The 3 Pitfalls Of Single Location Filmmaking

One of the cornerstones of independent, micro-budget productions is undeniably single-location filmmaking.

It’s practically a rite of passage for first time feature filmmakers. 

Limiting your production scope to one (or possibly two) main locations has long been one of the best ways to save time and money on a DIY production.

This is why it’s often recommended as a model for your first feature film. The benefits are so obvious…

Working within a single location simplifies production in every way. You need less time, can avoid company moves, and can cut down on logistical expenses dramatically. 

Not to mention, if you shoot in your own home (or a location you have access to), you have infinite prep time. Giving you more ability to dress the set, rehearse with your actors, and re-write to match the location.

All of this can result in more time spent with the actors, less time dealing with logistical nightmares, and more bandwidth to focus on the craft itself.

But despite the obvious upsides, there are some major challenges and potential pitfalls associated with single location filmmaking. 

I explored some of these issues in depth in this podcast, but in short, here is a quick summary:

Issue #1 – Maintaining visual interest

No matter how great your location may be, if you aren’t careful about your stylistic approach the audience will become fatigued. 

You can solve much of this at the script level, by first ensuring you are writing the script to maximize every corner of the location.

Shoot in every room, every space, and every nook and cranny that you can. Diversifying your backgrounds / settings can make a massive difference.

It’s also good practice to set your scenes during different points in the day, to create more dynamic lighting opportunities.

A sunrise scene will be lit very differently than a midnight scene, even if they are set in the same room. This minor adjustment on the script level can create major contrast scene to scene.

Once on set, it’s about getting creative with camera placement, framing, and other visual elements

I recently wrote an article about the unique coverage in Poor Things, which is a great point of reference. That film used wildly different lenses in each scene, cutting between fish eye and long lens, and then back again. It keeps your eyes glued to the screen.

Whatever visual style you choose, make it distinct. There’s no reason why two scenes shot in the same room have to be covered the same way.

Issue #2 – The stakes aren’t high enough

Many of the best single location films are primal in nature. They deal with stories that are life or death – or at least feel that way to the characters and audience.

The Ryan Reynolds film Buried is probably the most restricted film I’ve ever seen, at least in terms of location scope. The entire movie takes place in a coffin underground, with the main character buried alive.

The primal nature and natural high stakes of that story are what make it fascinating to watch .

Certain genres tend to lend themselves well to single location filmmaking for this reason. Horror in particular can be an obvious choice (especially the “monster in the house” sub-genre).

That said, you can make an incredible single location / high stakes film in any genre. Drama, comedy, romance, it’s all possible. Some genres just have the primal element more baked in than others.

Issue #3 – Dialogue

Almost every single location film is made or broken by the quality of dialogue. 

It goes without saying that you should always challenge yourself to write the most compelling, nuanced, subtextual dialogue that you can. Regardless of the scope of production.

But on a micro-budget single location film, dialogue plays an even more critical role than usual. With so much else stripped away, it is the ultimate focal point for the audience.

Nailing the dialogue isn’t just about what you write on the page, though. It’s equally (perhaps more so) about the actors that you cast.

There is no better gift that you can give your film than amazing performances. But it’s a one two-punch – You need a great script to attract great actors, and you need great actors to elevate your material.

So write scenes that will excite both your actors and your audience. And don’t be afraid to push the performances into uncharted waters. 

Ultimately, the audience is watching two (maybe three) actors talking in a room for the majority of your film. That’s what you are up against. There is no better remedy than a great cast armed with a solid script.

All of these elements combined will ensure your single location film feels exciting, and unlike any that has come before.

I go into much more depth on all of the above in podcast episode #226.

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About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!

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