Tips For Shooting On Location
Explore your options and gather useful insights from an industry expert.
The ideal location for any production is almost always an indoor studio space. Working in these conditions, one can build their own set that's tailor fit around that specific production's needs. Lighting isn't much of a concern as the crew will have pre-lit the space prior to the day of the actual shoot. A proper studio space is sound proof so the constant passing of cars, flying over of planes and leaf blowing from landscapers won't be a hindrance that slows a shoot down to a crawl. Most importantly is the ease of movement within a studio's wide space. Film gear can be large and clunky so having a clearance of at least twenty feet on all sides of the crew and their equipment makes the entire production that much easier.
As a New Jersey based video production company there are certainly no shortage of excellent studios available for rent in the area. While this is all well and good, access to ideal studio space is not always in a client's budget. We as producers must find a way to deliver the content in a quality location regardless of budget. This is where location scouting and rentals come into play. There are many people out there who will gladly rent their home or office to a production. This is a win/win situation for both parties as the producer is able to capture what is needed in the appropriate environment and the home owner gets a nice paycheck for the rental. A professional crew will always leave a space exactly how it was when they arrived, and someone with experience renting their home or business is aware of this.
We have a roster of home and business owners that rent to us on a regular basis and we are constantly in and out of private locations like these. It's important to maintain a good relationship with anyone who might be interested in opening their doors for a production. You never know when their unique location will be the ideal spot for a shoot. A location and tech scout is vital prior to arriving at someone's home or business. However, working in real life locations often yields real life problems a crew will always have to deal with. Low clearance doorways, tight stairwells and low ceilings are just a small portion of the types of issues we deal with on a regular basis. It's impossible to count the amount of times we've found ourselves crammed up against a corner of a room or halfway down a hallway with a zoom lens just to grab a semblance of a wide shot.
In order to combat this we have acquired a few tips and tricks we'd like to share that might give others some insight as to getting around the issue of shooting in tight spaces. The first maneuver one can take falls into the umbrella of pre-production and location scouting. Arriving several days or weeks prior to the day of the shoot and looking around the space thoroughly can make all the difference. This allows a producer to plan the best possible locations for the best possible shots. Say we needed a shot of a husband getting out of bed without waking up his wife. The home we are shooting at might have four bedrooms but if three of the four have a three foot clearance outside the doorway than we won't be able to get a wide enough shot to capture the action. But if the master bedroom has a small foyer style entryway we can utilize that space and grab the action we need without compromising the frame. Preparation is by far the most important element for any production. This should all be figured out before the cast and crew arrives on set.
Delivering a high production value for our clients is a top priority. We always try to push the envelope with our cinematography but sometimes shooting on location can prove difficult when going for interesting camera movements. We always make sure there is a reason behind camera motion. When a video's story is further served by dynamic camera movement than we find a way to make that happen. Equipment like dolly tracks and jibs take up a lot of space and finding a way to fit this type of equipment in smaller locations can be a real challenge. This is why we employ gear like the Dana Dolly and Portajib system. With a four and six foot track, we've been able to get away with some beautiful shots in unbelievably cramped spaces. As for the vertical motion offered by the jib - this is the type of look that really lends a feeling of authenticity and high production value to any production. The reality is you will never be able to fit a traditional sized jib in a space like a home or office. The Portajib is 1/3 the size of a traditional jib and with that reduction we have been able to acquire some truly amazing shots in tight corridors, bathrooms and even closets.
All of this holds true when shooting in offices or businesses as well. In fact sometimes these types of locations can prove even more difficult since so many people at the location are there to work. We have a job to do but so do they and it is not any producer's right to interfere with their normal day to day activities. Generally sit down interviews are common when producing videos for a company in their office space. Capturing sound in this environment can be difficult with people conversing, cell phones going off, doors opening and closing etc. As stated earlier, a preliminary scout of the location can help prevent stress for the production team when trying to figure out the best place to conduct the interview and roll sound. Find a room with minimal sound leakage and hoist "sound blankets" (furniture blankets) around the subject being interviewed to mitigate any further sound from the hustle and bustle outside the room. Also plan out B Roll style shots ahead of time. We always like to know where our gear is going and what type of shots we are trying to achieve throughout the day.
Everything above boils down to preparation. The Boy Scouts motto is "Be prepared". Perhaps we can all take something away from those simple words, regardless of occupation. As a producer, "winging it" is unacceptable. Explore the shooting location thoroughly ahead of time and know where the camera, lights and actors are going to go. Plan out the type of gear necessary to grab the shots needed that best tell your client's story. Finally make certain the every day occurrences associated with the location will not interfere with the integrity of the production.
About the author
Gregory Standal is the founder of New Cape Pictures, a production company specializing in branded commercials, direct response, corporate videos, digital media and more. His expertise includes writing, producing, directing and editing immersive content for businesses and brands all over the world.