I went to New York City for a day with my family this past week. We visited some famous places including Times Square and 42nd Street. In Central Park, we stopped by the famed Bethesda Fountain, which has been featured in a ton of movies such as Disney's Enchanted. Right next to the fountain are the above featured gothic arches, which are also familiar, and very cool. Seeing these famous movie locales got me thinking about the value of shooting on a location that is a character in itself.
While the digital revolution seems to encourage more green screen and compositor use, let us not forget the value of a really good location. They can add depth and mystery and authenticity that you could never get from something faked inside a computer. One of my favorite locations was in the back of a local record store. The owner had an archive of albums that went floor-to-ceiling and created hallways of music. These halls were so narrow that I had to use a wide angle lens, but the result was pretty great. I wish I could show it to you, but it went off line when Youtube went Nazi on me.
Getting a good place to shoot can really up your production value. In theory, you can find and use the same places that the pros do, as long as you strike some deal with the owners. Guerrillas don't use permits, but asking nicely will often get you what you want (get them to sign a release). Most people outside of large cities still think it's pretty neat that you're making a movie. Just don't trash the place. Your reputation will follow and catch up to you.
If there is no substitute for what you want, you can always be sneaky. It's a common story that filmmakers will pull up, hop out, shoot, and take off. I've done it as well. There was a snow-covered graveyard that I wanted to use once, but the management wanted some outlandish fee. I noticed that on weekends the office was closed, so that's when we shot the scene. We didn't take long, and were never harassed. I don't want to encourage trespassing, so use your best judgment. No shot is worth being shot at.
Movies tell stories using pictures. Even though locations are the backgrounds of the tales we tell, they can mean a lot to what you're trying to convey. You'll know the right place when you find it. It will just feel right, and look even better.