Location, location, location. We all know how critical scouting is to your production, why picking the right filming locations can make or break your movie. But have you ever considered just how significant it can be to your story? Some settings matter so much to the plot, they take on a life of their own — and they are just as necessary as the characters themselves. Let’s take a look at a few examples when filming locations took center stage. We’ll start with a brief video of the Texas-loving football drama, Friday Night Lights.
The Character of Locations in “Friday Night Lights”
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Why location matters
Locations are obviously important from a storytelling perspective but when scouting, the practicals are also imperative. There's often a discrepancy between what you "want" from a location and what you "need."
Can the production shoot on a set instead of location? Or does the physical space lend to an authenticity that you can't do without. Here's Roger Deakins with a quick lesson on how he has approach location shooting on some of his most iconic projects.
Roger Deakins on Location Scouting • Subscribe on YouTube
Impact of Setting on a Story
Friday Night Lights
The memorable Friday Night Lights TV show may be long gone, but we can learn quite a bit about how the show’s filming locations contributed to its overall story.
Firstly, FNL is unapologetically Texas. Everything in the show centers around Texas, being from Texas, or what it means to play football in Texas. More specifically, the show anchors around the fictional town of Dillon, which is based off Odessa and was filmed in Austin.
While most of the show used the location of Del Valle Field of Del Valle High School, a number of the earliest game footage was shot on Kuempel Stadium — home to the Pflugerville Panthers. This was the inspiration for the Dillon Panthers — their name and colors.
This choice of filming locations obviously had a pretty big impact not only on the production, but the rest of the story. For a majority of the series, the town nearly bled blue and yellow.
There really is no show without Texas. Texan landscapes infiltrate every episode, and each shot becomes way more than b-roll — it’s the heart of the show. It shows key places, neighborhoods, and homes of some of the main characters in the show. It inevitably reveals a lot about the characters and gives us incredible insight into their world and the tone of the entire series.
So, when you’re ready to start shot listing your scenes, make sure you take your b-roll seriously. Is it adding to the story in a meaningful way? Or is just a boring backdrop for your characters. We threw in some b-roll from FNL into StudioBinder to show how simple it is to lay out your shots from various locations.
Locations are also used to highlight plot points, character reveals, themes, etc. As mentioned in the above video, juxtaposing locations specifically was often used to show class divides.
By seeing Matt Saracen's less than humble accommodations, we become aware of his situation, especially as he goes to deliver the pizza to spoiled, J.D. McCoy (his eventual Season 4 QB replacement). Just from two shots, we learn quite a bit about the characters. If you want to see more FNL footage, watch the video below.
Can you spot the Texas?
What other movies can you think of where the filming locations are vital to the storyline? There are probably thousands but we'll give two more examples that use location in two very different ways.
VITAL FILMING LOCATIONS
Do we need the desert in Mad Max?
Referring to Mad Max: Fury Road, where would the film be without the desert of Namibia? Could it have taken place on a traditional highway? Technically, sure, but it’s unlikely the film would’ve had the same effect, or success.
*An entire analysis could be done on vehicles as characters, but we’ll stick with the location for the time being.Mad Max: Fury Road didn’t even have a script. It was created in storyboards with only location, characters, and cars in mind. The film was a giant “car” chase, with the endless desert as its canvas. Without it, the epic visuals and extraordinary color of the world, would transform the film into something much more mundane and practical.
Namibia desert housed the entire film
The specific location of Mad Max gave it an authenticity and uniqueness we’ll always remember...and the vehicles, we’ll never forget those either.
Filming LOCATIONS AS CHARACTERS
Lost in location
Sofia Coppola’s, Lost in Translation, also has a setting that functions like a character — the entire city of Tokyo.
Bob Harris (Bill Murray), an aging movie star meets a young woman named Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) while they both are staying at the same hotel. The city is otherworldly to both of them, alien and strange. If the strangeness of the city disconnects them from themselves, it simultaneously and inevitably connects them to each other.
What did Tokyo do for Lost in Translation?
If this film took place in an American city, they might not have any real reason to meet. The city provides them common ground and becomes the foundation for the entire story.
Shot List Like a Pro
If you're familiar with shot listing, great. You obviously know how critical it is to planning shoot days, and how significant planning shoot days are to a successful production. Take a look at our next post on how to use software to shot list your vision as clear as possible.
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