How I financed my first film with killer locations.

When you’re trying to compose a great scene, location is such an integral part of the picture that it can literally make the difference between an audience believing what’s taking place on screen and walking out of the theater. But what if securing a great location could actually generate more investment capital into your film? Let me give you a true example of just such a scenario, where taking the time in the development phase of a film to secure dynamic locations not only didn’t cost thousands of dollars – it generated thousands of dollars for the film’s budget.

My budget for my first feature motion picture production (“In the Company of Men”, 1997 Sony Pictures Classics) was initially the paltry sum of $20 thousand dollars. This in 1996, when HD cameras were still in prototype form, and the only way to make your film look like film was to shoot on film. On a $20K budget, that meant that 50% – 75% of your budget was going into film stock and lab costs, leaving very little cash left over for the other necessary expenses, like location fees. To further complicate this equation, we had opted to shoot our film on 35mm, so we were spending closer to 75% of our cash budget on film stock and related expenses.

As the Producer, I countered this financial shortfall the only way I could, with copious amounts of development and pre-production time. Six months of full-time pre-production for an 11 day shooting schedule gave me the time I needed to find and negotiate the seemingly impossible deals that could help to put our little film’s production values over the top. Our biggest challenge was location scouting.

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On-set utilizing an airliner for “In the Company of Men”

While the majority of “In the Company of Men” takes place in an office setting, there were a few choice scenes that needed to be authentic, like an airport and the interior of a commercial aircraft. One of the most common questions I got about the film upon its release was how much I paid for our locations. All told, I got the run of a 23 story 1930’s art deco office tower, a commercial airliner, an airport, an African Safari zoo ride and a 1950’s diner for the grand total of $500 dollars. Ironically, the $500 dollars was not for an actual location, but to pay the airport security guards to “babysit” us the night we filmed in the airport terminal and in the commercial airliner.

When Matt Malloy, one of the film’s lead actors, arrived a few days prior to start of

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The Lincoln Tower.

principal photography and saw the size and scope of the locations I had secured for our film, along with the cost – or lack thereof – he immediately asked if he could invest another $5,000 dollars into the production. And with that, our little film got a financial shot in the arm to let us add those last few needed elements (and a few thousand extra feet of film stock) to the production, and ultimately come out with what was to be an award-winning film and international theatrical distribution.

So, the next time you’re contemplating that seemingly impossible production with little or no money, just remember that while you may not have the financial resources you want, what you do have on your side is time – time to find exactly what you need. And, it may just impress another potential investor, and lead to more investment cash to work with.

Watch me location scout a 1920’s movie theater for a documentary film here.


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