Location Scouting 101

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Location Scouting 101

A filmmaker’s guide to finding that perfect location

“Location, location, location!” has long been the motto for the real estate industry, but it is just as important in filmmaking. Look at its history, could you imagine Lord of the Rings taking place anywhere other than New Zealand’s “Middle Earth”? Then there’s Central Park in New York City, which has become a cliche as a character in itself. Whether you’re working on a Hollywood blockbuster, a tightly budgeted commercial, or helping your niece with her unintentionally surrealist film school project, location scouting is an essential element of filmmaking.

What it comes down to is that there’s a lot more to location scouting than just finding a pretty place. Here we offer our tips for finding your perfect set, from technical requirements to audio considerations to the basics like washrooms and holding areas. Good luck!

Technical Requirements

When picking a location, make sure you consider all things tech-related. Does it have enough power resources? If not, how will using a generator affect the production? Is there room to store equipment? How about a holding area for the extras and actors? You also need to consider noise. If you’re filming on a busy street, will you be able to get the sound quality you need? When location scouting, think about how the variables in a location can affect the technical side of things.

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Storyline

Say you’re working on a period piece set in the early 1800’s. You’re filming a woman walking down a brick lane, dressed in Victorian attire and carrying an ornamental parasol. Everything looks authentic until you see that 2003 Honda Civic lurking in the distance. To avoid this kind of mistake, think about how the location lends to the overall storytelling element.

Bring What You Need

When location scouting, you might need more than just a computer. If you can’t bring someone from your tech crew, make sure to carry a tape measure, sound recorder, a light meter and a friend who can act as a stand-in, if needed. If you’re really feeling frisky, why not start filming? It might give you a better context than a still.

Hour, hour, hour!

Make sure you go to your prospective location at the same time of day as when you’ll be shooting! Especially if it is outdoor. We’re really just stating the obvious here!

The Basics

If you don’t have clean and accessible washrooms, you’re going to have a big problem. The same goes for a holding area. For performers, both background and principle, having a designated place off-set are essential. Really, who wants a wandering extra to ruin the money shot?

Weather

Another no-brainer with location scouting. If it’s literally going to rain on your staged Mardi Gras parade, how are you going to deal? Think big picture, as even one light shower can send a wardrobe team into panic mode, not to mention equipment that doesn’t have proper protection.

Apps

There are plenty of apps available for location scouting. Scoutt, MapAPic, and LightTrac are just a few of what’s on the market these days.

Permits

Needless to say, you’re going to need permits for certain locations. Whether you’re filming in a public place, a private park, or a busy street, make sure you do your research before committing. If you’re doing it guerrilla style, power to you!

Surroundings

Last but not least is something you might not think about from the get-go with location scouting. Surrounding businesses, particularly those with large volumes of moving people such as schools, malls, and community centers, could play a huge role in how you shoot. Plan around possible interruptions, because the last thing you need is an entire high school finishing school just as you’re shooting that pivotal scene in your Victorian drama you’ve been working on for five days straight!

 

We hope you liked our article on location scouting! For more inspiration, check out our article on Final Cut Pro vs Adobe Premiere and Five Essential Habits for Filmmakers.