Filming on location - what you need to know!Apr 11, 2023
Okay moviemakers, let’s get out on location!
If you're creating a documentary, chances are it won’t be all on a green screen! This means you’ll likely be heading out on location to film substantial parts of your film. So in this blog, I’m sharing what a typical shoot on location might look like, how much footage you need to capture and how much screen time that will equate to.
There are two types of locations I’m discussing here.
- Filming in your hometown
- Filming interstate or overseas.
There are different considerations for these two types of location filming.
As always, if you’re wanting to back-pedal before moving forward, just jump back to the blog page and check out all the blogs in this series on how to make a documentary from start to finish. (By the way, if there’s a topic you want info on but you can’t spot it in the blog section, shoot me a DM!)
Mike and I also break this topic down in the companion video over at Moonshine Communications Academy and in the Moonshine Moonshot podcast if you want more depth than what I’ve written here.
Are the crew coming by bus?
Before you head out on location, you’ll have planned out what you want to do on that day. Presumably, you’ll have a call sheet and have done all the work on telling your cast and crew where to go and what time to be there.
And part of that planning would include figuring out what you need to capture and how it will fit into your overall film. In other words, how much screen time would you expect to capture on a shoot day out on location?
It’s important to have a realistic goal that works within your schedule and budget.
But what is a realistic goal? Well, If it helps in your estimation; when Mike and myself are out on a shoot we are always striving to capture enough story to make up around 3 - 5 minutes of screen time. Any less than 3 minutes, suggests we may not have made the most of our time. Or perhaps something went wrong, an interviewee fell through or bad weather slowed us down etc.
Now if you’re thinking ‘Five minutes doesn’t seem like much,’ you would be right! To an extent. Because to get that final five minutes, you’re going to need hours and hours of raw footage (You would be amazed at what ends up on the cutting room floor!). Of course, every shoot is different! But if we’re talking an average on-location shoot - this would be an achievable goal and it might be over two or three days of shooting.
Here’s an example!
Recently, Mike and I were in Sydney shooting for an exciting upcoming project. On this particular day we shot a multi-camera interview with a participant, overlay of them swimming a the beach, b-roll footage of them in their home and lastly, we changed locations entirely and headed across town to a medical clinic.
Our shoot day started at 6:30am and ended at 1pm. Combined with some archival footage and an extra couple of hours the following day, the footage captured of this story will probably end up being three to five minutes of screen time in length.
Organisation is the key to success!
There’s a big difference between filming locally or interstate and internationally. When you’re at home, organisation (though still important!) may be a bit more flexible.
When you’re filming in your hometown, rescheduling, pick-ups and delays are much easier to accommodate depending on what you’re doing. You can be more flexible around your interviewee's availability and when locations are ok to shoot at. If it’s bad weather for an outdoor location, it’s not as hard to postpone.
However, when shooting interstate and internationally these types of delays are much harder to accommodate and can have significant cost implications.
I may sound like a broken record when it comes to organisation but believe me, it's a big part of filmmaking. Even the most simple of things when planning your locations is going to have a huge impact. Like ensuring your accommodation is close to your filming location or whether you will hire a car, take Uber's or use public transport. All these small things affect time, people, budget and your final product.
Charge your batteries (figuratively and literally)
I’m speaking from experience when I say, doing day after day of location shoots isn’t always the best option. Especially if you’re dealing with environments that are hot, humid, dusty or just generally uncomfortable. Not to mention that once you finish the shoot, you’ll need to bump all your equipment from set or location, charge all your batteries and copy all of your files from your memory cards to your drive (and backup drive!).
The other battery that might run out, is you! When you are shooting all day, the most mundane and routine of shoots can be exhausting and the rougher environments even more so. So my recommendation is, when it’s possible and your budget allows, try to do it in four day blocks; you’ll thank me!
Location, location, location
When it comes down to it, how you manage your locations is going to come down to your budget, your timeline, the shots you are planning to capture and where you are going. Not to mention your talent's availability. Filming in your hometown may allow you the flexibility and availability to spend many hours on a few shots, whereas an international shoot at a busy location may not. That being said, an international shoot may be what your film needs, it’s a definite perk of the job and will be worth the preparation!
If you’re still trying to work out where you want to shoot, we covered location scouting in our pre-production planning blog. So be sure to check that out here! But if it’s still not what you’re looking for, reach out. Myself, Mike and everyone at Moonshine Communications Academy are here to help you achieve your movie-making goals;
In the next blog, we’ll be chatting about all things production stills! But until then, If you’re looking for lots of other like-minded movie makers, be sure to come check out Moonshine Communications Academy over on social media!
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