Usually it takes more than a year to film a good movie. Some movies take place in only one season. For example, Home Alone takes place in winter.

How do they manage to film a two-hour movie in three or even less months? They can not change the location of filming, it's (maybe) impossible to create the season artificially, then how do they do it?

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    Stephen Tobolowsky, who played Ned in Groundhog Day, has a very interesting series of podcasts where he discusses the problems they had filming a movie where everything has to reset and be the exact same weather over and over, but the outdoor shots obviously took more than a day to do. Even things like getting footprints out of snow was a tricky problem. Jan 13, 2019 at 19:54
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    @EricLippert if you happen to have a link, it would be awesome
    – Morgen
    Jan 13, 2019 at 23:51
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    it's impossible to create the season artificially Oh no it's not! There is an entire production department whose job this is and a substantial portion of the budget is devoted to it. Also, they cheat a lot. For example, About a boy is supposed to take place in London in the run up to Xmas, but street scenes frequently show real people strolling about in shirt sleeves. Jan 14, 2019 at 8:46
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    “Usually it takes more than a year to film a good movie” — The Godfather was filmed in three months. Overall production takes a long time, but I believe it's rare for a movie to spend a year on just the filming part. Jan 14, 2019 at 11:17
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    “They can not change the location of filming” — why not? X-Men was set in New York, but filmed in Canada Jan 14, 2019 at 11:25

2 Answers 2


Principal photography, where the actors are in front of the camera, usually takes less than 3 months. But principal photography is just one part of producing a movie. The whole process can take a year or more. Movie production is generally broken into 3 stages:

  1. Pre-production: The script is finalized, crew and cast are hired, there are rehearsals, teams build the sets and scout locations, make costumes, props, apply for permits, etc. This usually takes several months.

  2. Principal photography: The actors are on sets, or on locations, being filmed. This takes 1-3 months, typically.

  3. Post-production: Edit the film, score the film, add special effects, ADR (recording the audio of voice-overs and the like), marketing, etc. This is often the longest part of a film's production schedule, commonly taking 6 months or more.

So principal photography can easily be completed within one season. But it doesn't even need to be. As others have pointed out, much of what you see is "movie magic": fake snow on the ground, the actors pretending to be cold when it's actually summertime, etc. Also, the environment only needs to look like a particular season for shots taken outdoors! If the actors are indoors, they can shoot that at any time of the year that they want.

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    just out of cussedness they usually film winter in summer & summer in winter, though - schedules being more important that the comfort of the cast ;-)) I can remember working in snowdrifts whilst trying to shoot 'girls in spangly shorts' doing a 'summer gala' for Eastenders & also a sub-zero 'bikini contest' for Endeavour.
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 13, 2019 at 16:18
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    oh.. & 'Good Omens' - summer in Soho? Nope... 2 ft of snow on a disused airfield in Buckinghamshire plus a lot of hand-held gas burners to melt it off every morning...
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 13, 2019 at 17:09
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    Also, they don’t generally film the scenes in “chronological” order. For the home_alone example, do all the scenes in the backyard, then all the scenes in the park, then cellar scenes, etc.
    – WGroleau
    Jan 14, 2019 at 2:10
  • @Tetsujin I wouldn't say that's "usually" true, but it does occur frequently. Studios certainly do try to film during the appropriate months, when possible.
    – user91988
    Jan 15, 2019 at 21:57
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    @only_pro - actually, you're simply arguing, without providing an answer or any other support for your claim. Write an answer. Back it up with real-life experience or links to relevant documentation. Then the voting system will be your reward... & I won't have to keep replying to this increasingly pointless thread:\
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 17, 2019 at 16:35

To start with a single aspect of this, 'winter'... [others below]

Fake snow is big business.

In the UK, the snow companies are busiest in summer, when it's [theoretically] least likely to rain and spoil the effect.

From my own answer on Why does snow appear to go up in movies?

I've seen sets dressed for snow and worked on scenes using it, but I don't know the full technical details, so I'm going to have to skirt the 'hard data' a bit.

The basic types I've seen are made of paper [wet or dry], foam, cellulose and formaldehyde.

The very light 'snow' is formaldehyde, burned as candles - that will definitely give the look in the Gladiator clip.

Foam, as far as I know, is used for heavier snowfall.

Paper and cellulose are also used to make snow-fall, but I've never seen those in real life, only on other people's footage. I've seen it laid down on the ground as a blanket effect prior to the shoot, but not used as fall. Paper is extremely good for ground-coverage. If you wet it slightly it even holds footprints that look and feel entirely convincing even when they're your own feet making them and it's 30°C in the shade.

Have a look at Snow Business, a UK company, for the myriad ways they have of trying to convince you it's actually snowing.

...and I only just realised, that's the company who did the snow for Gladiator! See the page on Snow Sticks

Here's a rare picture of a set in the middle of being dressed for snow for the xmas episode - this was taken in mid-July, the temperature was about 30°C. The 'snow' on the ground is predominantly paper or cellulose, slightly damp - as you can see in the foreground it is holding footprints well. By the time they'd finished, it was deeper than this and covered most of the set; walking across it would leave prints but not show the ground underneath.

enter image description here

I found this - I didn't work on the show the year they did "The Big Freeze" my shot is from a couple of years earlier - but they made a special on 'the making of', posted to YouTube...

Perhaps equally important, principal photography is unlikely to span a year - more like 2 months, whatever the weather.
Of that period, rarely will all shots take place outdoors. Indoors, of course, the 'weather' can be anything you like.

Outdoor sequences need only to not be raining heavily [you can't see light rain on camera at all, your only clue is dark spots on clothing] when it's supposed to be sunny and vice versa. The rest can be covered by lighting on-set and colour grading in post-production.
Using the first picture above, if they needed flat light on the principals rather than direct sunlight, they could hang one of those large diffusers [the white square flags in the shadows by the main building] right in the way of the sun. That would turn a sunny day [point light] into a cloudy day [diffuse light].

I had a late thought... a movie I worked on a few years ago - Rush
These two races were filmed on the same day, on the same [huge] outdoor location. Buildings are mainly CGI [but not the pits, camera left in the first shot], however a lot of the crowd & almost all the cars are real [many of them were the actual cars from those actual historic races]. Rumour at the time said this was the biggest bowser [rain machine] ever made. I can't find info to prove that true or false.
The lower pic looks more like the actual weather on the day - bit sunny/cloudy, though we filmed in winter, so it wasn't as warm as it looks.

enter image description here

Credit: https://www.carthrottle.com/post/this-is-why-rush-will-be-the-greatest-f1-film-ever-made/

enter image description here

Credit: https://myreelpov.wordpress.com/2013/10/13/a-wise-man-can-learn-more-from-his-enemies-than-a-fool-from-his-friends-rush/

  • Just to add on - the snow could be real but in exterior shots. Interior shots could very well be at any time in the year with some fake snow on the window.
    – VLAZ
    Jan 14, 2019 at 7:42
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    Real snow, other than for establishing shots, has one major disadvantage. Once you walked on it, that's it. Every subsequent take will have a greater number of footprints. Some movies get lucky - Nativity Rocks was filmed in March in real snow. Last Christmas took advantage of the xmas lights in London's West End, by actually filming over Dec/Jan, overnight so the passers-by could be extras, not 'real shoppers'.
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 14, 2019 at 9:54

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