Scouting Locations For Filming

12 Tips On Scouting Locations For Filming

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

Sourcing the right location is an integral 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 in favour of aesthetic or because the Director really likes it.

Consequently, this can result in disappointment when the Producer shuts down the location because it just isn’t practical.

When scouting locations, permission and safety must be considered, no matter how small the production may be.

So without further ado, here’s our 12 Tips on Scouting Locations For Filming. These tips are broken down into the three key areas:

  • Creative & Narrative
  • Practicality & Logistics
  • Permissions & Safety

Creative & Narrative

[Scouting Locations]

Location scouting

1. Know the Script

First and foremost, during pre-production read the script thoroughly and note down every scene – interior, 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.

2. Ask the right questions when scouting 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, roads get descriptive – are you scouting for a derelict 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, for example, you’re scouting for. Or perhaps your location is simply a large working space to rig a greenscreen or VFX set up.

In this instance, be sure you understand the rigging requirements before you approach a location.

3. What look and feel does it need to have?

Undoubtedly, this can be a myriad 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 colour 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.

Practicality & logistics

[Scouting Locations]

Shooting locations

4. How accessible it the location?

For instance, 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 crew have to carry gear by foot in the sand to reach it!

5. How practical is the working 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 – will production need to hire a honeywagon?

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

6. Does the location have a sufficient area off set for a unit base?

Furthermore, you need to think about make-up and wardrobe, a greenroom for talent, an area where crew can rest and eat meals and 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.

7. Is there adequate parking?

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

filming cars vehicle

8. What is the surrounding area like?

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

Furthermore, you need to consider sound. 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.

9. What are the location owners and neighbours like?

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 neighbours surrounding your targeted locations.

It’s important to make sure everyone is on board with the filming before the shoot day.

Here’s a good example of a location scouting letter which you could use.

10. Consider costs when scouting locations

Besides paying a location fee, here’s a few other additional 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.

Consider alternative accommodation for home owners should filming take place over a number of days.

Permissions and Safety

[Scouting Locations]

Film health and safety

11. Be Professional and ask for permission

As simple as that. Usually, locations familiar with filming want to help. So, my advice is to always communicate well with those granting permission.

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

Furthermore, 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.

12. Is it Safe? Period.

Lastly, you need to make a conscious effort when scouting locations to identify the safety measures that might be required. Consider from the outset how safe the location seems as it stands;

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

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.

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

Wrapping Up – Scouting Locations

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that with practice and experience location scouting will become second knowledge.

It can be a really rewarding part of film-making 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.

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

Good luck and be safe! 👍

Disclaimer: This article is purely for informational purposes, not legal advice. The Video Collective, its editors and authors will not be held responsible for any legal issues the reader might encounter based on the subjects found in this post.

Film Production, Filmmaking Tips, Pre-Production

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