Although a great location can’t make a great movie on its own, it definitely helps. Locations are full of what BU film professor Mary Jane Doherty calls “compositional gifts” – the little nuances of a space that can be arranged in the frame in a pleasing, interesting, or dynamic way. Great shooting locations therefore lend themselves to some creative cinematography and a satisfying visual aesthetic. So great locations don’t make great films in themselves, but they sure help.
BU graduate student Padrick Ritch did a lot of location scouting for his MFA thesis film, “Limbus.” He needed a unique location for a surreal dream sequence: a 1970’s style trolley car – like the T, but older. He called around, he travelled around, and discovered that New England is speckled with trolley museums that have amassed huge collections of antique trolley cars and trains. Even the MBTA has a selection of retired vehicles that they rent out to filmmakers (at a fairly hefty price). Scheduling with the MBTA fell through, a trolley museum in Maine ended up being too far north, but the Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven, Connecticut ended up being the perfect spot. My favorite part about that location? Road trip. For me (and I’m sure many others like me), nothing hits my idea of fun more than spending the weekend at a Motel 6 in Brandford, Connecticut with a group of talented filmmakers working together on making a movie. This weekend ruled.
Just like night shoots, however, this experience proved as challenging as it was enjoyable. Our 1970s trolley at the Shore Line Museum was located on train tracks cutting through a cramped barn. Our challenge was to light the inside of the train from outside, with only a few feet of space to do so. The goal was to make the windows look blown out – or to glow white – to enhance the dreamlike feel of the scene. To do this we covered all of the train’s windows in white sheets. In addition, in one shot a character needed to exit the side door of the train to face a huge white field. Using compact stands (also known as C-stands) we built a giant frame draped with white sheets. Because of the narrow passageway on the other side of the train, we had to use angled bounce board (white foam board that bounces light) to get light to the windows. It was an impressive set up, and in the end, worked extremely well.
Once the outside was lit, we needed to light the inside of the train with overhead fixtures. The original florescent bulbs built into the train cast an unsightly light that showed up greenish in the camera. Fortunately, a company called Kino Flo produces color-temperature balanced fluorescent light fixtures for use in film production. We tied the Kino Flo bulbs up the ceiling of the trolley car and ran cables to ballasts (power sources) on the ground. Like the outside set up, the inside was fairly intricate. But also like the other, this one was successful.
This weekend I learned the value of planning. Padrick and his crew arrived to this unique and appropriate location with a plan prepared – they had done their homework. The people in charge knew exactly what they wanted, and assembled a group of people capable of delivering it. When we arrived on set, we were immediately told what to put where and why. If, on the other hand, there had been no plan, valuable time would have been wasted preparing one on the spot that may or may not have worked.
Also this weekend I learned that Chuck’s Margarita Grille in East Haven, Connecticut serves up some mean Taco Salad. And the best meal to get at the Parthenon Diner is a blueberry waffle a la mode with french fries and marinara sauce. Yum.