By Tom Inglesby
The real estate sales mantra, “Location, Location, Location!” can fit nicely with the independent filmmaker’s mantra, “Keep It Cheap.” The majors can send scouts to find just the right location for a film or TV show based on the script writer’s concepts. It often seems that the big budget productions send crews and actors around the world looking for the perfect spot to resemble another spot that didn’t quite look like what it was supposed to look like, even though it was the actual spot being portrayed. Case in point: shooting the latest Pirates of the Caribbean… in Australia. Or Portland, Ore., sited for Boston in the TV show Leverage.
Okay, we recognize that several factors come into play when a studio looks for a site for a project that, according to the writer—or the author of the book that the project is based upon—is a particular city or area. For obvious reasons, Game of Thrones and The Hobbit are not going to be shot in Westeros and Middle Earth, respectively. The former travels to Northern Ireland, Spain, Morocco, Iceland, and Croatia while the multiple parts of the Lord of the Rings franchise have been shot in New Zealand and touched up in the UK.
But why choose these locations over others? Often that come down to money, or to put it in the term many producers prefer, incentives. Where will they offer the best tax breaks, local crew rebates, quickest and easiest permitting, and so forth? States compete to land those blockbusters-in-the-making and some literally go broke doing so. Not the whole state, but the film commission office, where the budgets can fluctuate wildly year-to-year and success is measured in tourist influx. Few locations, outside of LA, Las Vegas and NYC, have achieved this better than Albuquerque. The six-year run of Breaking Bad has made “Duke City” a choice vacation destination for fans to come and explore the sites familiar to them from the show. Car wash, anyone?
Scenery, of course, plays a role in the choices producers make. How exotic, how typical, how outlandish; the camera can catch it all in long shot and close up. Game of Thrones seems to pick shooting sites for the visuals, uncommon to most of the world, that convey an other-worldly—or at least other time—feeling. And once the fans find out where those scenes were shot, the tourist trade goes up. And find out they do with fan sites on the Internet hounding the production for inside information.
But those are big studio productions. What about the indie producer? Not likely to have a budget big enough for the film and location scouts, many turn to another mantra, that of Fiction Writing 101: “Write what you know.” Or in paraphrase: “Go where you know.” That can help in many ways, not the least of which is cutting travel costs. Shoot in your home town and you can go home every night. Well, maybe not. Check out the philosophy of John Putch in our June issue’s Spotlight feature. His low-budget shorts were shot in his hometown area, southern Pennsylvania, but still required cast and crew to stay in hotels and motels.
And that brings up another cost savings, if you have the chutzpah to work on it: trade outs. “No promises, but we can make (fill in name of motel, restaurant, car wash) famous by showing it in our film. Oh, in return, we sure could use (fill in trade: sleeping rooms, meals, car washes) on the house.”
Hey, it works for travel writers…