Location Filming & Commercial Photography in NEBRASKA

WELCOME and thank you for considering a visit…  Information within is about on-location film production and commercial photography in Nebraska and  western Iowa.

We are interested in collaborating with you.

There are MANY locations available throughout this very large State. Most you are already assuming (gotcha) but there are plenty of surprises too.Location scouting on any given project is unique. Elements include: vision, budget, size of crew, logistics, travel, schedule, etc. *Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 10.59.08 AMHappy to help with answers. If your project is green-lit and fast-tracked—reach out ASAP for fast answers NebraskaLocation@gmail.com* All location information here is based on professional filmmaking and commercial photography. These processes encourage standards as permission to shoot on private property, location fees, insurance, safety, and legal logistics. 

 

Site curated by Jamie Vesay, experienced Locations Scout/Manager and often Creative Producer. An industry professional for 25 years.

 

Niobrara River near Valentine

The Niobrara River near Valentine Nebraska is a National Scenic River. This alone should give you reason to be curious and make you want to visit…

Niobrara River 514 LBLD Jamie Vesay WM IMG_9646 copy

…but many Nebraskans will tell you they go for the canoeing, kayaking, tubing, and camping. Add the giant overhead canvas of the open sky (which is just as amazing at night – seeing the stars) the surrounding topographical blend of Sandhills and riverside bluffs, pine and cedar trees, wildlife, and the hospitality of the town of Valentine – it is a wonderful destination for visitors.

Niobrara River canoeing 514 LBD Jamie Vesay WM IMG_9451 copy

If you will be commercially FILMING or PHOTOGRAPHING near, on, or in the Niobrara river – there are a few things you should know…

The Niobrara river near Valentine is in north-central Nebraska. Plan a minimum of three days stay in the area to travel, overnight, and see most of it. Standard amenities such as food, lodging, and basic supplies are in the town of Valentine (unless you opt for a cabin or camping out-of-town).

Niobrara River cabin on river at Sunny Brook camp 514 LBLD Jamie Vesay WM IMG_9110 copy

Firstly, know that the river WATER is technically managed by the National Parks Service. If your production is of any scale and scope; this should be a starting point to discuss your project. Be professional and have an open discussion with them. They are receptive to filmmaking but they are managers and protectors of the wild river. There is a National Parks Service office in Valentine.

Niobrara River Norden Chute IMG_9038 - Version 2 TRD copy 2 WM2x Twitter copy

SAFETY should be at the forefront of every decision related to working near the river. Even on your location scouting you should be recognizing the most practical areas for production that are SAFE! For more considerations to safe shooting on water (including rivers and others) consider a review of this blog post about Filming on Water.

Niobrara River kayakers LBLD Jamie Vesay WM IMG_9436 copy

Most of the LAND surrounding the river is private property. IF you have an inside track on a land owner or if you’re working for an entity with access to the river, you’re more than halfway there. If not, my advice is to partner with an Outfitter that knows and works the river. More than likely they own a piece of property that gives you river access and a base-camp to park, put-in, or get out.

Berry Bridge Campground at Niobrara river 514 LBLD Jamie Vesay WM IMG_9410 - Version 2

I recommend Brewer’s Canoers and Berry Bridge Campground. Mary and Randy are natives to the area and are wonderful collaborators. They provide canoes or kayaks and tubes, life-preservers, and many other elements to help your project happen. Check with their schedule though because they are in the river-fun business first and the tourist season can be very busy.

Niobrara River tubes LBLD Jamie Vesay WM IMG_9477 copy

Another idea for collaborating with a property as a shooting location is Smith Falls State Park. There is ample parking, modern restrooms, picnic tables and a shelter, and if you’re “roughing it” you can tent-camp at the riverside. The waterfalls of Smith Falls fame are not on the river proper. To see them, it is a hike down a trail, over a bridge, more trail, and up a wood walkway. The photo below is from the south side of the river in the state park.

Niobrara River at Smith Falls SP 514 LBLD Jamie Vesay WM IMG_9395 copy

The largest section of land is within the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge. 19K + acres are managed and permitted by U.S. Fish & Wildlife. Any filming within the Refuge boundaries will need to be approved and permitted. Note: there are NO TUBES permitted in the river within the Refuge property. Kayaks and canoes only.  Tubes may enter the river just east of the Refuge property.

Niobrara River from Buffalo Bridge in Frt Niobrara Wildlife Refuge 514 LBLD Jamie Vesay WM TRD IMG_9731 - Version 2

The length of the river between Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and Norden Chute BEGS TO BE SHOT WITH A DRONE. I’d love to see creative, cinematic shots: Low over the water of course, high past the bluffs, under the bridges, or through the bridges steel girders. I’ll give you this one: start it on the tube or kayak and lift off – or better yet; vice versa.

niobrara-river-jamie-vesay-trd-wm3x-img_9564-version-3-trd-crp-copy-2

For now, here are more MISCELLANEOUS Production tips:

  • Ideal times of year to work on the river are MAY (within the two weeks prior to Memorial Day ) or FALL (when foliage is changing). Reason for May is less people. The river tourist season gets going in June and summers can be crowded – unless that is what you need to shoot.
  • TRAVEL TIME (with production vehicles) from the town of Valentine to the river is 30+ minutes, depending on where you’re going. Allow more time to get to places further east.
  • Many ROADS in from the main asphalt highways of SR 20 and SR 12 – are DIRT and GRAVEL. The road to Smith Falls State Park is about four miles on gravel.
  • CELL SERVICE near the river is bad to non-existent (as of 2014). Texts worked in most places.
  • Children under the age of 12 in a Tube – MUST wear a LIFE JACKET.
  • Be aware of FIRE DANGER. In dry, hot summer months the risk is HIGH.
  • Note the SUN path and times of sunrise and sunset against the areas of the river you will be working. The bluffs and slight canyons could be in shadow.
  • The river DEPTH is as low as ankle-deep to 3 to 5 feet with deeper pockets sprinkled about.
  • The CURRENT can be slow to swift depending on time of year and recent rain.
  • Water CLARITY can be brown from sediment. Conflicting reports of it becoming more clear, slower, and lower as time moves closer to summer – if no large rain.
  • PUT IN points (and exits) have plastic mesh embedded in the ground. Practical for traction but not appealing if you are photographing there.

