On location

Posted by ESC on April 24, 2000

In Reply to: On location posted by Bob on April 23, 2000

: : : : : : In advertising an upcoming moive called 'Sahara', our local TV station pronounced that the movie was shot 'on location' in Australia.
: : : : : : Does anybody know or have any insights as to how 'on location' has apparently come to mean not at the actual location, but in this case in fact in an entirely different continent?

: : : : : "...the Seilis Co. filmed the beach scenes for its 'Count of Monte Cristo' on the beach of Santa Moncia, California. Though not the first scenes filmed outdoors 'on location' (a term not recorded until 1914), they were the first filmed in Southern California, whose good year-round weather and variety of scenery made it a perfect place for moviemaking..." From Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from Our Lively and Splendid Past by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982).

: : : : : I don't know why that particular term was used. I just remember Bette Davis lamenting the fact that most movies are now filmed on location. Ms. Davis thought things were a lot easier when movies were filmed on a set or in the studio backlots.

: : : :
: : : : Could the word come from the Latin "locus", meaning "place"? In Britain, when one physician stands in for another, he is said to be "doing a locum". Seems possible.

: : : All movie scenes are shot either in studio or on location. Location doesn't mean the authentic place (like the Sahara vs. Australia) but any place out of the sound stage. In fact, I got an interesting brochure a few years ago from the Arizona Film Commission, showing all 50 states, simulated in Arizona locations. A skyscraper in Phoenix standing in for New York, etc. The economics of the business dictate that the less you move, the easier it is on the budget. Far more interesting for Phrase Mongers is the movie term "shooting MOS, meaning a scene shot with no recorded sound because only the picture is needed. The origin is from early Hollywood, when German directors were working. One of them (whose name escapes me) said that the next scenes were to be shot "mit out sound," and the abbreviation MOS has stuck ever since.

: : Is "location" a standard word used in scripts? Maybe some Hollywood-types could tell us. I am guessing that use of the phrase "on location" instead of "out of the studio" or "off studio" might be a carry over from the script language.

: It's not actually a script function... because many scenes Can be shot in studio. The decision is made by producer and/or director (and, increasingly, by bean counters) how much can be budgeted for location shooting. (The long-standing running joke among art directors planning tv commercials is to put a palm tree into every storyboard to insure a location shoot in a warm clime. In Chicago, in February, the temptation is very real.)

Here's some information from an Internet friend in the industry: "...I can confirm that all productions are shot in one of two possible venues, either on a sound stage at the production studios home base or at any other venue away from that home base which is referred to as, 'on

My union contract further breaks this down for pay rate delineations into "distant location or local location" Hourly rates and overtime
considerations being affected. Here in Hollywood we have what we refer to as the '30 mile zone' This 'zone' demarks the boundaries for local
location and anything outside of the 'zone' is considered distant location.

In short, on location can refer to shooting a block away from the studio or on another continent.

A little footnote on the MOS reference. While the cute story of the German sound mixer saying, 'Mit out sound" is very popular, a reasonably accurate derivation for MOS is the technical term, 'Minus Optical Sound' which referred to 'takes' shot 'wild' (another movieism for describing an 'MOS' shot)..."