood policies, and inform your cast and crew.
- Also, try to get a film permit for your and your crew’s safety.
- Get E & O Insurance so that you, your cast, crew, and locations are covered.
- Write everything down, and remember to breathe.
- Check out a few other blogs and templates that you can download below. I hope that you find your perfect location.
Go be great!