Location Scouting: 8 Tips to Get You Started
For any production, no matter the size or style, it is important to scout your locations ahead of time whenever possible. For me, I make sure to build this into the budget. This is important so you are not only prepared but so you are also able to avoid issues that arise unexpectedly when shooting. For this post, what I want to do is provide insight into things to look at when scouting a location.
For many people, location scouting is part of the process that is overlooked, especially on smaller budget corporate projects. When it comes to using a location, it usually happens in one of two ways. The first (usually when budgets are smaller) is that you are working with a client and don’t have an option in the space you are working in. For these situations, it is key that you scout the location so you can make sure you have the gear you need. The second way is when you are given a story and have the opportunity to pick a location that works for you and the story. This way is by far the most preferred but isn’t always possible.
When it comes to the scouting itself, here are the things that I take into consideration when scouting the locations.
1. Breakdown your script.
When starting with any production, make sure to breakdown your script. This is usually first done by a producer and first AD. Once this script is broken down to determine the production needs, the director and director of photography will then each do a breakdown to deal with individual creative/production needs.
Without getting into too much detail on this portion of pre-production, we will assume for this that you are the person determining if a location will work for you. The first question you need to ask yourself is if the location works for the story you are trying to tell. Does it meet the specific needs of the production? When you are given a location, how are you going to use this location to best capture this story?
While scouting, make sure to take a bunch of notes and take a bunch of pictures as well to share with the crew. Giving as much information to everyone as possible while help to ensure everyone is prepped before the shoot.
2. Scout at the same time of day you plan to shoot.
The time in which you scout always plays a huge role. I don’t know how many times I have scouted a location at a different time than I was actually planning to shoot and was then confronted by unexpected noise, traffic and / or major lighting changes. If you are able to scout at a similar time to when you are planning to shoot, you will be able to plan more accurately when it comes to setups and gear needs. I’ve found that this has saved me money and has also reduced the amount of gear on a lot of shoots by ensuring you are only bringing what is needed.
If it just isn’t possible, try ask people aware of the space if they know what it is like at the time you would shoot. These people generally have a good idea of the flow of the given space.
3. Create a lighting plan.
Lighting is one of the most important things to figure out before the shoot as it will drastically affect how much equipment you bring with you. I first think of the look I am wanting and then determine what needs to happen to achieve that. When I look at locations, I first look to see if I am able to use practicals. If the natural lights or fixtures are close to what I like, I will then find out if the given location can have the bulbs swapped out to something that works better for shooting. If that is an option, I start there. It that isn’t an option, I will then look at the path of least resistance.
As you’re scouting these locations, pay attention to whether a given spot is in full sun, partial sun or full shade. How will this lighting change throughout your shoot day? Will you need to block out the sun and create artificial light or can you roll with the natural light? If I am able to roll with natural light for my ambient, I will definitely roll with that. However, if it will change while shooting, I will then adjust accordingly. Using an app such as SunSeeker to track the path of the sun during your shoot will also help with this.
4. Determine power source.
The first thing I generally look at when at a location is the power options. When there are power options on location, make sure to ask permission before plugging anything in and also make sure to ask where the breakers are as well. When it comes to working with larger lights, you will want to make sure that you will be able to source power and have someone that understands load capacities BEFORE plugging anything in. The last thing you want to do is kill the power to someone’s space when they are working.
5. Plan your coverage.
When shooting in some spaces, you may be limited with the amount of room you have to work in and may have issues with coverage. When scouting, determine how you plan to shoot the scene and whether the given location will actually work for you. I’ve been asked to shoot in some very tight spaces and by knowing this ahead of time, you are able to determine what gear will work to capture the given scene.
6. Create a strong logistics plan.
Out of all the things to plan, having a strong logistics plan will keep your crew happy and production rolling. When coming up with a logistics plan, I look at this as the lifeline of your shoot. When you are able solve the basic human needs of food, shelter and safety, your crew is able to focus on your shoot.
Find out if there are washrooms available that your crew can use and whether or not parking is available. You may have to secure off site arrangements so make sure you are aware of this ahead of time.
Another thing to consider is where you will store your gear when shooting as well as where you will house your craft services. I generally try establish a base camp that is fairly close to where we are shooting to make sure everything is close when we need it. Make sure that there’s adequate space for you to set up all your gear, so that you’re able to get the shots you have in mind.
7. Listen to ambient noise.
Location audio can make or break a shoot. When looking at a given location, determine if you will actually be able to capture clean audio. Clean, high-quality sound is critical. Things to be aware of are traffic noises, intercoms, AC / VAC systems, ambient music, refrigerators, etc. I will generally ask the person I am doing the scout with whether or not these elements can be turned off. In most situations (outside of traffic) they can be accommodating.
8. Get permission / permits when needed.
Be aware that you’ll need to secure permits and other legal permissions to shoot at certain locations. As you’re looking at a location, understand ahead of time if it is needed and ensure you leave enough lead time to secure any permits.
Although just a few tips to get you started, they are things that will help your shoot go much smoother. One thing to keep in mind when shooting at these locations is that you treat the locations like you would treat your home. PLEASE RESPECT THESE LOCATIONS! I don’t know how many times I have tried to secure a location to only be turned away because of a previous bad experience a given location had due to an irresponsible production company. You never know when you might need to return so by ensuring the experience is positive for everyone involved, you will be able to keep those options open for future shoots.
If you would like some further reading on location scouting, I talk about it in the post / video on story, scheduling and scouting. Also, if you have any tips to share, please comment below. I am always open to improving the experience for all involved so if you have some tips that have worked for you, let me know!!