How to Shoot a Location that Doesn’t Exist

While shooting his film short, “The Big Wild North,” Tom Antos ran into a few problems finding the right location for a particular scene. He needed a location that looks like a campground and is also near a lake, but he couldn't find a location that both worked for the scene and was close enough to avoid any scheduling conflicts with his three actors, two of which he only had for a single day. With no other option, Antos decided that he had to essentially create a location that doesn’t exist outside of the film.

You can see how he is able to do that in his tutorial video:

He ends up shooting the scene at two different locations, one being at a friend’s backyard and the other at a lake. He carefully plans his shots so that, in editing, he can make it appear that he shot only at one location.

At his friend’s backyard, all of his actors are able to make it onto set because it is close by and he is able to film the bulk of the scene there. However, in the scene the characters are supposed to be looking out to a lake from their campground, so Antos has to shoot his actors either from the front or in side shots or close-ups. If he shot from behind, you’d see that there was no lake and that the location is just a backyard. Since all of Antos actors were at this location, Tom Antos says it was important to get establishing shot that included all of his actors to really tie-in the two locations together.

After he finished filming what he needed at the backyard, Antos takes his avaliable actor to a lake that’s about two hundred miles away from the initial backyard location. At the lake, Antos shoots from behind his actor toward the lake. Shooting in front of his actor would interupt the illusion that the scenes are at the same location.

Then once in editing, Antos pieced together the two locations into one, with the establishing shot including all of his actors as the rope tying it all together.

Here’s Antos’ short film, “The Big Wild North”, and you can catch the lakeside camp scene near the beginning of the video.

Like Antos, you too can piece together different locations if you run into scheduling conflicts or the location that you want is too expensive. You just need plan your shots carefully with storyboards, avoiding any shots the would give away the illusion, and make sure you both shoot a few shots with all of your actors to tie the locations together and try to match the lighting on both locations. Lighting could be another big giveaway.

Antos has other tutorial videos based on his short film, “The Big Wild North.” You can check them out on his YouTube channel.

Sean Berry
Sean Berry
Sean Berry is Videomaker's managing editor.

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