Standard Story Company

The Small-Town Filmmaker’s Advantage

As I brainstorm my next film, there’s one thing I’m adamant about – I won’t shoot it in Los Angeles.

I live in LA, so this plan isn’t convenient.

Why do it?

Major film cities have their advantages, but I truly believe small-towns offer more to the indie filmmaker.

Permits & Fees

The first benefit of small-town filmmaking is freedom.

Every time I’ve set up a tripod on the streets of LA, our shoot has gotten shut down by the police. No expensive permits = no public filming.

When you’re self-funding your films, this limits the stories you can tell here to a maddening degree.

Let’s compare that to shooting outside of a major film hub:

The opening sequence from my short film Will “The Machine” involved the main character running down a well-known historic street in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia.

We filmed it with our big cinema camera hanging off a custom rigged camera car that our key grip put together (you rock Joe).

It was a technically and logistically difficult sequence to shoot, but the results were worth all the effort. 

These shots helped make the opening of the film stand out in a big way, while introducing both the title character, and his city.

In LA we’d have to pay thousands of dollars to FilmLA for permits, plus police officers to block off the street. 

There was no budget for all that red-tape.

But in Virginia, believe it or not, we did everything by the book for this, and it cost us nothing extra to film in this public street.

We went into the VA Film Office (with no appointment), explained our plan, and were told as long as we didn’t block any streets or walkways, we were fine. No permit needed. 🤯

I didn’t fully believe it, but we went for it.

(Note: we had full production insurance on this shoot, and took lots of safety precautions for these shots)

Sure enough, multiple cops showed up while we drove this rig up and down the street for take after take… 

…and they just kept driving.

We had all the time we needed to get it right without worrying about police shutting down our shoot.

You can see the results in the opening 80 seconds of the film.

And if you’re not working by the book, you still get away with way more in smaller towns.

Back when I shot my $6,000 feature in Richmond in 2009, we stole the opening scene at an out-of-business gas station, shooting for a half-day.

We even laid out 20 feet of PVC tracks for a shot using our DIY camera dolly.

This was all right next to a busy street, but again… nobody cared.



Unique Texture & World

Filming in public can also add so much production value and unique character to a film.

Will “The Machine” featured Richmond’s James River, old confederate statues, cobblestone streets, and winter weather.

Los Angeles has none of these features. 

Wait, we do have a river… 

Check out the LA river:


Landscapes, buildings, and objects that haven’t been featured in films yet offer an opportunity.

Small-town filmmakers, you get to take the first pickings at the unique locations around you. Take advantage and try to make them iconic in your film!

It’s hard to do that in a big city. 

Who wants to shoot in the LA River when you’re competing with Terminator 2?


The Snowball Effect

Lastly, small-town filmmakers get the benefit of novelty.

You find locals saying “A movie? Here? Cool! What’s it about?”

Meanwhile, your average Angeleno neighbor says “I don’t want you blocking parking on our street for this crap.”

And the bigger the project is, the more this excitement can snowball into a whole community effort.

For example, when we filmed in Richmond for WTM, every person & location I secured for the project was another selling point for the NEXT person & location I was trying to secure. 

And almost everyone working on the film had some connection to someone else on the team.

The profile of the project grew, and so did the network I was building in town.

By the time we were doing our final location scout, we were literally able to pick up volunteer PA’s off the street who were just curious about what we were doing (thanks for your hard work Cindy!).

The bigger your project in relation to your town, the easier it is to secure valuable volunteers, favors, and access.


Even though LA has a high concentration of talent & film infrastructure to work with – the cost of filming here can easily outweigh the benefits.

Lodging a small crew in a small-town? Try to book one big AirBnB for the whole team. Bonus points if that AirBnB is also one of your main locations.

With WTM, there were only 4 of us from LA that had to get our asses to Richmond (plus a TON of gear) – everyone else was a local hire. 

Three of us slept in my parents’ house while filming, and the actor we flew out got his flight paid for mostly with an old voucher we had, and his hotel paid for with my credit card points 😂 

Add 2 additional flight tickets for a preliminary scouting trip – and here’s the total damage for filming out of town:

Almost $2,700… Not exactly cheap, huh? 

Well compare that to what we’d have spent for JUST 3 days of shooting in a park in Los Angeles:

(note we shot for 5 days in Richmond)

Even if we were allowed to not have monitors on set, the cost is almost the same… except for all the red tape, the lack of unique locations, and the lack of freedom we’d have had in shooting.

Shooting out of town was a no-brainer.

So where will my next film take place? I have no idea because I still don’t have a script 😅

In fact, I think it’s time to wrap up this newsletter and get to writing an actual film.

But for you small-town filmmakers, what are some great free locations you can take advantage of in town? This question is the starting point for many of my scripts – work backwards like this when writing to play to your advantages.


That’s it for this week.

Let’s make some movies.


🎓 Whenever you're ready:

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PS – I just added an entire film editing course to the program, and will be ending the $200 discount I’ve been offering on WRAPPED. If you’ve been on the fence, this is your last chance to join us at this price!

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