Thursday, September 24, 2015

Location is a Character

This may well come off as one of my more obvious blog posts, but I think it's something that's really important for everyone to remember as we all start gearing up to make our films; location should always act as a character. A silent, unflinching, omnipresent character, but a character nonetheless.

Surprisingly enough - as I'm just now finding out - you don't get a whole lot of interesting results when you Google "film locations as characters." But pick any great movie or cinematic TV show and boom: there it is. Let's take, for instance, Mad Max Fury Road. The barren, deserted landscape practically breathes. It not only presents itself as an obstacle to the characters, it comes to life. The movie was filmed in Namibia (unlike the first three which were shot in Australia) and the desert sands and dunes are literally blown out of proportion in order to bring the movie to life. It gives the movie a distinct tone more so than any other element of the film; while the (sparse) dialogue and set design are unique, it would be nothing without the location itself.

Let's take another example: True Detective. The only thing that the first and second season even remotely have in common is how they treat their locations. In the first season, director Cary Fukunaga both played with expectations and met them in his use of the creepy bayous and run-down areas of Louisiana (fun side note, here's a link to a tour you can take that has 13 locations from the show). It also had this boat that looks like it's floating on land, but that's more of a cool shot than anything else. They used the locations to really bump up the level of creepiness that oozes throughout the season, and at a certain point, you start to feel like it's its own entity.

Same goes for season 2. No matter what your opinion of it may be (it sucked) they still use location as a major indicator of what's happening and what matters. I'm pretty sure that the aerial shots of freeways and various roads take up more screentime than Rachel McAdam's character. It, too, sets the tone: instead of the slow burn, Southern feel of season one, we now know that we're in a world where everything is constantly moving forward, with little hope of ever coming to a halt. It's a bit more inconsistent than the previous season, but the point still comes across.

No Country for Old Men, Lost in Translation, Cool Hand Luke, Drive, any movie that prominently features the city of New York: all of these treat their locations as a character (to see where I got all of those ideas from, here's a list on letterboxd I found that more or less sums up what I've been talking about). Locations can add tone, texture, and feeling to a film, and if you use them right, you'll be that much better for having done it.

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