Shooting Advice: Cheating Locations

You have found the perfect house to be your ‘beach cottage.’ One problem – it is nowhere near the beach.

Are you doomed… No!

1+1=498

One of the coolest aspects of filmmaking is that adding two shots together can suggest a reality to the audience the is greater than the sum of the parts. When you do this to make two different locations appear to be one it is called cheating a location.

How Do You Cheat a Location?

Cheating a location requires finding two places that can be plausibly connected (a house that opens up to an underground cavern is a tough sell.) In the case of our opening example it is a house and a beach.

For this to work well, the houses lawn and the beach must look like they can be connected. (It is possible to build a partial lawn on the beach or beach on the lawn to help with the transition, but try to find locations that have similar characteristics.)

Steps to cheat a location:

  • Move a character through both spaces
  • Create a Visual Anchor
  • Match the lighting closely
  • Pay attention to screen direction and wardrobe details

Moving a Character Through The Space

To link the locations together we will show a character walk out of the front of the house and toward the camera. Then, in the next shot, we will turn the camera 180 degrees to face the beach and show the character walking away from the camera toward the water. When edited together, the character will appear to walk out of the house and down to the beach in one continuous location.

Creating a Visual Anchor

To firmly link the two locations together in the audience’s mind you must create a visual anchor which will subconsciously make them believe that the two places are one. The anchor is an object that is present at both locations.
If you place a pile of children’s toys in the yard that the character walks past and include it in both shots, the audience will connect them in their minds. It will distract their attention away from any inconsistencies in the transition. You could also choose a picket fence, a lamp post, or anything else you can include at both locations.

Watch Your Light

It is very important that you carefully match the lighting direction and quality. If it is high noon in the first shot and sunset in the next, the illusion will be broken. The same will happen if one location is shot on a clear day and the other is overcast.

If you are linking interiors, take notes about your lighting setup at the first location (some digital camera still shots are good too) and recreate it at the second location as closely as possible.

Don’t Forget Wardrobe and Screen Direction

Since you are likely to be shooting the locations on different days, it is easy to forget a costume detail or the exact direction you had a character walking or looking during the first shoot. This is another instance where taking digital stills is very helpful. Careful notes and visual reference material will help insure that you don’t accidentally get something wrong and spoil the illusion.

If you can, have a copy of the first location’s footage available to review.

Summary

It is exciting to realize all the ways in which you can invent new realities when making movies. A few details and a little creativity are all that is required to create your illusions.

The first time I cheated a location it was a rush. Every time I watched the sequence playback on the screen I knew that making movies was what I wanted to do.

Andrew Seltz

Andrew was born in Michigan, raised there and in Tennessee, and has since lived outside Orlando, in Chicago, New York City, and now Birmingham, Alabama. He produces videos and websites for a living and is married to a beautiful, generous, loving woman who also happens to be a talented actress and writer - www.ellenseltz.com. They have two daughters.

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