A location meeting for the city of Centralia.  Clockwise from the left: Lillian Parker, Christine Sullivan, Joel Metlen, Carol Hamilton, Paul McFadden, Dave Eatwell“We had the fortune, or misfortune, to be in such dire straights that, when all the other cities were pulling down their old buildings, we couldn’t,” says city manager Paul McFadden. “We couldn’t even afford to haul off the debris.”

Read more about location scouting, including tips for indie films…The charming city of Centralia could provide a lesson to future city planners about the value of history. Featuring a hotel lovingly restored to its turn-of-the-century glory and a main street that attracted the attention of the filmmakers of Rain in the Mountains, the city that couldn’t knock the old buildings down is taking full advantage of restoring them to their former glory. Now freshly painted and stocked with antiques stores, the main street is a thriving tourist destination.

Based only on a picture sent by the Washington State Film Commission, we thought we would use the main drag for a brief scene. Scouting it out, there were oodles of nice angles to choose from.

(Click to jump down to the location scouting tips.)

Appropriately, Joel & Christine ducked into the True Value and purchased a prop clock.


Location Scouting Tips
1. Start early. – People will dilly dally on signing permits. Some locations for Rain in the Mountains were scouted more than a year ago. The more time you have, the more locations you can personally visit.
2. Know the territory.Rain in the Mountains director Joel Metlen has extensive knowledge of Washington state nature locations through his jobs in the Forest Service and Ski Patrol. And it doesn’t hurt that his father also works on land management in the state. A healthy respect for the unique qualities of people’s land, houses and decor is always appreciated. Don’t ‘burn’ a location by leaving it a mess after shooting. You never know what you’ll need for re-shoots, or for your next film.
3. Let the film commission make first contact. – If you’re young or inexperienced, often a call from the local film commission can get you in the door better than you could. Most states have film commissions and most of those commissions want to help you. For free. So use them!
4. Stretch your dollars. – One big advantage of shooting outside of L.A., New York or Toronto is that you can get great locations for cheap, free or better-than-free. People get to be involved in the excitement of filmmaking and you get a great location that would cost Hollywood millions. Not only that, sometimes the people at the location will even go to great lengths to get you props, electricity etc. That’s what I mean by better-than-free. By choosing locations that look expensive and that have willing caretakers, you can raise production values enormously and lower the headache quotient.
5. Have insurance. – The number one item that has re-assured people in all our location meetings — urban, rural, government, private — has been the insurance certificate for the film. When they know they won’t have anything legal to worry about if there’s a fire or someone gets hurt, they breathe easy. (Some will even encourage you to do dangerous stunts. Avoid the temptation.) If you’re shooting non-profit, you can often get in under the insurance umbrella of another non-profit. If you’re shooting for profit, you can try the same tack, using the insurance of an existing production company, as Foxhall Films is doing. I know from books like Digital Filmmaking 101 that other insurance resources are available to indie filmmakers, but I haven’t researched the topic enough to have any personal recommendations.