Location, Location, Location

Notes from the field by producer Nicole Franco

How to get great locations for your church film projects.

Article by Nicole Franco
Introduction by Chris Francis

Nicole Franco is a hero of mine.   I think when I first met her I had just finished my longer-than-expected stint as an unemployed filmmaker (aka pizza delivery man).  She had just finished a feature film that had been picked up by Samuel Goldwyn Films called To Save A Life. To say we were at different points in our career would be an understatement.

Luckily for me, my pizza slinging days came to an end and our paths would not only cross again, but merge for several years as we served together as staff filmmakers at Rock Church in San Diego.

I’ve learned so much from her over the years.  She’s produced hundreds of the projects that I’ve worked on and on every project she makes things happen that I’m certain no one else could have.  I have so many stories of potential disasters that, with Nicole’s talent + the Holy Spirit, turned into filmmaking miracles, but we’ll save those for a later time.

For now, enjoy what I hope to be a regular occurrence on this website – wisdom from my friend Nicole.


We’ve all heard how important location is for real estate, it’s no surprise it’s just as important for filmmaking. Of course the first consideration is the look and production value it lends to your film, but there’s so many more aspects to consider: how to find the ideal location, the cost, the permission, the ease of use, and building up your locations database for future use.

Here’s 5 tips of mine for finding and securing great locations:

#1 Leverage the good will from the community service of your church.

One of the best perks of creating films for the church is the tremendous good will you inherit from the service projects conducted by your congregation and its various ministries: beautification projects, volunteer projects, tutoring, ministry benefactors, etc. Most anyone whose benefited directly from your congregation’s service will gladly want to give back and help you out. This approach is effective as well when you have to make cold calls for locations. Memorizing a general stat of how your church has benefited your local community is a good way to start the conversation, for example:

“We believe in serving our community and have volunteered _____(enter the work completed, money donated, hours donated, etc.). We hope to inspire our congregation to continue serving by making great films and we’d love to use your business/home as a location.”

Small group scene filmed at a local sushi bar

Small group scene filmed at a local sushi bar before they opened for the night.

#2 There are locations waiting for you inside your congregation.

Even a small church of 150 attendees will have a breadth of possible location options for you: business owners, managers of businesses, private residences, members of professional organizations, social club members, security workers, etc. Start with letting your church staff know what locations you’re looking for, then post a short notice in your bulletin or flyer in the lobby where many congregants will see it. You’ll most certainly get many leads to possibilities.

Filming a sermon series bumper in a staff member’s cabin.

Filming a sermon series bumper in a staff member’s cabin.

#3 Compensation is sometimes what’s needed to make the deal.

Of course your first effort is to secure a location gratis in your efforts to be a good steward of funds, but sometimes, even with the best intentions of the land owner/manager, we need to offer some compensation to secure a location. This is a legit need in that it may be costing the landowner to have personnel on site while you’re shooting, or they may be disrupting their business for your shoot. The most important thing to remember is to be a good neighbor – showing honor and value to your location owner will leave a good impression of your church. For estimating consider at minimum of $50 up to $500, depending on your church size and available budget.

We had to pay for this location, but it was worth every penny.

We had to pay for this location, but it was worth every penny.

#4 Permitting & Insurance

Knowing the business side of securing a location, not only reflects well on you as a professional but it reflects well on your church, too.

PERMITTING: When you shoot at a private business or residence you do not need a city permit, the landowner’s permission is enough. Getting this permission in writing is a very good idea and you can download a generic location agreement to modify for your use at the bottom of this article. When shooting on a city location, such as a park, city plaza, or street, you will need to contact your local film commission or city hall for securing a permit – most city permits are free, they just need some time to process, which can be between 3-5 days to weeks, so start early with any public location.

INSURANCE: Your church will (hopefully) have an insurance policy protecting its staff members, equipment and resources on premises and off premises. Simply ask your HR department or operations department for a “Certificate of Insurance”. Let the landowner know you have a “Certificate of Insurance” protecting you while on their premises. This will ensure the landowner that you are financially responsible for any damage (of course there won’t be any because you are just that good) and that you are approaching the transaction professionally. Sometimes the landowner will require they are listed as the benefactor, this is easily done through the person who gave you the general certificate. Just keep in mind to plan ahead, as it can take up to 3-5 days to have a modified certificate ready for you.

#5 Logistics of the location

From the right angle, this local reservoir passed for the Jordan River.

From the right angle, this local reservoir passed for the Jordan River.

Always scout a location in person. Take lots of photos, not only to remember the location when planning your shoot, but more importantly for your locations database. Make notes of power outlets, stairs and ramps for ease of loading in and out, natural light sources and how it will change with the time of day, non-accessible areas or areas that will need special attention or protection, and lastly areas for equipment and talent. Once on site you may discover new areas or opportunities that may apply for future videos. Always leave with the name and contact of the person able to give you the YES for shooting, leaving your contact information as well. Be sure to follow up in an email or in writing all the details of your shoot and what you’re requesting, the more details the better so there’s no surprises on shoot day.

Connect with Nicole on LinkedIn or IMDB.

Want a free location release form?

Enter your email address below to receive a .PDF download of the location release form that Nicole uses for her church film projects.  Download it, customize it, and use it for all of your films.

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