Film Commissions Are Your Friends

When a production company is looking for a city in which to shoot, there are several factors to consider. Permits, local laws regarding film production, tax incentives, and coordination between police, fire, and other city departments will affect the budget and shooting schedule. Because the production company may not be aware of the local regulations and procedures, each state has set up a film commission to work with the production company.
In addition to state film commissions, large cities may have their own. Film commissions serve to provide the following services to filmmakers:

Production Manual

Film commissions usually produce a yearly directory of all the film production personnel, equipment rental houses, casting agencies, hotels, travel accommodations, and postproduction services in the area. This directory is usually free and is a tremendous resource. Get one.


Film commissions often maintain a database of thousands of photographs of locations available in the region and can assist you in finding and securing locations. Locations in high-production cities may be broken up into those that are available for free or for a slight fee and those with larger rental costs for bigger budget productions. When shooting in another state, that state’s film commission may mail location photos to the location manager to assist with finding locations.
When you find a photo of a location, always contact the film commission to ensure the location still exists and that the photo is accurate. Locations can change all the time and the film commission may not have updated their online photo database.
Conversely, if you don’t see a location in the photo database, call the film commission. They may know of a location and can usually send out a scout to take photos for you.

Coordination with City Services

Although film commissions do not generally issue permits, they can work with the city to help secure permits, coordinate police and fire officials, shut down streets, or perform any other service needed to ensure a smooth production. Without a film commission, your would need to apply for each of these services separately and could encounter needless delays.
If you encounter problems with any government agency, always contact the film commission first.  It’s in their best interest to ensure you have a positive experience in both pre-production and production.

Coordination with Local Residents and Businesses

Film commissions will help the you work with local businesses and residents, especially if production activity interferes with traffic or access to stores and businesses. Film commissions can also help deal with local complaints and concerns over the production.
Film commissions are responsible for increasing film business in their state by promoting and marketing their state’s resources to film producers. Tax breaks, state rebate programs, free permits, and other incentives help cities attract productions that could bring in millions of dollars of revenue to businesses, restaurants, and hotel, not to mention the fame a city receives from being the setting for a big Hollywood film.
Film commissions are also sensitive to independent filmmakers whose projects may not carry the financial backing of a Hollywood blockbuster. Independent filmmakers who are successful may just want to come back when they are Hollywood moguls, so film commissions see a low- to no-budget independent film as a possible investment in future business.
Contact your local film commission to arrange details for your next production. Remember, they are a resource… use them.
Want to learn more about working on location?  Join FilmSkills today to unlock lessons about permits, scouting locations, working with location owners, and much more.

Pre-Production on Low Budget Movies

The process of preparing to shoot a movie can be pretty frustrating because of how many different tasks you as a producer have to juggle. It’s even more challenging when you don’t have a lot of money to spend and you’re wearing multiple hats.

After I wrote a 60-minute period mystery “Time and Again,” I had about six weeks of pre-production, so I had very little time to get everything ready. The trick I found to work is that I started looking for locations immediately, since the entire schedule hinges on their availability.  During the same time, I would stop and visit thrift shops and antique stores to collect props and wardrobe after work each day, storing them in boxes at home until the shoot.  I was also calling prospective crew members and organizing the auditions, while preparing my application for production insurance and contacting the city for shooting permits.

The secret to success is to multi-task and understand that EVERYTHING WILL TAKE LONGER TO DO THAN YOU INITIALLY THINK. Remember that pre-production isn’t difficult, it’s keeping the hundreds of small tasks organized that is the challenge.

I always keep a dry erase board by my desk where I can track of all the small details I need to accomplish, checking off the ones that are finished and always adding new ones.

A few tips I learned during pre-production:

  • Complete the final script, copy and distribute to cast and crew – Nothing happens without the script, so save your (and everyone else’s) time by finalizing the script before you start pre-production.
  • Breakdown the script, create production board and make the production schedule – The sooner you can determine the number of shooting days, how much you can afford to spend each day, and when you are planning on shooting, the sooner you can ask people to get involved. With a schedule in hand, you can ask “Are you available on X day.”  “Can I use your lighting gear the afternoon of Y day?”
  • Set-up a production office and bring on necessary resources –  And yes, your production office can be your home.  Just be ready to have a lot of people coming and going, equipment, props and costumes stacked up, and room for a table and chairs for conferences and meetings.
  • Set-up insurance, bank accounts and company structure –   It’s always wise to separate the production from your personal life.  This keeps your finances separate, but protects your personal assets in case someone gets hurt on set.  Always hire a good attorney and accountant to help.
  • Begin location scouting – Start this right away.  Locations are not always easy to find, and the sooner you can start looking, the better.  Also remember that you don’t have a location until you have a signed location agreement.
  • Begin scheduling auditions for principal actors and extras – Contact local talent agencies to assist.
  • Begin talking with crew members, focusing on main crew positions –  Call the film commission for the production manual that lists all local crew members. If you time your production right, you may get some amazingly talented and qualified crew people if you schedule your shoot off-season.
  • Prepare agreements, deal memos and contracts with cast and crew – You can download all the contracts and forms you need from FilmSkills, but always consult an attorney for any legal documents you plan on using.
  • Review budget with newly hired crew members to determine feasibility – You hire qualified department heads for a reason, so listed to them.  They will tell you if your vision is attainable, and if not, what you can adjust to make it happen within your budgetary restrictions.
  • Research and assemble props and costumes – Start this right away, and keep an eye out everywhere you go.  Also use FaceBook and other social media to put word out for any unique props or costumes. You never know what someone may have gathering dust in their basement.
  • Contact local film commission and establish relationship for permits and city services – Never shoot without a permit. You’d be surprised how many cities are willing to work with new filmmakers.
  • Begin set construction and set decorating – If you need help building sets, contact a local general contractor.  While they usually build additions, renovate office buildings, and build homes, a GC may be up for the challenge of building a movie set.  He may even have access to scrap materials to help you cut your costs.
  • Negotiate with vendors for cameras, lighting and grip equipment – Again, if you time your production so it doesn’t coincide with another film, you may be able to get your gear for a great deal (or even free). Offer to plug the rental facility in your social media to help.
  • Contact post-production services including editors, composers and visual effects artists – It’s never to early to think about production, and the sooner you do, the more help you will have on set. It’s better to start the editing process as early as possible so you can pick-up any missing shots while you are still in production.

All in all, start early, be prepared, and surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing. It will help you, and ultimately, the project.