Ups and Downs of Shooting on Location

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending three days shooting product videos and lifestyle segments outside of the studio. I’m a fan of shooting on location for a variety of reasons.  One being a change of scenery which, if you spend all your time in a studio, you can appreciate the value of getting out of it for a day or two.  However, shooting in new locations can be an absolute pain when you don’t have full control of the surroundings. There are a number of ways you can mitigate unknown issues, but there will almost always be something the universe throws at you solely because you decided to shoot on location.  In this post, I’d like to share how shooting on location is beneficial to your program, what goes into finding a particular location, and how you can mitigate unknown issues.

Why shoot on location?

Why risk the unknowns of shooting outside your video production studio ?  I believe shooting in a location that works for your brand creates greater authenticity, elevates you as a brand leader, increases your value as a unique content provider and places you ahead of the curve over what most other businesses are doing with product videos.  The cost is more planning.  The day needs to be as efficient as possible to get the most out of it.

How to plan for shooting on location

1. Find a place that works for you

Fishing products on a dock, MMA gear in an octagon, car parts in a garage, sports gear in a gym or beauty supplies in a salon…. There is an ideal place to shoot every product, but the question is, can you actually shoot there?  You’ll never know until you ask.  I tend to scout out about five locations then start making calls.  I’ve found most that people are intrigued and interested when I tell them I want to shoot product videos or a new series in their venue.  It can create value for them as well.  Everyone is different so be flexible and offer suggestions.  You might have to shoot a day they’re closed or late at night if they’re open 7 days a week.  You might have to shoot in an isolated corner of the venue.  The better you can paint a picture of the shoot you want, the more comfortable and accepting people typically are.  After all it’s their business; they want to know what you’re going to do with it.

2. Mitigate unknowns

Spend time at the location before you shoot.  You’ll be able to figure out what equipment you’ll need and be able to organize your shots in advance.  I had one business thrilled that we wanted to shoot inside their shop but there wasn’t enough room for our equipment.  Figure out where you want to shoot inside the venue. Find the shots and angles you want.  Decide if you need or want to move any furniture.  We shot in one particular location where they had revolving local artwork on the wall.  The art looked terrible in the shot so it needed to go.  Depending on when and where you shoot, ask the owner about traffic or the noise generated by other businesses.  Ask about the HVAC system and if you can turn it off.  Look into construction that might be going on the day of your shoot.  We had one particular shoot with a major construction project going on right outside our door on the only day we could shoot.  I was able to work with the foreman in advance to organize our shoot accordingly.

3. Diligent work can be lost

One day we shot inside a ground floor business that shared a wall with a sushi restaurant.  Not a problem, we’ve shot there before.  However, this particular day they happened to be introducing a new menu item which required them to tenderize the fish.  Take a hammer and start pounding a wood table next to a paper thin wall and hear what that sounds like in your headphones.  I walked next door, told them what we were doing then asked how long we could expect the pounding.  He said he would stop if I purchased his entire lunch menu.

Another time we lost power at 9AM.  Not just in our site, but an entire San Francisco city block.  In one other day, we were planning to shoot on the roof of a building, but construction going on several blocks away echoed through the buildings around us and the weather was turning on us despite a clear weather report.

4. What can you do to fix problems

In the case of the pounding fish, we switched from shooting the series content which takes on average 15-20 minutes, and cut over to product videos which takes less than a minute (in this particular case).  After lunch we switched back.  The other option would have been to cut early for lunch.  It would have been 11AM, but it would have filled the time.

Losing power is never good. With absolute power lost, there was nothing we could do but continue setting everything up.  We got all the lights and cameras in place and pointed in right direction so the second power came back we only had minor tweaking before we began shooting.  I had the actors run through their lines, hair and makeup spent more time on the actors, and I made sure the staff was eating so we could push off lunch as late as possible.  Thankfully power wasn’t out more than two hours.

As for the sound on the roof, we could have tried to shoot with a shotgun mic which would have probably been fine, but we didn’t have one with us.  We could have shot all the footage we needed then added a voice over but we were shooting a series so that wouldn’t have worked well.  It was going to take about 2 hours to get everything set up on the roof so we could have gone back to the studio and picked up the mic while the rest of the team was setting up, but the weather became too much of a liability.  Instead we shot the series in a kitchen which turned out to work very well.

The decision to shoot on location is fantastic, but if you’re thinking of doing it yourself be prepared for as many unknowns as possible and plan, plan, plan.  It would be a very frustrating to spend the majority of your day on the details of the shoot rather than actually shooting your product videos.  Also, having some extra bodies available to help set up equipment and deal with misc. items is very helpful.  Even if they don’t have video experience, they can take notes, order lunch, make sure the person in front of the camera has water and doesn’t gloss up too much etc.

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