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Filming on Location vs Filming on a Set: Benefits and Challenges


Filming on location brings both benefits and challenges over filming in a studio. The purpose of this post is to categorize all the potential issues associated with making a film on location and compare them to those of the studio. Hopefully, by reading this post, you’ll be able to get a better understanding of what option will work best for your film project.

Filming on location: benefits and challenges

You can consider basically anything filmed outside of a studio or soundstage as being “filmed on location”. Shooting your film in a real-world location brings a level of authenticity to it that’s difficult to match in any other way.

Filmmaker standing on a rock filming on location


Cost savings: Whenever you film on location, you don’t need to worry about building sets. Building and maintaining a series of film sets throughout a production can be costly, to say the least. Being able to show up at a location and start working is a big money saver.

Realism: The level of realism that comes along with filming on location makes it almost always worth it. Real-world wear and tear is hard to replicate, so using a real-world location can sell the setting to an audience much easier in most cases.  

Accuracy: Whenever you’re filming a historical piece that represents a certain place and time then filming in the actual location can greatly increase the accuracy of the film. An example could be filming a movie set in the medieval time period in a castle that is still existing.

While it’s true that there are many benefits to filming on location, there are some challenges as well. You have to decide given your budget and specific film project if filming on location is really worth it for you.

Common Challenges:

sunrise for filming on location in the city

The Sun: One of the biggest issues with filming in a real-world location is lighting. When you’re out in the world, you need to pay attention to the sun and time your shots for consistency. Sunlight can be overpowering one moment and then washed out the next. Diffusers can be used to help combat these issues and make using natural light more practical.

Noise Pollution: Something that can be a big problem while filming on location is ambient noise and sound pollution. Lots of different things can cause sound issues like cars, airplanes, factories, ect. The only real way to combat these kinds of issues is to control the area, or have done a good enough job scouting to identify and mitigate these issues.

Logistics: Obviously, filming on location means transporting all your gear and film crew to said location so they can get to work. This usually means getting ground transport and possibly lodging for everyone involved. This cost can vary significantly based on the size and scope of the project. Do your research first and make sure that you have the budget to cover the logistics of using a particular location.

Comparison with filming on a set

filming on a film set

Filming on a set is much different than filming on location. On a set you can control absolutely everything in regards to the production meaning that you can film any time of day and have the lighting work to your favor. You also don’t have to worry about noise when you’re on a set because you can control for it.

Sets can also be more malleable than actual locations and allow for practical effects to be used that would damage or destroy a real-world location. This means that you can use pyrotechnics and other effects with more confidence in a controlled environment.

Sets can also be built to the exact specifications and needs of the script. This means that you can create the exact space in a set to match the story and scene. While it won’t be cheap, getting exactly what you need in terms of space might be worth it to your production.

Deciding what’s right for you

While most productions will end up using a combination of both, the budget will determine to what extent you’ll be able to go on either front. Large budgets can allow you to secure entire city blocks for a film (Heat 1995) or build a near life-sized model of a cruise liner (Titanic 1997). It’s true that your budget might not allow you to access similar resources, but you can still do a lot with a little if you know where to put your money.

Renting a film location by the hour can give your production the versatility it needs to stretch its budget farther. By only renting a filming location when you need it, you free up budget for other aspects of a film’s production. With a little work, you can come up with a strategy to get the most out of your budget while still maintaining a high production value.