Let’s Talk About Location…

Molly Howe
 

Location shooting occurs when you shoot anything in a real-world setting as opposed to in a soundstage or backlot. There are many positives to location shooting. It can add authenticity, reveal exciting travel opportunities for the crew, and also embolden actors or interviewees. This being said, location shooting isn’t all sunshine and rainbows… definitely not in England anyway. 

Like most processes in video production, location shooting comes with a long list of challenges. 

Imagine yourself in this situation…

You step outside your door on the morning of a shoot, the sun is shining high in the sky, children are playing in the street, and everything looks beautiful! When you arrive on location and look through the field monitor, the shot looks awful. The sun can result in harsh shadows and unflattering light conditions. But that’s not your only problem. Filming equipment runs the risk of overheating, your crew could burn, and the joyful screams of children become aggravating background noise. Sounds stressful? That’s location shooting for you, and we haven’t even started on what happens when it rains!

The problems that come with location shooting can be daunting, but there are measures you can put in place to ensure that it runs smoothly. Before you set out for your location shoot, you must consider lighting, sound, weather, background settings, cost, and permissions.

Let’s take a look…

Sourcing a location

Before we get into the specifics, let’s talk about how to source a good location. 

Sourcing a location should happen early in the pre-production stages of creating your video in order to prevent unnecessary problems. In higher budget productions, a location scout will work with your team to find the most suitable location to shoot. If your production does not have a specialised location scout, that is not a problem. Here are some tips for finding the perfect spot:

  • Find a location that is experienced in film shoots
  • Find a location that can be used for several scenes
  • Choose somewhere that is safe
  • Be aware of any filming restrictions or permits you need to get
  • Parking or good transport links are essential 
  • Work out how you are going to cater for your crew
  • Be aware of facilities, including toilets (or arrange for portable facilities) 
  • Ideally visit the location before finalising your decision 
  • Always have a backup location 
Location scouting
Location scouting

Things to consider when choosing a location

Sound

Audio quality can make or break a production. Bad sound quality can cheapen your video, even if the visuals are polished. To avoid bringing down the overall production value of your piece make sure to pay attention to the sound quality of your filming location. 

When shooting outside of a soundstage, the audio quality suffers. Poor soundproofing, single-pane glass, hard surface reverb, and background noise including wind and traffic contribute to a weak sound quality. 

To avoid poor sound quality, try to film away from busy roads and in rooms with double glazing. To reduce the annoying rumbling sound a mic makes on a windy day, invest in a windshield. Sound is difficult to fix in post-production, so take steps to improve sound quality on the day of the shoot.

Obviously, some sounds are unavoidable. The odd siren may mean you have to stop recording for a few seconds, but it is unlikely to impact the overall quality of the production. 

Light and timing 

When filming outside or anywhere with windows, it is incredibly important to pay attention to the time of filming. As the position of the sun and clouds changes throughout the day, it effects the way light and shadows are picked up by the camera. This can have a detrimental effect on the visual continuity of the production. 

Consider the type of light you want to shoot in and arrange to film at an appropriate time in the day. For instance, if you want to encourage feelings of happiness in the viewer using warm natural light, the golden hour is your best time to shoot. This is the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset.

No matter what time of year you are shooting, midday will always have the harshest shadows as the sun is directly overhead. This means there aren’t any angles which will shelter your production from the sun’s direct impact. Unless you are after this specific harsh lighting effect, midday shooting should be avoided at all costs. Apps can help you track the position of the sun to help you choose when to shoot certain scenes.

An overcast sky, although unappealing to our eyes is actually one of the best conditions to shoot in. The sun’s light is diffused by the clouds, turning the sky into one big soft light projector. The light is much more forgiving and can be easier to manipulate.

A professional lighting set up can alleviate some of these problems faced when shooting on location. Reflectors take hard light from the sun and bounce it towards the subject, turning it into softer light. 

Weather 

No matter how perfect your schedule is, or how many hours have been put into researching your location, there is always one element of location shooting that you can never control. The weather! Dun dun dun!

To prevent weather-induced delays, make sure to plan ahead for every eventuality and constantly keep an eye on the forecast. Both hot and wet conditions can damage expensive equipment. It is best to carry rain sleeves and shades with you at all times to avoid being caught out. 

Raining
Raining

Background

When shooting on location, being aware of your surroundings is very important. Background movement can ruin a take and wreak havoc with continuity. If you cannot get permission to cordon off an area, filming in a busy public place like a park, road, or station is not only noisy, but the actions of strangers, unbeknownst to them, can disturb your set.

For the best chance of maintaining continuity in a public setting, frame the shot in a space you can control, for instance, against a wall or in a quieter area. Having an empty background can make the editor’s job a lot easier, as it gives them the opportunity to stitch together multiple takes. 

People in background
People in background

Permissions 

There are many regulations that you need to understand and abide by before committing to film on location. 

