A Guide to Successful Location Scouting (With Free Checklist)
How to make sure you plan your location scouting effectively.
Filming locations determine the appearance of a film. Before filming, they will be searched for, scouted, chosen and prepared. Their preparation is time consuming and labor intensive, so decisions should be made very early in preproduction.
Let's take a look at everything you need to consider in order to manage your scouting effectively.
Where Should Filming Take Place?
The most obvious question, but often the most difficult to answer.
Let The Script Guide You
This question is asked at the very beginning, long before scouting begins. The guidelines of the script play a crucial role in how to approach an answer. It obviously makes no sense to make a movie about a seaside town in the mountains, for example. But the location that the script calls for is not automatically the best place to shoot either - if only one scene takes place on the beach, it may very well make artistic and economic sense to make the film in the mountains and travel to the seaside for a day's shooting.
Economic necessities also play an essential role in finding a location. Tax breaks or support programs provide a significant incentive for a producer to shoot in a specific region; The costs of personnel and technology also vary from location to location. The producer weighs everything together with the director and production designer and makes a decision.
What should the movie look like?
The desired visual style of the project will have an influence over which locations are suitable or not.
Studio or Real Location?
This question has already been asked when deciding where to shoot. It will be asked again at the beginning of the search for each set as the director will describe his or her ideas in detail to make sure suitable locations are found. The big question at the beginning is whether to use a studio or real-life sets? Studio sets are expensive, but can be optimized for the tasks of the script. In addition, they are unproblematic in use – the keyword is "control". Real-life sets on the other hand are cheaper, and less artificial than studio buildings in front of the camera, but are associated with more restrictions during shooting.
How Should Everything Appear?
Now you have to consider of the look of the film. Are you dealing with a lively, exuberant comedy? In this case, the filming locations should be colorful and over the top. In a tragic drama, however, the colors might be rather muted. Are we aiming for a modern film with contemporary sets or should everything be from a different era? With a period film, there are lots of things to factor in. The social position of the characters must be considered, especially in relation to each other. Based on these guidelines, the set designer, location manager and others tasked with finding the right sets start looking for options.
How Does The Set Search work?
Finding what you are looking for can be done in a variety of ways.
One reliable option is to use location databases, which are run by commercial location agencies as well as by non-commercial institutions such as film commissions. In these databases you can search for suitable filming locations and contacts will be provided to negotiate with. With these location suggestions, you can be almost certain that filming is possible and therefore you can avoid unwanted surprises when coordinating with the location owner or focusing on the logistic preparation. However, these locations are often not new and were previously seen in other films or series.
Working With A Scout
This disadvantage does not apply if the production itself is actively looking for possible locations. In many cases, a location scout will be tasked with this. He or she will look for details from the set designer and the location manager and share his or her finds with them. During this period, it is important to ensure that the proposals are not only based on artistic considerations, but also on other essential factors. In addition to artistic suitability, this means considering logistical and spatial suitability and the willingness of the location owner to allow filming at affordable costs.
But that's not all. In the location search, it must also be ensured that the sets can be combined harmoniously - if the film locations are all in proximity, it increases the flexibility of the shooting schedule. If you ignore logical considerations from the outset, you may end up with a location selected by the director that turns out to be inadequate or unrealistic. This is a very unpleasant situation which can be exacerbated by the associated loss of time leading to a serious crisis.
How Are Location Suggestions Coordinated?
Once the location suggestions start coming through, you have to figure out a logical way to visit all the key ones.
Figure Out A Logical Process
It would be inefficient if the director had to visit every potential location to get an impression. They have too much to do and lack the required time. The director and production design team therefore initially get a conception of each possible location based on photographs, taken by, for example, the location scout.
A software like Yamdu offers a way to upload them so that they can be shared with all relevant parties. Only locations that are suitable for shooting within the given proximity or cost parameters are suggested. Based on these photos, the director decides which proposals he wants to visit and which ones he doesn't.
The Location Scout - Where Do I Want To Shoot?
Now that it's time to do a location scout, what needs to be kept in mind?
Address The Key Questions
All locations previously pre-selected via photos will be visited and discussed on site by all of the key decision makers. For special locations, the producer or producers will also be on site.
