12 Location scouting tips
A solid set of locations is key to a smooth shoot. Competent scouting will help you avoid a bunch off possible problems that can happen on any set. Here are a few tips to assure you’re well prepared.
Break down the script after it’s locked to establish what you want from each location. Remember, it’s just a tool helping you to tell the story, like anything else, so don’t get distracted by cool, but irrelevant locations. Find the ones that are best for your script and characters.
Ask around - people may already know feasible solutions. Google places before going there in person - this will narrow your search down.
Once you’re there, take lots of pictures, record test footage, draw a location map, write down all the pros and cons. Come up with several locations to have a reasonable choice - most likely none of them will be perfect, but at least one’s advantages will outweigh its drawbacks.
Better large, then small - a spacey room is more likely to fit more people and equipment. And you can make it look cramped on screen, but hardly the other way around.
Pay attention not only to the looks of the place, but also to its sound and light conditions. Also take note where the sun is during the day and how it affects the place - it’s vital for cinematography.
Lack of light in closed spaces or abundance of traffic noise, humming of the ventilation are a pain in the neck when it comes to shooting.
Check for power sources. Not all of the locations can handle a full-scale shoot, especially if you’re going to use a lot of powerful lights. You’d like to avoid circuit breaks when you plug in all your equipment, so a generator may be handy. Note though, that it produces a lot of noise itself.
Always keep logistics in mind. Is there enough parking space? How close the location is to means of transport, catering facilities, other movie locations? You don’t want to use half of the day just getting there or moving people and equipment between places
Toilet facilities. Are they at hand? Never forget about that - primal needs are not to be taken lightly. You’ll also need a quiet room where actors can make up and get ready. And preferably yet another room apart from the set where people can eat and chill during breaks.
Negotiate with owners, knowing in advance the estimated crew and equipment list - they might be not okay with you setting up a crane or something like that. Draw up a location agreement to be sure. Have a rainy day clause - you never know if you’ll need an extra shooting day because of a sudden weather change. Try to smooth talk and get the best deal - some business owners would be excited if you just promise them a mention in the credits.
Places that are abandoned or about to be demolished might be a good solution in terms of keeping the film shooting cost down.
Find out about possible legal restrictions. Who do you need to apply to in order to get a permission to shoot? Can you do without one, provided you have a skeleton crew and limited equipment? Is it a public space or private property? Are you going to impede traffic in any way or block an entrance to a residential building? Shoot something you’re not supposed to?
You don’t want any headache on the day of the shoot, much less authorities intervening.
Put flyers in the mailboxes and warn everyone you have to warn. This way you’ll lower the chances of neighbors complaining or calling the police.
Do the technical scout once the decision is made. Key members of the crew - cinematographer, grip, electrician, sound recordist - all of them would like to know the specifics of a location before the actual shoot begins.
Keep all that in mind and you’ll find what you’re looking for. It can be time-consuming and even frustrating at times (especially the paperwork part), but it really pays off when you nail it. Good hunting!