Scouting Locations For Film [7 Simple Tips]

Scouting Locations For Film
Scouting Locations For Film

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In this article, we give you our top tips on scouting locations for filming including a free location release form at the end.

Sourcing the right location is an important part of any film production, and naturally, you don’t want to waste time scouting the wrong place. But there is more to it than just finding the perfect look.

Often, during a film recce, the practicality of a location can be overlooked just because the director really likes it. Unfortunately, this can end in disappointment when the producer shuts down the location because it just not practical.

When scouting locations, permission, and safety must be considered, no matter how small the production may be. So without further ado, here are our 7 simple tips when scouting locations for filming.

1. Know The Script

Firstly, during pre-production read the script thoroughly and note down every scene – interior, and exterior, no matter how minor.

Then get a brief from the Director (if that’s not you) on each required location. Compare reference images that fit the brief to confirm you’re on track before you scout locations.

The script may say what the location is and whether it’s interior or exterior. however, it’s worth checking if there’s a chance the Director might film both the inside and outside.

Moreover, here are some further questions to ask;

  • With a building, such as a shop, house, or cafe – do you need to consider the surrounding buildings?
  • With public places, parks, streets, and roads get descriptive – are you scouting for an empty park or a windy road, for example?
  • If your location is a natural landscape like farmland, a desert, jungle, or mountains – does it need to be geographically specific?

Interiors of vehicles are also locations, so find out what type of car you’re scouting for.

Perhaps your location is simply a large working space to rig a greenscreen or VFX setup. In this instance, be sure you understand the rigging requirements before you approach a location.

2. What Does The Film Location Need To Have?

This can be a range of things, but consider;

  • Architectural style
  • Time period or historic era
  • Size, scale, stature – grand, luxurious, or “everyday”
  • Age and character – old, new, clean, or lived-in
  • The color palette
  • Specific layout
  • Interior design
  • Character features

Although set dressing is essential to elevating the look and feel of any location, it’s great to scout locations that already tick a lot of boxes.

3. How Accessible Is The Location?

Shooting locations

Firstly, a location 20 floors up will not work if the gaffer needs to rig lights outside the windows. Likewise, that little beach cove (perfect for a tropical desert island) is useless if the crew has to carry gear by foot in the sand to reach it!

Secondly, think about space. The brief may be a “tiny” house interior, but nevertheless, it needs to fit the camera, lights, and rest of the film crew inside. Check what toilet facilities are available and if the production needs to hire a honey wagon.

Also, look out for power access and consult your electrical department about what they need. A (silenced) generator might be required for the shoot.

Finally, you need to think about make-up and wardrobe, a green room for talent, an area where the crew can rest and eat meals, and a video village for clients or Execs. Also, crew and cast numbers creep up so never underestimate how many people you’ll need to find space for.

In addition, parking for lighting trucks, camera vans, crew, and unit vehicles all need to be considered when scouting locations.

4. Do You Need To Record Sound?

To clarify, is the location on a busy road? Is it near a school, in the city center, or in a business district? Is it easy to find?

Also, you need to consider the sound design. Locations near an airport or loud industrial area are not ideal if filming needs to stop every time a plane flies overhead or machinery is in operation.

5. Ask For Permission

As a location scout, you’ll need to door knock on lots of homes and businesses. Essentially, to explain what you’re doing, especially when taking photographs. This includes neighbors surrounding your targeted locations.

It’s important to make sure everyone is on board with the filming before the shoot day. Usually, people familiar with filming want to help. So, my advice is to always communicate well with those granting permission.

For example, explain what the production entails, provide details, and be honest about the time required, so there are no nasty surprises.  

In addition to this, local councils and sometimes police authorities need to give permission for filming, particularly in public spaces. Again, most are helpful and are used to handling filming requests.

Allow plenty of time to apply for permission – generally, a few weeks. However, for road closures that could be 1-2 months. And naturally, councils also charge fees for filming permits.

6. Is The Location Safe?

Film health and safety

You need to make a conscious effort when scouting locations to identify the safety measures that might be required. Consider the following:

  • Is it in a restricted area?
  • Is the traffic controllable?
  • Are there any loose electrics, damaged or unsafe floors, walls, or roofs?

In short, dot your I’s and cross your T’s. 🤓

If you’re unsure, just ask yourself whether the location is safe enough for a member of the public to access it. It’s not worth risking the lives of cast and crew simply because the location looks “perfect”. If it’s not safe and you don’t have permission, essentially you cannot shoot there.

7. Location Costs

Lastly, besides paying a location fee, here are a few other extra costs to consider when scouting locations:

  • How many surrounding homes and businesses will be affected?
  • Are there any roads that have to be locked or controlled?
  • Do you need nearby parking or an area for a unit base?

Therefore, find out what the going rates are for location fees. Hired venues will have set fees in place.

However, for homes and businesses, you need to know what is reasonable. Although fees must also be negotiable based on the amount of time required and how much impact the production may have.

Also, work out alternative accommodation for homeowners should filming take place over a number of days.

Where To Search For Film Locations

Are you about to work on a production and need to scout locations? here are a few popular film location databases.

🇺🇸 USA🇬🇧 UK
Set ScouterFilming In England

And finally, here’s a handy location release form that enables you to cover the basics when you’re scouting.

FREE Location Release Form

Also, check out our library of other free production templates

Scouting Locations For Film – Wrapping Up

To sum up, it’s important to remember that with practice and experience location scouting will become second nature.

It can be a really rewarding part of filmmaking and many skilled location scouts can have long-standing careers. It’s a great way to build your reputation in the industry with local councils which will always be beneficial for all future projects as well.

In addition to this, it’s a great exercise to build a file of locations that you can pull from whenever you’re in need. Good luck and be safe! 👍

Natalie Lewis
Natalie Lewis
Natalie is a producer, production manager, and writer. She has extensive credits in large-scale TV commercials and advertising both in the UK and internationally.
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