At this point, all of these key questions must be answered: Can everything in the script be realized? What does the respective location bring with it? What supplementary things may be necessary? How can the locations be combined with each other to create a harmonious whole?
Logistical and organizational factors also play a role in the decision-making process: How can the location be used technically and logistically for filming? What does a location selection mean for the shooting process?
A location scout usually takes a whole working day. You should try to accommodate as many location suggestions as possible and visit all of them in an order that is logistically and psychologically favorable. If the director already has favorites, it can make sense to approach these first: If he or she decides on a shooting location, further suggestions no longer have to be visited. It is better, however, to let the impression sink in and only decide once there has been enough time to consider everything.
The amount of location scouts that will be necessary depends on many factors: the pace and decision-making of the director, the preparatory and anticipatory skills of the scene and location managers, the requirements of the script, the requirements of the locations and, of course, luck.
At the beginning of shooting all locations should be fixed. If this is not successful, further location tours will be scheduled after the end of shooting or on non-shooting days.
What Happens Next?
Now it's time to visualize the scene physically, by mapping out the real actor and camera movements in the actual location.
How Will The Action Unfold?
Now the director and the cinematographer get going. After a location decision has been made, they sit down and think about how they want to actualize the scenes in relation to staging and technical considerations: A list of all camera settings that are necessary for the realization of a scene will be created at this point.
To do this, they imagine the positions and movements of the actors in the room and how they want to behave with the camera. The basis for the camera setting list are the floorplans of the locations and detailed location photos. Sometimes the director and the camera also create a storyboard that captures camera settings in the form of small, drawn images.
Technical Inspection - How Do I Want To Shoot?
It's time to figure out the logistics required to get all the important pieces together for shooting at the location.
Inform The Crew
The decisions of the director and cinematographer must now be communicated to the staff, so that they can prepare the location and the shooting artistically, technically and logistically. This happens as part of a technical scout. In contrast to the first location survey, this focuses on the implementation and takes place shortly before shooting. The technical staff - with the exception of the cameraman - usually sees the filming locations for the first time, and for many of them it is the first chance to assess the location. However, software like Yamdu can ensure that photos and at least basic information about the locations are already known.
Preparation Is Key
A prerequisite for a technical scout is that the director and the cinematographer have completed their preparation with regard to the realization of each scene at a location. Once this has been done, the necessary scene-building, technical and logistical announcements can be made.
The filming locations are approached in succession and all of the following will be taken into account: shot plans, lighting positions, special camera positions, the use of special equipment, no parking zones. Necessary closures and artistic and technical changes will also be investigated. When it comes to sound engineering, any potentially disruptive noises will need to be located and the location will be prepared for recording. In short, the implementation is generally defined. The technical scout is overseen by the assistant director - it is their responsibility that no important information is forgotten.
What Can You Control?
An important keyword during the technical preparation of locations is control. Original locations are always prepared in such a way that shooting can be carried out in the most controlled way. This includes not only blocking, but control over all external influences at the respective location. In practice, you will rarely encounter original location shoots that take place entirely without restrictions. Shooting in a studio is not a problem in this regard - studios are designed from the outset for maximum control.
Download Yamdu's free Technical Scout Checklist to see exactly what you need to consider when assessing a location before shooting.
What Happens Before Shooting?
Departments Get To Work
All departments now know what should happen on the day of shooting and prepare their work area accordingly. The production design team either prepares the studio building or makes all the necessary structural changes to the location, for example by painting walls. Subsequently, the location will be set up completely. The lighting team and grip plan the use of their equipment, source additional necessities for the shooting day such as crampons or special lamps, and book extra staff if necessary.
Sound And Vision
The same applies to the camera and sound department. The assistant director casts the extras and books them and the line producer prepares the location logistically. In addition to obtaining all the necessary permits, this includes planning the infrastructure. The AD checks the possibilities offered by the location, for example with regard to premises and parking spaces, and sources necessary mobile infrastructure such as mobile generators and sanitary systems.
The better and more detailed the preparation of a location is, the less goes wrong on the day of shooting. Proper location scouting and preparation is essential to ensure that nothing avoidable stands in the way of a successful shoot.
If you want to manage your location scouting better, check out Yamdu today.