As an indie film maker it is a fair bet that you will not have the money to hire a studio such as Pinewood or Shepperton and build that perfect set where your characters can play out that perfect script you’ve written.
As a poor indie the truth is you will have to use real actual places to make your film and most likely as a result you will be limited to what you can beg, borrow or steal to create the world of your film.
Now sometimes this can feel like a hindrance but really it’s nothing of the sort. Like everything else about film making it really is only a matter of compromise and adaptation. And actually sometimes these perceived limitations can actually lead to creating a much more truthful world than a studio ever would have.
On my first film THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS for example I needed an attic room to double as an artist’s studio and living space. Although we were shooting the whole film in one location, a massive stately home called Compton House in Dorset, ironically all of the attic rooms were far too small (being servant rooms) to accommodate everything that we needed in the film space. This created something of a dilemma; should we make do and settle for a smaller space or should we try and find a different location? However, we didn’t have the money for another location so we were stuck with our small cramped attic room and that was that.
After much head scratching there was an alternative to trying to fit everything in one small cramped attic room – why not fit it all into 3 small cramped attic rooms and pretend it was one big space.
By filming in 3 different rooms, one as the art studio area, one as the bedroom area and one as the kitchen area we managed to convincingly portray a single space and yet never show an establishing shot of the entire space and the funny thing is you never ever miss that shot. Because of the way the film is edited by our amazing editor Claire Pringle the audience are encouraged to feel a sense of claustrophobia and disorientation. This is a great example of not being constricted by your location but actually enhancing the film thanks to the location limitations.
Now admittedly we were helped by the style of the film here as we were creating a sense of disorientation in the audience by never having big establishing shots of the place so that you couldn’t quite get a grip on the location. This was to unsettle the audience by taking away one of the things that we grab hold of while watching a film, namely a sense of place. By denying this the audience would feel disorientated, on edge and that is just what we wanted them to feel.
Due to the nature of the shoot we had many shots where The Artist would walk out of shot in one room and then walk into shot in another room and it still meant to be the same space. Logistically this meant a lot more thought had to go into each shot and how this part of the room would fit together with that part of the room. We even had one room that needed to be completely flopped in post so that the layout felt right but all of this was planned so there were no problems.
We had to think about where the camera would need to be so we didn’t cross the line from room to room, how to keep consistency of lighting, movement, wallpaper and a myriad of things to help make the space convincing. We even had a painting hanging on the wall creeping into shot in separate rooms, on different sides of the camera frame to help make it seem the same room. Everything was storyboarded and rehearsed beforehand and all the shots worked out on a camcorder before the shoot. It also meant a lot of moving furniture from one room to another which at 3 o’clock in the morning you can probably do without but those are the joys on indie film making on a budget. It is the attention to small details like having the end of the bed creeping into shot even though you’re in another room that helps tie the space together and ‘sell’ that it’s all one big room.
Using multiple location to convincingly seem like one space is not a new trick but it is a great one to have in your back pocket if you don’t have the money to build a set. You will often see it used with exteriors of buildings being shot at different locations to the interiors. The principle is the same but you are just using several rooms to create one. It allows you to lose bits of a location that do not look good while keeping the bits that look great and helps you create the sense of a place that looks fantastic within your film world.
I hope this helps you with your film. Let me know.