Photos by Richard Lovrich
Since the first humans left their caves for greener pastures, location has been at the center of our evolution. As we develop as filmmakers, we move from our childhood backyards with 8-millimeter cameras to epic on-location storytelling. No matter the budget you’re working with, your movie can be set in cinematic places that help to tell the story. My wife and I lived in the South for many years and when we moved to Albany everyone we met here asked us why. Why the heck did you move to Albany? I think Albany is not only perfectly situated within a three-hour drive of some amazing locations, but it’s full of buildings and landscapes that double for just about anywhere you can imagine.
When I was producing the feature film “Hobo Heyseus,” which called for a quaint small town, my friend asked me if I had ever heard of Castleton-on-Hudson. I took a scouting drive past the Rensselaer Aldi, and veered onto 9J. I passed a swampy area full of reeds and cattails that reminded me of the bayou. Train tracks, a river and viola,—a tiny hidden gem only fifteen minutes from downtown Albany.
Castleton-on-Hudson feels like a sleepy little New Hampshire fishing village. The screenwriter Joshua Owens was with me as we drove around looking for film gold. We turned down a random road I explained what we needed as the main location: a pretty farmhouse with a good yard and rocking-chair porch. As we passed, I pointed to exactly what I was talking about. We decided to take a chance and knock on their door. Owner Dick Ellers was a delightful gentleman who showed us around the perfect location. I asked him how he felt about us shooting there for about a week and he said sure. Ellers later told me that we left, he talked to a friend and, rightfully so, they suggested we might have been thieves casing the joint.
Ellers thought about it and decided to call up the police and tell them some guys came around and wanted to shoot a movie in his house. The police chief said, “Yeah, those guys were just at the station and they will be shooting here, too!” When we arrived with cameras, lights, actors, food and completely took over his home, we found he had painted and fixed up his whole place for us. His openness and effort made the film more special. Lucky for us, the road to Ellers’ house is a long straight stretch of pristine country pavement with little-to-no traffic.
I’ve shot countless things there. I was talking to filmmaker and location scout Mike Camoin about his challenges when trying to find an extremely specific locale for the award-winning Sundance film “As You Are.” They needed a house that was western-facing with evergreen trees and a long driveway. He found the exact landscape, got a trailer for free, moved it across the Hudson and dropped it off to make the perfect location. Sometimes he’s even had to employ the powers of a god. “On the film ‘We the Animals,’ there was too much rain and a scene in the river was going to be too dangerous to shoot. I had to make a call to get them to open the dam so that the river would lower,” laughed Camoin. Camoin told me that particular location wasn’t even in the script. Instead of a lake with lily pads, he had found and offered up a waterfall at an old mill which the director loved more.
Location scouting is just another form of casting that brings income and inspiration to a community. The Capital Region has been featured in films like “Salt,” “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight,” “The Other Guys” and many more. I think these served as encouragement to the local film scene and as a result there are actors and filmmakers who are pursuing making the next big movie right here. Maybe even in your backyard. Literally, I need a backyard, so let me know if I can use yours.