Whomever it was that said ‘what you can achieve is only limited by your imagination’ probably never tried to make a film with no budget. You can make a movie in your backyard, but it gets kind of unexciting when the seedy underground nightclub in your film bears an uncanny resemblance to your little sister’s bedroom with a crooked strobe light hanging from the wall.
So you need an old warehouse, an upscale home, a gigantic field, a back alley, or a quiet restaurant to film one of your scenes in, huh? Getting permission to use any of these locations that don’t happen to be owned by you is a tricky business, but don’t worry – it’s quite possible if you use the right tact and go through the proper formalities. Doing so can really improve the credibility of your results by making it look like you have a bigger budget than you actually do!
You should first contact the establishment, property owner, or place of business to set up a meeting by phone or in person with the owner, proprieter, or manager of the location. You should have prepared a simple document that outlines the terms for your use of the property and any provisions thereof. I’ve written up a sample agreement below.
When you first speak to the person in charge, be polite, cordial, and honest. Answer any questions you are asked without hesitation; let him or her know exactly the scope of your filming and what will be taking place in the scene. If you have a budget, make it clear. If you have no budget and are asking for free use of the premises, let it be known right away. An example of what you might say follows.
“Hi, my name is ______. I’m an independent filmmaker and I think your <insert location here> would be the perfect location for a scene in my film. I was wondering how you would feel about my film crew using a section of it. We <have a small budget/can’t pay you, but> we’ll give you credit, of course, and we would only need to use the place for about ____ hours. My crew is pretty flexible as far as days of the week and times of day.”
You might not be as flexible if it’s an outdoor location or if your film crew only gets together at certain times, but if that’s the case just make that clear to the owner. The worst thing he or she can do is say no. If you get a ‘yes’ you should be immediately ready with the next part of your offer.
“Great, thank you! I’m really looking forward to using this spot, it fits in so well with the <story/theme/feel> of our film. I have a short document that I’d like to <send/go over with you> that we can fill out when we finalize a time; it basically says if we were to break anything, we would be responsible for fixing it, and that you are held harmless of any mishaps that might occur.”
A sample contract agreement for use of a location is available for download:
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