Securing a location is one of the biggest and most important tasks of the pre-production phase. Choosing the right location significantly impacts the backdrop to your story and the quality of your final product.
To find a great location, you must conduct location scouts, a process that allows you to compare and evaluate different location options. This involves inspecting the location from a creative and logistical standpoint to ensure that it meets the requirements set forth by the shooting script. Location scouting is vital and a staple in every production, from film school shorts to Hollywood blockbusters.
To help streamline your location scout, we've created a location scouting checklist template which you can access below. This cloud-based template includes a comprehensive checklist to ensure you don’t forget any key elements required for your production. It is also fully customizable and can be used on all of your future projects.
This article will cover how to location scout for a film by highlighting essential scouting tips and the key film crew needed. This guide is categorized based on aesthetics, logistics, infrastructure, potential challenges, and potential advantages.
Key Crew for the Location Scout
Big budget productions will hire a team of location managers, called a location department, who organize the location scout. Location managers are also responsible for securing a location agreement with the property owners and applying for a film permit with the local government.
On lower budget shoots, a member of the production department may take on the responsibility. The line producer or production coordinator can take on the role of the location manager, while production assistants can also work as location scouts.
Location management involves finding potential location options, arranging a date and time for the scout and communicating this information with the key crew.
Key film crew members such as the director, producer, cinematographer, gaffer, key grip, production designer, and art director should be present for the location scout. Based on the project's scope, additional crew such as VFX supervisors, stunt coordinators, or special effects supervisors might also be present for a location scout.
Multiple location scouts are required during pre production before you secure a location. First, a location manager will complete a preliminary scout to assess the overall condition of the location. Once they have created a suitable shortlist of good locations, location managers will organize a technical scout (called the tech scout) for the heads of the departments in the film crew.
What to Consider During a Location Scout?
The aesthetics primarily refers to the creative requirements set forth by the script. First and foremost, the location manager must find locations that match the director and writer’s vision. If the story requires a Victorian mansion, then the location must match the visual aesthetic of a Victorian-era mansion that is lavish and grand. Similarly, if the script calls for a Wild West town, the location options must match the visual aesthetic of a small town with the appropriate buildings and props.
The director will typically consult with the production designer and cinematographer when contemplating the visual aesthetic. The production designer will consider any art design or props the script requires. They must also consider the location's color, architecture, and construction to ensure that the location matches the time period in which the film is set. The location scout is also a great time for the cinematographer and director to brainstorm ideas for the shot list. Being at the location gives them a real-time view of a particular shot’s frame, angle, movement, and more. They can also assess the natural light available and determine the lighting package required for the shoot. Cinematographers might even bring a miniature camera to record test footage during the location scout.
Logistics refers to the operational elements required to shoot in the location. Usually, this process is overseen by the head of the production department. For film production, a producer leads the discussion regarding logistics, but a production manager takes over this role in a commercial production. These individuals are responsible for ensuring that the location is suitable for production and comfortable for the crew.
During the location scout, the production team will determine the staging area for filmmaking equipment, the talent holding area, the video village, and the dining area. While you won’t be filming in these areas, they are equally important to the production’s success. Other ancillary considerations include parking arrangements and bathroom availability. Knowing the location’s limitations will allow you to plan and establish contingencies.
Some productions will also require early access to the location, allowing the G&E departments to pre-light and the art department to pre-dress. This saves the production a ton of time on the day of shooting. The final location scout is also a suitable time for the location manager, producer, and property owner to discuss the terms and conditions of the location agreement. If possible, ensure that the location agreement includes the ability to adjust dates in case of bad weather.
Infrastructure refers to the existing infrastructure built into the location. Evaluating the infrastructure of a location requires collaboration between the above and below the line film crew members.
One of the most important elements to consider is power. The producer and the gaffer must determine if the locations' circuits and outlets can accommodate the high-amperage lighting units. The production team and 1st AD (if present) must also look out for safety equipment, such as sprinklers and fire extinguishers, in case of a fire.
Additionally, modern-day productions run on digital documents and cloud collaboration. While it is not vital, there is a significant advantage if a location offers Wi-Fi as part of its rental agreement. This way, you can seamlessly update production documents in real time and avoid printing hard copies.
When evaluating each location, highlight all the possible challenges that may arise. The purpose of each scout is to eventually compare options and determine a great location that fits both creatively and logistically.
One crucial challenge in exterior locations is the noise level from street traffic, construction, nearby airports, or any other types of activities. Internal locations might also face the same problem in the form of noisy generators or appliances. Also, make a note of the properties immediately next to your location. Once you have hired a location, you will need the neighbors to sign off on your filming activities for the film permit application. Residential neighborhoods might not take too kindly to loud or overbearing productions, especially if you are planning night shoots. Talk to the property owners to get an idea of what the neighbors are like to ensure your production runs smoothly on the day of filming.
While it’s important to seek out potential problems, it is equally important to highlight any advantages that make a location superior. As a producer, one of your jobs is to maximize your budget, and location scouting can often reveal ways to cut costs.
For example, some locations offer great versatility, allowing you to film multiple scenes within the building. This will reduce traveling and company moves, thereby saving you money. Similarly, a good relationship with the property owners can also be an advantage, as they may offer a discounted price. Some locations, such as commercial studios or pre-constructed sets, also have grip and electric equipment on-site, so you can save money on renting and transporting equipment.
3 Tips for Location Scouting
Aim for Balance
When evaluating between options, choosing a location that can balance your creative and logistic requirements is important. Don’t compromise the safety or morale of the crew in favor of an aesthetically pleasing or cheap location. Similarly, don’t compromise your creative vision because a location is convenient.
Look for Versatility
Traveling between multiple locations within a day can be time-consuming and expensive. Each company move requires additional time to pack up, transport, and set up. This means you are wasting valuable time that could be spent filming. Try to find versatile locations that can be used for multiple scenes to limit the number of company moves.
Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate
When negotiating the location agreement, find creative ways to reduce the costs. Property owners of commercial locations might be open to giving discounts if you offer shoutouts, product placement, or referrals. If you are filming in a traditional location, like a house, ask your crew members for any referrals or suggestions, as they might have family or friends that will offer a better deal.
This article should provide you with a basic understanding of how to location scout for a film. The next step involves sitting down with key crew members to evaluate each location and pick the most suitable choice. To learn more about location scouting for Hollywood blockbusters, check out Assemble's article featuring La La Land’s Location Manager.