Reality for the independent filmmaker

So if real is good, why does Hollywood insist on building elaborate sets, designed to mimic what is already down the street? Because they can. They have the money, and moviemaking in Hollywood is a paid job. The crew of a studio production comprises unionized tradesmen with dozens of specialties and families to feed, and building sets is what somebody does for a living. Whoever is bankrolling the picture has the money, so they will pay to have a set built for the convenience.

Because, after all, having a set *is* convenient. Shooting on location means you have to make do with whatever you have, which is often less than ideal both practically and creatively. If it’s a public place, then there are crowds to deal with. Outdoors? Then you have to wait for the good days, or spend a fortune in rain machines to turn a good day bad. You have to deal with the changing color temperatures of the sun. It’s no better indoors, where available lighting will need to be changed or supplemented, often requiring extra power to be brought in. And where do you put all the camera, crew and equipment?

But if you’re on a micro-budget with no money to get exactly what you want, shooting on location does have major advantages. As Lloyd Kaufmann writes in “Make Your Own Damn Movie(”:

??With a great location, you can get a set that looks better and more natural than the highest-paid art director in Hollywood could ever hope to build…Any real location, whether it’s a bar or a bakery or a public bath house will have accrued years of details that no set designer can replicate. The right location can give your movie a very high production value for little or no money.??

That was the first thing on my mind when I moved to Japan. I shot _Rock Paper Scissors_ because I would’ve been stupid not to take advantage of the rich landscape and cultural treasures that were right downtown. And shooting in Japan was a dream, because nobody needed any location permits or special clearance. We shot right there in the open.

Lloyd knows what he’d talking about. Before he co-founded “Troma Studios(Troma’s Homepage)”: with Michael Hertz, he was a location scout for several major Hollywood productions, including “The Karate Kid(imdb)”: and “Saturday Night Fever(imdb)”: Mike Figgis also talks about jumping out of the back of a van and shooting parts of “Leaving Las Vegas(imdb)”: right on the street, with no permits or prior setup.

And shooting on the fly, in places you didn’t design or build to your specifications, forces a filmmaker to be *creative*. Sets are great because you can move walls or carve holes in the floor to get the angles you originally planned.

!/images/20.jpg (Citizen Kane: The shot of the ceiling)! !/images/21.jpg (Orson Welles & cinematographer Gregg Toland)!

When you have to “make do,” your creativity will sometimes surprise you. In my experience, compromises often turn out better than my original plans. And depending on how you shoot it, you can make anything look like something else entirely. Jean-Luc Godard makes the dark, empty streets Paris look eerily futuristic in “Alphaville(imdb)”: A “shopping mall(Logan’s Run Locations)”: becomes a futuristic city in “Logan’s Run(imdb)”: They even shot the Water Gardens in a Fort Worth park.

!/images/22.jpg (Scene from Logan’s Run)! !/images/23.jpg (Water Gardens in Fort Worth, TX)!

So there you go. Open your eyes to what’s around you! Stop raising money for the ideal and start shooting with what you have now.

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