If you're filming an indie crime movie in Los Angeles, then you are probably wondering how to differentiate yourself from all of the other low-budget crime dramas. You don't want to get lost in the mix. While a great screenplay and actors are essential, you also need to create something visually impressive and distinct to set yourself apart. Here are a few cool ideas to consider.
Get Inspiration from L.A. Architecture
You should take advantage of the amazing variety of architecture in Los Angeles. Look for inspiration in the films of David Fincher (Seven and Zodiac both utilize downtown LA) and Robert Altman (particularly Short Cuts and The Player). Downtown Los Angeles is home to some truly amazing buildings, including the Bradbury Building (which was utilized most famously in Blade Runner), but there are countless others you should have your location scout check out and take photos of so you can decide where you would like to shoot. It's often much more visually appealing to get a nice exterior establishing shot and then switch into your interior locales than it is to bounce from one interior to another with no sense of the Los Angeles cityscape.
Take Inspiration from Your Favorite Artists
Besides using the cityscape to your advantage, you should look to your favorite artists for inspiration. For instance, Ridley Scott (again, with Blade Runner) used Hoppers Nighthawks painting as inspiration for his set design. Also, you can see the direct inspiration in Michael Mann's L.A. crime masterpiece Heat. He created a virtual replica in one scene of the Nova Scotia artist Alex Colville's painting Pacific.
You don't even have to go so far as to do a direct homage with the exact mise-en-scene; you could just be inspired by a color pattern. So instead of having two characters sitting against a regular colored wall, you could throw up pop art or abstract poster from an artist such as Warhol or Pollack to liven up the space and give it more visual interest.
Use Beach and Surf Ambiance for Extra Visuals
Finally, you should never forget that Los Angeles is right on the ocean. While you might not be filming a Point Break–style caper, nevertheless the ocean is a fantastic way to add visual interest to the film. Instead of having a scene where your characters are inside talking, it would be much more exciting to have them talking on a pier near the ocean or while walking along the beach.
If you really want to create some exciting visuals, then you can have one of the characters be a surfer. You could throw in some surf shots while establishing their character. Instead of filming the person running at a gym or playing basketball, you could get a cinematographer that knows how to handle surf footage (proper camera setups in the water) and use these to flesh out the character and also make the movie super exciting.
Filming surf footage is a very tricky process. You need to have the right camera setups to get it right. The cameras need to be completely saltwater proof and also have special stabilizing mounts. You can either attach the camera to your actor's surf board, or, if you're looking for a wide shot (like those in classics such as Big Wednesday, Point Break, and Blue Crush), then you will need your DP to ride alongside (normally on the back of a jetski with someone else driving). Talk to a company such as Lieber Films to learn more about surf cinematography.