As filmmakers, we are always on the go, moving from location to location. Sound stages can be a little out of budget for some small or local production companies. A lot of times we are forced to turn houses, condos, flats or apartments into our production space, whether it’s your personal living space or something you got off Airbnb; and the practice is quite common.
- Setting up the Space: When looking for a space for your production, whether it’s a short film or a corporate video, it’s important to note how much space you need. So basically, know your measurements of the space and how much of it you need. For example, if you need a backdrop for your video or you are trying to keep the natural feel of the house you need to consider how many lights you are going to need around the living room or the actual space you are using. On top of that, knowing how much space you are working with will also tell you how much equipment you’re allowed to bring in. If you need to block of all outside lighting and it may be a good idea that you rent or find a location that has plenty of space, so you can move in all the right equipment.
- Depth of field: Let’s not forget our cameras. Let’s say you need to get some good shallow depth of field because you have a very interesting looking background, if you don’t have the right space, how are you supposed to move your camera back enough to put on that 50mm lens to shoot at that 1.8 aperture? Just remember to move everything out of the way so you can move the camera at a good distance from the subject and therefore the back wall. As an example, if you’re shooting an interview and want to add a slider alongside your static shot, you will have to keep your subject far away from the backdrop or the back wall in order to get a good bokeh. I think you get the idea that one simple shot can start to take up a lot of room in no time at all. Too many times we see a camera angle get cut because now there is not enough space in the room to fit the scene and therefore the crew and the gear.
- Furniture/Lighting: Next, we can see what furniture we are going to use in the production vs what we want to remove. If a table gets in the way of the shot but the sofa makes a good spot to have our talent sit, note that there is nothing wrong with leaving in the sofa especially when the sofa is too heavy to move. Also, don’t break what’s not yours. it’s always good to figure out before you start filming, what things you could move or not to avoid any possibilities of braking or dropping something. Some places offer little to no lighting at all, while others, have so many windows you don’t need to turn on the lights. Once we’ve found a location with adequate space and we’ve moved out the furniture, next we need to set up our location. Start by blocking out any outside light you don’t need and then, work your way in from there. If the windows are not going to be in the frame you can just tape a piece of cloth over them; but if the window will be on the frame, you may have to set a big diffuser or flag, or both of them outside the window. Now, you start setting up your lighting for the scene. You can have the best location but planning is still king. It is recommended to come to the location early (even a day or two in advance), to plan out your lighting setup.
- Take a before and after picture: A good practice is to take a picture of the place before you move anything, and this is not for you to post Instagram, it’s to have a clear representation of how everything goes back into place and you don’t have to guess your way through the situation at the end of the shoot (a couple of hours of weeks later).
- Sound: Let’s not forget one of the most overlooked subjects in filmmaking, the sound. If you got an eye on a location but it happens to be next to the city’s international airport, it kind of defeats the purpose of the location. Making sure your location is not near any busy intersections or noisy business is key to your production. If your location is in a remote area, twenty stories above ground, it will help your situation. It also helps if no one is living next to or around the area of your shoot. Time of the shoot is also a factor. As an example, You can shoot at night to avoid the noise but if you choose an apartment complex, you may still have to deal with sporadic noise from the above and below apartments. After moving the furniture the amount of reverb and echo might increase in the room. You can avoid this by leaving furniture inside the room; it doesn’t have to be on the scene but you can always find a way to incorporate it into the story to keep the furniture inside the room and away from taking space from the crew and the gear. Having furniture inside the room helps absorb the sound. Bringing in your own bass/sound traps will also aid in dampening the sound. Don’t forget to unplug the refrigerator, turn off any indoor fans and lights that create a hum in the living space.
Hopefully, these steps have helped understand how to transform a living space into a video/film production set.