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Bella Roberts

Getting permission to film in locations...

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I have an upcoming film project, a short film based entirely in a hotel. I don’t have the money to make a set of a hotel so I want to use an actual hotel. It’s a student project and there is little/no budget. What’s the best way of asking a hotel to film there for no money?


bella (the producer/director of the project) 

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Talk to the Hotel owners and ask them. You need owner permissions not staff.

Its tricky to get locations for free but it is doable, here are some things you could try:

- Play the numbers game, lots of places will say no. But a small percentage may say yes, there are lots of hotels - keep calling till you get one. I needed a record store, I was prepared to call every single one in a 30 mile radius till I got a yes. (fortunately the first one said yes)

- Don't worry about following up emails/calls. Sometimes you need to be a little persistent. People can be slow to respond or forget, so a little gentle pressure is ok. Nagging or being annoying is not good. I normally ask once and if I haven't heard, follow up about 5 days later. If they don't respond to the second enquiry, move on.

- Use social media, people may respond quicker to twitter/facebook requests. 

- Get peoples names and use them. Find out the name of the owner and then you can write "Dear Ms Smith", rather then Dear Sir... the personal touch works better.

- Be flattering, "I want to use your location because its stunning". Say something nice about their business, explain why it would be great for the film. Its harder for people to say no to the nice positive person saying nice things about their gaff.

- Plead poverty, if this is uncommercial or student work say so, maybe that will help. Play the student card hard, get your uni's public liability insurance doc's etc..

- Use your network, do you have family or friends that work in/own/contacts at a hotel? The chances are you know someone that works at a location you could use. Maybe they could put in a good word for you so its not a cold call. If you are student, you probably have friends that work in Hospitality. Network, Network.

- Pitch the project - get them excited about it. I got a location last week because they liked the script and wanted to get involved. At that point they had "brought in" to the project and didn't mind when we overran (a little)

- Visit the location, meet the manager/owner in person, then you can explain why the project is important to you and explain how unobtrusive you'd be.

- Be flexible on dates and times, avoid trying to shoot when they are busy, if you can work round their schedule  maybe they can help.

-Be creative with your location choice, do you need a whole hotel or just a bedroom, or just a hallway etc... Maybe the "hotel" in your film could be a composite of several buildings. If your at a Uni, some Halls of Residence have a Hotel vibe. E.g any bedroom could be used, then you just need a hotel exterior or generic reception. Little bits of art direction could help sell the idea. Air BnB can be a good way to find cheap locations. What locations can you get easily and can they be adapted to your script? 

- Offer something, even if small - either some money, walk-on-extra role, or publicity, credit or free labour (e.g I'll shoot a promo video for you etc)

- Pick your location carefully, a busy central London Hotel will probably say no, but a quieter branch out in the sticks maybe...

I've just finished shooting a shot with some amazing locations that I got for free. My approach was to be friendly and honest about my resources and upfront about the size of the crew etc.. Some of the locations that said yes were a real surprise. Aim high, you never know you might get it.

Also follow up with these rules on shooting in a free location:

- Explain clearly to the location what you are shooting in advance, I had students that secured a location for a scene but didn't tell them the scene was a bank heist (armoured police we called)

- Turn up to the location on time and try to finish your shoot on time, be realistic about your schedule

- Don't damage the location or make a mess, if its a domestic location have the crew take their shoes off.

- If the schedule changes or gets cancelled - don't forget to tell the location. Keep them in the loop, remind then a couple days ahead etc..

- If the location is a business, be sensitive to that, don't make their life more difficult (having a film crew around is annoying enough)

- Send a thank you note/present/wine after the shoot, credit the location, send a copy of the film/screening invite.

Its important to look after the location and be grateful, if you have to reshoot any elements you don't want to have burned any bridges with the location. Also by giving the location owner a good experience, your paying that forward to future filmmakers. E.g if they had a bad experience letting a film happen, that means no more film crews will be allowed to shoot their. If they enjoyed it, future filmmakers may get similar offers of help.

Good luck - play the numbers and don't be disheartened when people say no, just jump on the next one.





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