What I Learned While Filming in a Small Town

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Photo 1 MitB “Hi, I’m Jennica, I live in Los Angeles and I’m producing a feature film that takes place in YOUR city in about 6 months and wanted to talk to the owner about filming in your beautiful location… May I leave my name and phone number with you? Thank you. I’ll be sure to contact them right away. I’ll give you a call in a few days to try and set up a meeting.

…I’ll also email you all this info, where may I send this? …I’ll be sure to come in person at least 1-2 more times and call or email at least a dozen times in the coming months… I’ll probably re-verify this info with the manager or employee on site each time I contact you…Here is a synopsis and list of other local businesses that have agreed to work with us on this project. And the mayor has been very supportive…

…Yes, I’ll come back after 2p and try again.”

I’m nothing if not persistent.

I’ve produced several features in non-industry towns. There are a few things I have learned that I realized I keep sharing with fellow filmmakers seeking advice about filming out of town.

There are small businesses and big businesses. There are community gatherers and there are people who are not immersed at all. There are business owners that will open their homes/businesses and trust you with their livelihood and there are businesses that will try and turn your production away at 11 o’clock pm the night before a 7am call at their place of business as they are shaking you down for more money. But, after every type of situation and person, I will continue to keep filming new places as it is the BEST type of filming experience! Beauty, interest, local politics, new types of people, accents, & things I didn’t know existed. It is hard work though. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Filming in the nicest restaurant in town, #TheosFayetteville, @JennicaRenee Instagram

Filming in the nicest restaurant in town, #TheosFayetteville, @JennicaRenee Instagram

Be good to the city- You cannot take advantage of an area or a people. You must be genuine. You cannot abuse, undercut, undervalue, or make fun of the locals. You cannot leave a worse film footprint for your next filmmaker sister. You cannot come in for the beauty and leave without making the place even better. We have spoken to business owners that have been unhappy with films in the past. We learned a lot. Listen to what people are telling you. Be careful and generous. Everyone will be careful & generous with you!

Filming in an airport overnight, #ParkersAnchor, Producer Mark Landon Smith’s IG @MarkLandonSmith Instagram

Filming in an airport overnight, #ParkersAnchor, Producer Mark Landon Smith’s IG @MarkLandonSmith Instagram

Leave a better artistic community- Connect people who are like-minded. Focus on Education and invite a few trained students to watch and work alongside your crew in order to spread knowledge about how the industry functions. Invite people from the artistic community (local theater director, theater teacher,… ). We have hired Interns from cinema schools and high schools several times- it makes us better workers and keeps the entire set rolling in a positive way. It’s nice to be made accountable by someone responsible for learning from you and getting to work with the next generation of filmmakers – you may inspire someone to make their own art and HIRE you to come work for them!

crew & interns at lunch, #JBU, Director Marc Hampson’s IG @Demzpencils Instagram

crew & interns at lunch, #JBU, Director Marc Hampson’s IG @Demzpencils Instagram

Focus on what makes this place special- learn, research, and show it off! Making an effort to include things that are local gives your film both authenticity and artistic flare. You’ll be given credit for things you never intended and love the result. Once you embrace the atmosphere, your art department will be rewarded by having the streets, businesses, homes, and background match their plans… saving y’all some money and pain.

Local magazine story about our film crew, #DoSouth, Director Marc Hampson’s IG @Demzpencils Instagram

Local magazine story about our film crew, #DoSouth, Director Marc Hampson’s IG @Demzpencils Instagram

Embrace Sponsorship- this may help you in the budget department, but even if it doesn’t, partner with small businesses (and locally owned big businesses when you can). Go in and partner with a restaurant, a local boutique, a hardware store, a thrift store, a donut shop, a cheesecake maker, a coffee roaster, a milkshake shop, a salon, a pizza place, a school, a business office, a newspaper, a radio station, a shoe store, a car dealership, a contractor, a nursery (plants), a treehouse builder, a jewelry designer, a stationary designer, … the list goes on. These people have so much to offer, make an effort to use their stuff, show it off, eat it, and give them social media love.