  • If you are filming on public land (parks, buildings) then you should check if you require permission from the local authorities.
  • Before filming on a road you need to contact the local police to make sure your plans do not post a threat to road users.
  • If you film inside a store or resteraunt you need permission to show their logo
  • You do not need permission from passers-by to be in your film

This is by no means an exhaustive list, for more information see the British Film Commisions website. If you fail to follow regulations and gather appropriate permissions then you are at risk of being legally prosecuted or having your production shut down. 

 

Backup plan

If your location fails at the last minute, having a backup location will save you a lot of stress, time, and money. Shooting on location can be hugely unpredictable. A whole manner of events can prevent a shoot from going ahead, including dangerous weather, road closures, strikes and protests. 

Famed Hollywood director Spike Lee recommends that you should “always keep some locations in your back pocket” in the form of a cover set. If your original set is not able to be used and you haven’t sorted a cover set, you will find yourself needing to tell your crew to go home. That’s a whole day wasted! Losing a valuable day of filming can be a disaster, throwing a shoot schedule into chaos and costing a fortune. 

Make sure to make a note of possible cover sets in pre-production to keep your production flowing if any location problems arise.

Compromise 

During the video production process, you’ll likely have to compromise a lot. Locations can be expensive or inaccessible, and often you’ll have to compromise on what you really want. This is by no means a bad thing, as compromise breeds creativity.

If your video requires a tropical beach but you cannot afford to fly your crew to Barbados, how about a secluded English beach with a sunny filter? You can invest in the creativity of your production even if money is tight. A 2017 study by Nielsen puts the impact of creativity at 47%, nearly double the 2nd-most important factor, reach. The same budget can produce an order of magnitude lift for key performance indicators such as engagement, response, etc.

Carbon Footprint 

The majority of companies today have CSR policies that set out their sustainability aims. It is important that you stick to these aims throughout everything that your business undertakes, including when producing video content. 

Shooting on location can increase the carbon footprint of your production. One of the largest contributors to carbon emissions in production is travel. Filming on location, especially in remote places requires crewmembers to drive to set. Even more impactful are projects where crew are required to fly to set. 

You must think carefully about what needs to be filmed on location and what compromises can be made to ensure productions are as close to carbon neutral as possible. If filming on location is essential, try and source one close to your crew, or seek crew who live close to the area. For productions with larger budgets, hiring electric vehicles or offsetting your carbon emissions can help to address sustainability issues. Alternatively, consider shooting on a soundstage or using animation as these methods require minimal travel, if any at all. 

Corporate social responsibility and sustainability are at the core of everything we do at Kartoffel Films. We believe in making the most positive impact that we can at every step of the video production process and in every action we take as a company. From the onset of our creation, we have designed our business model to maximize the use of remote working, which has translated into less travel to and from the set for us and our clients.

Climate change
Climate change

Alternatives to location shooting

Studio VFX

Shooting with greenscreen can visually replicate filming on location. Ever-evolving green screen technology allows you to drop any image or film behind the subject to make it seem like they are really there. This allows you to create practically any scene in a studio environment.

Greenscreen filming can offer a solution to numerous problems that come with location shooting. 

  • Complete control of variables (weather, background)
  • Saves money on travel
  • Blank canvas allows for changes in post production

Augmented reality 

Augmented reality studios allow you to create and put your character in a volumetric ‘metaverse’. Mixing reality with spatial computing, AR studios can reimagine the physical world as a virtual reality

Still a relatively new concept, AR filming doesn’t come cheap and isn’t hugely accessible. That being said, if you want to push the creative boundaries of entertainment, without having to deal with location problems, it’s certainly an option worth exploring. 

Animation

Animation allows you to avoid practically all the hassle of location shooting. 

Innovative, eye-catching, engaging, and cost-effective. Animation is a form of video that allows for unmatched versatility and unbound creativity. In the wake of the pandemic, animation has risen to become one of the hottest trends in content marketing, yet it still feels underemployed in comparison to live-action. 

Animation is incredibly flexible as a creative medium, not only allowing for global remote working but also in its processes. It has increased longevity in comparison to live-action due to its reusable and malleable nature. It also possesses the ability to reduce complex information into memorable, bite-sized chunks. This makes it a perfect tool for tech video marketing or educational content.

Animation has been dubbed by 83% of marketing professionals as a medium that is rapidly growing in importance. Research shows that using animation on a landing page can increase conversion rates by 85-90%. 

Conclusion 

Shooting on location isn’t easy, but in most cases, it’s more than worth the challenges you will face. Beautiful, interesting, and atmospheric real-life settings can bring your production to life and ignite strong emotional responses in your viewers. 

What if I told you there was a way to take away all the stress of location shooting? We can make video work for you, not the other way around. Our highly experienced team will take your film or animation from concept to planning to production and delivery without any hassle on your part. Contact us to get our creative partnership started.