On Location vs. Sound Stage

There are many factors that hang in the balance when deciding between location shooting or sound stage shooting. Every element of your production will be affected by your choice.

Production Design

The most obvious department that will play a part in this decision is the art department. On location, the space is already built. It may need to undergo some scenic work, such as a new paint job, or it may need to be furnished differently. But, everything is done on the surface. On a sound stage, everything would need to be built. This means not only the walls and furniture, but also any texture that can only be achieved through years of activity in a space. So, a lot of money can be spent recreating a genuine environment.


This department's advantages and disadvantages are closely linked to those of the art department. On location, the camera is locked into the space that exists. If you want to get a wide shot, you can only put you widest lens on and get as close to the wall behind you as possible. However, in a sound stage, your set walls can be built to fly away. This means much more flexibility as far as camera placement goes, and overall more working space available.


On location, the sun plays a huge part in lighting conditions. If you are spending an entire day in a room with lots of windows, the light is going to change from morning, to afternoon, to evening. This means a lot of equipment is needed to control said changes and maintain continuity throughout the scene.

In a studio space, you do not have this problem because all the light (even a hypothetical sun) is artificial and therefore entirely in your control. However, you now need more lights in order to simulate the said sun as it would appear in each of your set's windows. You also need to account for what you can see through these windows, and how you would like to deal with that. On the other hand, studio lighting wins one more advantage with an available rigging grid, complete with electricity above the set.


There is a reason that it is called a "sound stage". A studio should be completely sound proof. No sound other than what is in the room can ruin a take. On location, you have to deal with "holding for a plane," strange plumbing sounds in your building, or neighbors yelling. Having control can make this department run seamlessly.


At last, the biggest department of all. A good location manager should always be asking herself, where will we stage equipment? Where will actor holding be? Where can we park the trucks? Where are the bathrooms? Is there Internet available for the production team? Is there an elevator to get equipment to the sixth floor? All these questions are eliminated in sound stage shooting. Studios have all of these things taken care of for the production. The kicker is that the studio space costs money.

Locations and sound stages both have advantages and disadvantages. In many cases, the choice will come down to cost, but there are many other factors to consider as well. Also, keep in mind that you need location permits to shoot in many public places.

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