YES we had a chocolate sponsor, #KyyaChocolate, @JennicaRenee Instagram

YES we had a chocolate sponsor, #KyyaChocolate, @JennicaRenee Instagram

Everyone knows everyone- Be a bigger person at ALL times or you will miss out. I have been treated well and not so well. It doesn’t matter. YOU are the stranger here. YOU are not to be trusted, YOU don’t deserve anything just because you asked. And so-and-so knows everyone, and you want the water cooler talk about you to be positive. As a Producer, you already know this but you are always to blame and you can never take the credit- that’s the way it is. Enjoy knowing that you are earnestly making a great film that will bless the community and your audience and that is always thanks enough! J

The ‘Internet’ may still be a new thing to some folks. Not a joke. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone (a business owner) say they don’t have an email address or that they only come into work 2 hours a week between 5am-7am local/mountain time, or that they didn’t know they even had a Facebook page (I guess some young employee runs it?)… I’d have enough to film another movie! This happens. It’s not a problem. You just work around their schedule- work with them. Try mailing the paperwork and setting up a date with an employee with an email address to talk about your film. Try sucking it up and getting things done the good ol’ fashioned way- in person, face to face, shaking hands. You’ll be glad you did. If you cannot, that’s what a local Producer can do for you.

In the middle of nowhere @JennicaRenee Instagram

In the middle of nowhere @JennicaRenee Instagram

Learn to run with the changes. We arrived at a business 2 days before filming to see a handwritten sign saying “closed due to death in the family” …and it looked like it was closed for good. No phone number- I tried, I even went to city hall to ask for a contact and they didn’t even have it. It was the only 1 of 2 restaurants in that town. Sometimes ya gotta figure things out last minute in a new place and this is where you find out what you’re made of!

under water filming, #boysandgirlsclub, @JennicaRenee Instagram

under water filming, #boysandgirlsclub, @JennicaRenee Instagram

Hire local whenever you can. The commercial industry is booming all over the country, ya never know if you’re talking to a HUGE cinematographer or sound mixer. Don’t underestimate the talent. Don’t undercut their rate. Don’t de-value them in your mind based on where they live. AND begin the conversation by asking if he or she has a passion for narrative film- if they don’t, you may not be able to afford them if you have a modest budget (don’t be offended, they just aren’t gonna give you a break because they don’t need you and that’s ok). BUT you may be getting the BEST people in 3 states just because so-and-so loves filmmaking but also loves living outside the big city. You may be getting a stellar performer who retired from the stage at his or her peak to start a family. You may be shaking the hands with the best of the best and accidentally be incredibly condescending. It happens. Don’t do it. Assume there are gems and keep your ego in check. These people may have bigger houses, lots of land, own multiple businesses, and have a super generous down-to-earth spirit because they may know something you don’t!

Invaluable local talent, by EPK/BTS @DanielPaulW Instagram

Invaluable local talent, by EPK/BTS @DanielPaulW Instagram

-@JennicaRenee

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Jennica Schwartzman

About Jennica Schwartzman

Jennica Schwartzman is an actress/writer/producer that loves tackling a project from idea to distribution. She works alongside her husband and business partner, Ryan Schwartzman, also known for his legendary movie-night cuddles. Ryan & Jennica have been invited to speak on “Micro-Budget Filmmaking” for the International Family Film Festival road scholars program (several years running) and at Offshoot Film Festival (2014), they have been invited to speak on industry panels, and Jennica has been published in the Producer’s Guild Magazine “Produced By.” The Schwartzmans work on passion projects in their small office in Hollywood. They have collected TOP awards from Big Bear Lake Int’l Film Fest, Eureka Springs Indie Fest, Film Fest Twain Harte, Worldfest Houston, Offshoot Film Festival, The Int’l Family Film Fest, & the highest honor from The Dove Foundation. Ryan & Jennica have a toddler, who doesn’t quite understand what they do but seems very supportive. @JennicaRenee @PurposePictures

  • Alexandra

    Great article Jennica, I have also shot many films in small towns in different parts of the country and I couldn’t agree more with your article!! Great specific tips for others to follow. Leave a better footprint behind!!! That one is huge!!!