Go earlier in season.    Partner with an outfitter.    Be safe.     Have fun.

river-kayak-scout-jamie-vesay-trd-lbld-wm-img_9619-version-3-trd-copy

All PHOTOS and CONTENT  Copyright Jamie Vesay

Small Towns

 

Edited May 2019       There are many small towns in Nebraska.            

Since every vision of any project is subjective, and everybody’s definition of a small town is different, I will speak about this according to population, main street as the primary location, and a few tips from my experience of scouting and shooting in small town Nebraska.

McCook 2008 labed by Jamie Vesay WM 100_0089 copy 2

Firstly, what locations (in town) are required to meet your criteria? Movie theater? Bank? Church? Cafe? Or the entire main street? Maybe it’s the entire town. Two big things to think about: Is your project a period piece and what is the size of the town? For the latter, population defines what a small town will look like. It could be called a city or a town or even a village. Here’s a LIST of towns with a population of 1,000 to 6,000.In some smaller towns or villages, the current version of main street could be an eclectic  mix of storefronts, aluminum sheds, or garages. There are vacant spaces and empty lots that could either work for or against you. Here’s a list of smaller towns and villages less than 1,000 people.

Union June 2011 100_5079If you will be shooting most of your scenes on “Main Street”, consider a small town where the main drag is NOT the HIGHWAY. Your set will be safer, you’ll have less headaches, and there is little chance of angering residents and passers-by waiting because you stopped or diverted traffic. Of course, it isn’t impossible to shoot on a busy road like the one above (or busier) but for reasons of creative comfort and the ability to work more freely, I would recommend another choice. Most main streets off the busy highway tend to look better anyway.Seward Nebraska 2011 LBL Jamie Vesay WM DSCF2003Some small towns have more than one main street. It could be where the courthouse sits in the middle of a square (like in Seward above and below) or the “old” main street is a few blocks off the “new” main street. Seward has options of old and new looks and a highway through town.

Brick streets are cool but they aren’t always practical – either as a preferred design or wheeling wardrobe racks or camera carts over them or doing in-car driving shots . If you like brick, make sure the entire street is brick. See the photo below and the blend of brick and concrete.Ashland 2011 LBL Jamie Vesay WM 100_3091If you’re looking at surfaces of streets, watch for art or design elements. It could be a giant painted Shamrock (like in O’Neill) or a large compass in the middle of an intersection (Ashland). NOTE: the photo below was 2011. Current day, this compass is in tough shape.Ashland 2011 LBL Jamie Vesay WM 100_2829Your small town should have basic amenities for the crew, especially if you’ll be there for an extended period of time. Food, coffee, hardware, laundry, bar, and a pharmacy are all location assets. Newer brands or best lodging might be in the next town. Don’t forget about a nearby state park or homeowners renting rooms or entire houses. There is indeed such thing as small town hospitality.Annual festivals (that include a parade) are worth exploration.Wilber Czech parade 2011 LBL Jamie Vesay WM IMG_0971Maybe your project has a small town event scripted in the story or it is a character in your project. If it has nothing to do with the script and you want the run of the place, choose another time or town. Check small town website calendars and make sure you don’t conflict with events like these. It will be crowded and streets will be blocked or – the town may not want you to film at that time (especially if it isn’t related). But if you want a vast supply of people, props, vehicles, animals, colors, textures, flags, food, etc. – an event like this could be a great collaboration.Plattsmouth 2011 under construction LBL Jamie Vesay WM DSCF0256 copySpeaking of location conflicts, make sure your favorite small town isn’t under CONSTRUCTION. The above shot was one of those issues and I didn’t know about until I scouted – in person. Another reason why you should NOT SCOUT (and lock) locations via the internet! If you scout a town and LIKE it – but don’t see any construction, ASK about any plans. A public works project might be scheduled. And an important note about art direction and production design impacted by upgrades and remodels to small towns: From leveling a historic building to installing new curbs and sidewalks or railings and light posts, it all might suddenly look too nice and /or they might have eliminated your period piece look.Nebraska City 2011 LBL Jamie Vesay WM 100_5194Most DPs and Gaffers will prefer a location that exposes north or a place that does not expose hard and directly to the sun. Or maybe y’all prefer that sort of thing these days. My inner DP and experienced Location Scout is simply reminding you about the direction of a street (north to south vs. east to west) in relation to the time of day and year you will be shooting.

Plainview sunset 2012 Jamie Vesay WM LBL TRD photo (1)Finally, I encourage you to reach out to the town leaders and ask them to collaborate with you. We shot in the small town of Plainview for the movie Nebraska. Words can not express the incredible amount of cooperation, engagement, flexibility, and welcoming warmth received by this small town and the citizens. They became our collaborators and contributors.

Scout the many small towns of Nebraska. Drive around the state. Talk to the residents. Share your vision. Collaborate with an experienced pro like me. Be safe and have fun.

Words and photos Copyright Jamie Vesay.