The majority of film and television shoots are accomplished outside the comforts of a studio lot. These shoots happen on location — whether it be at a warehouse, apartment, restaurant, bar, or store. Someone has to make the initial contact with that location, nurture the relationship, and ultimately secure enough trust to accomplish a film shoot that keeps both parties happy until long after the film crew leaves. First of all, your priority should be ensuring the location has a positive experience — you don’t want to burn a bridge for the next film crew that wants to film there.
There are four steps to establishing a relationship with a location, but if you can only remember two things, remember this: Be Honest and Be Genuine.
NOTE: This post is written for smaller shoots, where the coordinators/producers usually do the location management and try to get locations for free. For larger scripted projects, there’s an entire department to handle the locations!
1) Learn How to Cold Call.
Cold calling is scary and in the age of e-mail, it’s a skill that’s overlooked and not taught in school. When I first started as an associate producer, I was terrified of picking a phone number off of Google, cold calling, and trying to convince an unsuspecting stranger to let a 30-person film crew interfere with their business. I didn’t have a confident on-phone personality.
To make things even more daunting, my very first assignment was to cold calls gigantic oil corporations in an attempt to find an offshore oil rig for us to film on. (Mind you, this was less than a year after the Deepwater Horizon incident.)
Throughout my first season on that show, as I called numerous other locations (restaurants, bars, etc), I got a lot of confused reactions met with a lot of Hell No!s. But with guidance from a great mentor plus the practice of cold calling hundreds of businesses, I was able to craft a sales pitch with a high success rate. Once you’ve cleared 100 different locations in 20 different states, you’re bound to start remembering what works! The turning point was incredibly simple: I believed what I told them. This is a project you’re happy to be working on, and they should be excited you chose them, too! Your enthusiasm and belief in the project will sell the show better than any well-written sales pitch.
When You’re Cold Calling, Make Sure You’re Speaking With the Right Person.
This is simple, but key. Don’t unload your pitch on the first person that answers the phone – make sure you’re speaking to the owner/manager (or public relations if it’s a big company). My first line is generally something like “Hi, I’m Laryssa calling with a new series on NETWORK, may I speak to the owner or manager about potentially filming at your restaurant?”)
When You’re Giving Your Sales Pitch, BE HONEST in Your Expectations.
Honesty with a location from the very first phone call is KEY. This establishes trust from the beginning. Also, when something doesn’t go according to planned — the film shoot takes an hour longer than you thought, for example — your location knows you didn’t deliberately lie to them.
Recently, I was Skyping for a job interview, and I listened to a guy in the background attempt to clear filming at Lowe’s. He had a friendly on-phone personality, but his pitch had DISASTER written all over it.
“Hi, may I speak to your PR department?… Great….Hi, how are you? I just wanted to chat with you about a documentary series filming in the Florida area and we wanted to do some filming at a Lowe’s store for the show. I can’t tell you anything about the show yet, it’ll just be some dudes shopping. We’ll only be there 30-45 minutes.”
I was fuming! In what universe can a film crew be in and out of a location within half an hour?! The location will be annoyed because they were told you’d only be on premises for 30 minutes, but in reality, the crew is there for 3 hours. Plus, never say what you’re working on is a “secret”. Those that work in Public Relations departments are there to look out for best interest of their businesses and shut down anything that may raise a red flag.
As a rule, I add an extra hour to however long it usually takes: “We’re still hashing out our exact schedule, but it’ll be a four-hour window from when the first crew arrives to when we’re driving away. As soon as I know the times, you’ll be the first to know!”
If They Say No, DON’T Force It.
I’m a firm believer that there’s a right location for every film shoot. If the owner or manager is against the idea from the beginning, don’t make it your mission to “convert” them. If they’re willing to hear you out, then explain why your show would be different from a past bad experience, but don’t force it! A location that reluctantly says Yes from the beginning is far LESS likely to provide any kind of assistance when you’re filming and far MORE likely to raise hell. If you’re dealing with a film savvy town and have to call 30 bars before you find the one that’s chill, do it. It’ll be more work on the front end, but it’ll make your life much easier on the back end.
2) Maintain the Relationship.
Congratulations, the Location said Yes! But your work and relationship with them should be far from over.
If you’re on a television series that requires filming at multiple locations over a period of several weeks, make sure you maintain the relationship with all of your locations, not just the one you’re filming at tomorrow. Call to check in on a weekly or bi-weekly basis with all of them just to say Hi. It lets them know you’re on your game and haven’t forgotten about them. (“Hi there! We’re on location right now in Georgia. It’s nice, but I can’t wait to come to your neck of the woods. How are you? How’s the weather there?…I think I have a finalized date but I’ll know better in the next week or so. How does Monday the 3rd or Tuesday the 4th work for you?”)
Here’s a Secret: You’ll be how often your rolodex comes in handy on other projects! Maybe you need some wine donated to an on-camera event? Fortunately, you filmed at a winery last fall and they loved the experience!
3) While Filming at the Location, Be Proactive and Conscientious.
If you have time, you should scout the location prior to your crew’s official location scout. This gives you time to have a face-to-face meeting with the contact you’ve built rapport with over the last weeks, plus clear up any last-minute clearance paperwork. And take photos – lots of photos. This will help your DP decide if they may need any extra equipment.
On the day of filming — get permission from your boss ahead of time to advance to your location. You should be the first member of the crew to arrive. This way, you can smooth out any wrinkles ahead of time, and you can gauge your contact’s mood. Are they chill and ready for anything, or do they need a little coaxing?
Remember: You’re Their Advocate. While you’re filming and you start to see things panning out a little differently, come up with a strategy. If you’re going to keep the restaurant open an two hours later than planned, go to your line producer and ask that the wages of the employees on staff can at least be covered before you talk to the location about it (especially if you’re getting the location for free!). Be conscientious and be proactive.
At the end of the day, everyone has a job to do – why not make it the best possible experience for all involved?
A Good Location Once is a Good Location for Life.
Ownership can change, but if a location has a positive experience, they’ll be far more likely to give it another shot down the road on a different television show.
Finding locations is one of my favorite tasks on projects. It’s a chance to interact with real people and show them a glimpse into the crazy world of TV production, which has always been the most rewarding part of the job. I’ve stayed in touch with several locations over the years, and I’ve been surprised how often I can use their expertise on subject matter about a new show I’m working on, or better yet — film at their location again!