Summer blockbuster films seem to be filmed in a dizzying number of exotic locations, from the far off islands of Figi to a black hole near the planet Vulcan. When creating a low budget film or movie, recreating these places may seem way outside any realm of possibility, but with a little imagination and creativity, your low budget film or video can take place someplace other than a rented warehouse or your backyard.
You do not need to create a set if you can find a ready-made set. A university open at midnight, a public park, an abandoned building, local graveyards, or a church are examples of all kinds of locations that can easily be usurped for location shots. Of course, be sure to leave the property the same way you found it and get any permissions you need, as necessary.
Try to emphasize those elements that might make your location more believable. Remember the audience members will only see the finished cut of your film or video. They will not know that the eerie cabin in the woods was really in the middle of a golf course if you use smart camera angles, carefully placed props, and interspersed footage of a some scary woods. Otherworldly scenes and fantasy scenes may be a little trickier. Opt for a few believable elements instead of delving into absolute cheesiness (unless that is what you want). Experiment with different ideas, as well. Does the inside of a space ship have to resemble the Starship Enterprise or something from Star Wars, or can it have an entirely different look (a spartan German expressionist inspired room or even the inside of a Chuck E. Cheese)?
Sometimes acquiring a large set can be a problem. Use perspective to your advantage. Clever camera angles can make a single room become a spacious mansion. Avoid large panoramas and instead opt for close shots, partially blocked with props or actors. Use camera placement to trick the eye.
Miniature sets and animation have been used almost since the beginning of film history to create other worlds and recreate entire cities. A carefully created miniature can save your film thousands, or even just give you those one or two shots that would be impossible to create without some serious visual effects software. Miniature sets are often a lot more time-efficient than computer generated imagery if your computer is slow or no one on your team has animation experience. While storyboarding, try to see what elements may be more efficiently worked out with a miniature. Then you can dedicate more time to complex scenes. Ready-made furniture and props can be bought at craft shops, the toy store, or even the dollar store. Remember to always have a spare handy if any pieces are slotted to be destroyed. You never know when you have to reshoot a previous scene with a now imploded apartment building.