How to Find Affordable Filming Locations and Save on Permits
Despite being the epicenter of the global entertainment industry, Los Angeles can be a tough place to film. While finding quality talent and production resources is easy, fitting everything into a five-figure budget can feel next to impossible.
More often than not, independent filmmakers are forced to compromise between their two biggest production expenses: talent and locations.
Option 1: Cheap Locations, Expensive Talent
Getting out of the state is a great way to reduce location costs and take advantage of juicy tax incentives, but it’s also going to increase the price of attracting top-tier talent. No one really wants to live out of a hotel in Nevada- so if that’s where you’re shooting, expect to pay more for your cast.
Option 2: Cheap Talent, Expensive Locations
The alternative option is to stay in LA, which means your actors can sleep at home and maintain their regular schedules. While staying local will increase your ability to attract and afford talent , the inevitable compromise is that you’re going to have to pay more for your locations.
Making a micro-budget film in LA without compromising on locations isn’t easy, but it can be done. Sean Baker shot his 2015 Indie flick Tangerine in Hollywood for a measly $10,000. This miraculous budgeting was made possible by the decision to shoot the entire film on iPhones.
The money saved on camera equipment was used to pay for locations and FilmLA permits, which was a decision that paid off. Not only did the film end up grossing $794,000 at the box office, but it also helped Baker generate tons of positive exposure, leading to his 2017’s Oscar-nominated follow-up The Florida Project.
If you don’t want to make a movie on your cellphone there are other ways to afford locations in LA. Here are some quick tips on saving budget:
Start on Facebook: If you’re really on a budget, the best place to start your search is Facebook. Send out an APB to your friends and family with your specific location needs. If that doesn’t work, you can also join one of the dozens of LA-based Facebook groups centered around finding low-priced film locations. (here’s a link to a good one)
Try Bartering: Once you find a reasonable location, you can always try offering the owner non-cash benefits in exchange for a lower price. Free advertising or product placement, producer credits or even a small role in your film could all help convince an owner to reduce their day rate, especially if you’ve got a decent reputation in the industry.
Be Smart with Your Permits: One of the biggest hassles involved in filming in Los Angeles is the cost of permits. Rates for commercial production permits with FilmLA start at $740 and quickly climb from there depending on where and what you’re shooting. While we strongly discourage shooting without a permit — if you’ve already made up your mind about it, here are some fast facts you should be aware of:
- FilmLA permits for still photography start at only $65.
- Student film permits for video production start at only $25.
While shooting without a permit on private property is a fairly common practice for no-name filmmakers, shooting your film guerilla-style brings on a whole other level of risk and danger.
Not only are your chances of being fined and having your equipment confiscated or stolen significantly higher, but you can also get your crew seriously hurt or even killed, as was the case during the 2014 production of the Gregg Allman biopic Midnight Rider.
The simple fact is that there are very few relevant or successful films that are shot without permission or permit. Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi is a notable exception which was shot on a budget of $7,000 in the northern Mexican border town of Ciudad Acuna.
Generally speaking, if your project is halfway decent there will be someone willing to help finance it. If you still decide to film guerilla-style, perhaps for a street scene or two, be careful and do it right.
- Be considerate and mindful of the people around you – Without a permit, you’re not in charge of the area and cannot tell passers-by to move or quiet down.
- Don’t block traffic or sidewalks. Try to avoid using tripods as they will attract the attention of the police. Also, try to limit the number of crew and cast members as much as possible and pack lightly.