When we first started getting serious about producing the Hearst Castle Ghost video comedy series, we spent a lot of time doing research and attempting to learn from people who have paved the way before us. This entailed taking in information from every source possible such as watching YouTube videos, reading professional articles, reading blogs, talking to professionals, and attending seminars. To be honest, we are still spending a lot of time doing research and attempting to learn from people who have paved the way before us. A good chunk of Comic-Con International 2019 (and 2017-2018) was spent in panels related to creating indie movies and/or TV-series on shoestring budgets.
One of the things that many of these resources hammered in is the need to make use of what you already have access to. This could be anything from using cameras you already own, to using a friend who D.J.s as your sound engineer, to shooting at an old warehouse that your father owns. As a matter of fact, the last one on that list was brought up quite a bit – making use of the various locations that friends and family can provide for shooting your film or web-series.
In the case of the Hearst Castle Ghost, we do almost all recording in-front of a green-screen with the backdrop for each scene added in post, so the filming location might not seem like it should matter all that much. Quite unfortunately, it does.
Here’s my not-so-brief rundown on why our filming location matters quite a bit. The first reason is the audio recording portion of the filming. Several of the locations that we might have easy access to record a web-series at are located very close to an airport. A very busy airport. With lots of very loud airplanes flying directly overhead at random intervals. All those locations are out.
The second reason is the lighting requirements for properly chroma keying a video. The big problems here are shadows and dark faces (see me, aka Brad Guy, in our SDCC 2019 Bound video for an example of both). For the small teaser videos we have released, the lighting hasn’t been a huge issue because it is only one or two people on screen with limited movement. The more people, the more movement, the larger an area that is required, the more lights you need, the more angles you need to cover lighting on the backdrop (green screen), the higher the ceilings need to be. Effectively, for a normally scripted scene we need a 25’X25′ block with green screen on three of the sides going up 8′ to 10′. Which means downward facing lighting from above the 10′ mark. So, 15′ ceilings.
The third, fourth, and fifth reasons are the actors. The primary part of this, or item three, is the set needs to be air conditioned. Shooting with all these lights gets hot, so our 25’x25’x15′ green screen area needs to be kept cool to keep our actors and film crew from becoming drenched with sweat.
Item four is that not every actor and/or extra is in every scene. You try to schedule the filming so that most people have scenes back to back and aren’t stuck waiting around all day, but that is not always possible. You need a place for these people to wait off set, where they can run lines without being picked up by the on set microphones. And you need a place to feed all these people. And restrooms are a must.
Item five is travel distance for your actors to the filming location(s). In the case of a low budget web-series, like ours, the actors and extras are getting paid only in food and possibly scene credits. There is little incentive for an actor to go out of their way to get to a filming location.
We had an offer to use a friend’s warehouse in Tennessee – which happens to be where we have shot the preseason episodes – but it lacks A/C and is in Tennessee. It breaks two of our five requirements. Portable A/C units are a possibility, but then we break the first requirement: a quiet set.
When we started all this, we had access to a different friend’s nearly empty warehouse – completely air conditioned with an attached office space and conveniently located in Florida near two out of three of the actors playing major characters (the Ghost would need to walk his ass from Tennessee). Kismet, being the bitch it is, decided to completely fill up this warehouse with pallets of crap, effectively eliminating it from the running by removing that 25’x25’x15′ area.
I personally would have never imagined that finding a location to shoot a green screen video series would be that difficult, but there you have it. In looking back at the lectures and panels and videos we watched to help us make a better low budget web-series, there was never a mention of finding alternate locations when the universe throws a wrench in your plans and you no longer have access to someplace provided by a friend or family member.
That’s the bad news. But we are looking for a new location and hoping to be able to get back on schedule soon. As of this moment, we are still planning for a November 2019 release for the show, it will just steal most of my editing time in post. The good news is that I get to postpone growing out that fucking goatee for a bit longer.
In the meantime, today is my Birthday, so go out and celebrate.