Location is one of the most important elements of any film. The right location breathes life into a scene and allows the audience to connect more deeply with the story. This article is going to explore some of the most iconic locations in film and explain why they were perfect for the stories set in them.
The importance of the locations department
Many people often overlook location managers and scouts, but they play a vital role in every production. The fact is that without amazing locations many iconic films would have not resonated. As a director, taking the time to find the perfect film location can mean the difference between a good scene and a great scene.
Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1980 film The Shining owed a good deal of it’s stark isolated feeling to establishing shots of the Timberline Lodge. While the majority of the movie’s interior shots were filmed on a set, the lodge served as the perfect setting for this amazing horror film. Kubrick expertly built tension through a long drive up the mountain pass to the lodge during the opening credits which set the stage for the horror to come.
The Santa Ynez Valley was expertly chosen as both the setting and filming location for the 2004 comedy Sideways. In the film, we follow two friends who take a road trip through California’s wine country on their comedic and meandering quest to find meaning. The film was shot on location at many of the wineries, taverns, and inns located in the Santa Ynez Valley. Without the strong continuity and location management displayed by the production in Sideways, it could have been easy to make a subpar film.
Lord of the Rings
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy brought the mythical land of Middle Earth alive with some of the most famous location work to date in the beautiful countryside of New Zealand. The locations department nailed their role here so expertly that visiting the film’s locations has become a major source of tourism for the country.
The Hook and Ladder Company 8 played the headquarters for the unlikely heroes in the 1984 film Ghostbusters. The other locations around New York and Los Angeles chosen for the film like 55 Central Park West have all since become tourist destinations. The gothic feeling of these locations served as the perfect ground to reality for this supernatural comedic masterpiece. Without the creepy and serious locations used in the film, much of what makes Ghostbusters so effective would be lost.
The original 1988 Die Hard used the Fox Plaza building in Century City, Los Angeles to play it’s “Nakatomi Tower”. The futuristic look of the building ended up being the ideal centerpiece to this action hit. The late 80s were a time of cocaine fueled business ventures and this location fit the role perfectly.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson’s Academy Award winning 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel takes the focus on location in the film to a whole new level. While the exterior shots of the hotel were created with some outstanding miniature work, the majority of the interior shots were filmed in the now abandoned Görlitz Warenhaus Department Store. Wes Anderson is known to have done a good deal of the location scouting work for the film personally and, like in all his films, he created a new world in the space for his actors to inhabit.
You cannot make a movie about an archeologist action hero without putting some serious thought into where you’re going to film it. The Last Crusade’s famous use of the temple Petra, in Jordan took this challenge seriously. The location was perfect as the final resting place of the holy grail and became recognizable in households all over the USA thanks to the film.
Many people might say that the locations department didn’t have a lot to do during the making of Mad Max: Fury Road, but nothing could be further from the truth. Finding a good place to film a movie of this scale in an unbroken desert wasteland was no easy feat. The crew picked the Namib Desert as a stand in for a post-apocalyptic Australia, and it does an excellent job. The vast scale of the Namib makes all the human actors seem small in comparison to the ever present desolation.
The Quentin Tarantino masterpiece Django Unchained follows our heroes all over the United States as they bounty hunt their way through some extremely memorable locations. Tarantino has always been known for picking incredible settings and Django was no exception. Locations in the film are diverse and ranged from Grand Teton National Park to the Evergreen Plantation in Louisiana. The use of real buildings from the time period bring this film to life and help to cement it the moviemaking hall of fame.
Joe Wright created something special with his coming of age assassin film Hanna. While the budget for the film was not huge (approx $30m) Wright spent it where it counted, on practical effects and filming on location. The movie goes from the frozen wasteland of Kuusamo, Finland to the baked dessert of Marrakech, to the urban jungle of Berlin, Germany. The stark contrast of the filming locations help the audience see visually the growth of the character as she becomes more in tune with her capabilities and place in the world.
Locations mean everything in film and taking the time to find the perfect one is almost always worth it. If you’re responsible for finding and securing locations for a film production then check out this guide about how to use technology to make location scouting easier. If you’re not in the business, the next time you’re watching the credits of a movie that just seemed to work, remember to give a nod to the names that fall under the locations department, they work harder than you think.
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