We’re a visual species. What we don’t see usually gets filed away into some back-storage area in our brains, only to be recalled when it rears its head again – when it becomes visible. This explains why we’re great at pattern recognition, hockey and chess. It also explains why, when we can translate the invisible into the visible (through technology, meditation, or some combination of the two), we are very good at figuring things out. It also explains why we suck at maintaining our houses and cars, and why inexperienced producers don’t think beyond the set – the visible world of the filmmaking.
I’m talking about footprint. You’re shooting all day in the park. The producer thinks, great, I’ve got a free location – just get the permit, talk to the parks department, and I’m set. But where do people go to the bathroom? Where do they park? Where do you send the crew and cast when they’re not needed? Where do you eat lunch? Where do you stage your equipment? In other words – what’s the REAL FOOTPRINT of your shoot?
The footprint issue is an important one to face up to early. What seems like a simple script may require a bigger apparatus than you would think. That “horror movie in one house” that we all love/hate working on? Hopefully the house has a basement, or a few extra bedrooms, or there’s a barn nearby. In the winter you can set up tents with heaters; in the summer it’s better to find someplace that’s air-conditioned. Not to mention where you’re going to put all the crap that doesn’t belong in the film, including the location owner’s very valuable chair that will otherwise get broken and cost you just less than your insurance deductible to replace. Location owners, in fact, get especially burned by indie shoots – they thought ten or fifteen people would show up and shoot in their living room, and then fifty people show up and take over the whole house.
A good rule of thumb is to figure that any shoot needs (at a minimum) (1) room for HMU, (1) room for wardrobe, (1) place to go to the bathroom, (1) place for video village and the mixer, (1) desk for the DIT/Red tech, (1) table (at least) for crafty, (0-3) rooms for all the stuff that had to get moved out of the location; (1-many) rooms for all the grip/electric gear (nothing sucks worse than staging C-stands in the hall where the neighbors can trip over them and sue you). You also need to have holding areas for the cast. Depending on your SAG rep and your actors, you may be able to get away with dividing a large space up with privacy screens. You also need a place to feed everyone, including tables and chairs. And somewhere for your second AD and line producer office staff to make calls and set up the next day’s work.
If this sounds like a lot to think about, you’re right – it is. There are several ways to approach this. One way is to try and find one space and divide it up, preferably adjacent to the set. Churches and senior/community/rec centers have worked very well for me in the past. Another is to shrink the crew and cast down to an everyone-fits-in-a-van size. Another is to go in the opposite direction, and shoot on a stage or raw space that has enough subdivisions to take care of your needs. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and should be evaluated in the context of the big picture (the budget and, more importantly, the “gestalt” you’re aiming for).
Next time, we’ll get into this discussion of “gestalt” and how it affects the filmmaking process. Meanwhile, the next time you’re on a location scout, look around you and try making the invisible visible.