Location Scouting for Your Project

Location, B-City, Jolie Miji
Location from “B-City”, web series by Jolie Miji. Indoor view of same location is in next photo. (photo from author)

Introduction

I have always enjoyed those parts of TV shows and films that are shot on location (albeit outdoors or indoors) as opposed to a backlot or soundstage. Let’s briefly touch on some of the considerations involved in determining locations and the shooting at these locations.  The photos in this post are from two productions of which I have been a part.

Finding suitable locations is an important part of pre-production.  The Location Scouting process is searching for, documenting, and securing locations.

Why shoot on location?   Many filmmakers do not have access to a studio. Besides, unlike in the golden age of Hollywood, there are not as many studios with expansive backlots and soundstages. Independent of that, from a financial consideration, it is cost-effective to lease or rent an indoor location and/or get a permit to use an outdoor location.

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. Please consult with a legal professional if you want to properly procure locations in your project.

Location, B-City, Jolie Miji
Location from “B-City”, web series by Jolie Miji. Outdoor view of same location is in previous photo. (photo from author)

Script Determines Location

The first rule of location scouting is to look for locations that match the setting of your story. Of course it is possible for a given physical location to double as something else. It is desirable to have multiple locations in close proximity to each other, as this is more efficient and saves time and travel.

Get Permission to Use Location

Securing locations involve legal agreements, permits, insurance, and fees; between a property owner and the producer, or between a municipality and the producer.

Power for Your Location

Evaluate your power options at your location, to ensure power to your cameras, lights, etc. It may be a combination of batteries, plug in to AC, or an electrical generator. Is there a place to plug in your chargers?

Shooting Space in Your Location

Make sure all the personnel and equipment can fit within the desired shooting space and you have access to all parts of the space from where you want to shoot.

location "Collision Envisage"
Location in “Collision Envisage”, film in production by Sharrie Mccain (photo from author)

Lighting for Your Location

For indoor locations, make sure the light level is adequate. If windows are present, light levels can be adjusted via blinds or curtains. Otherwise, additional lighting will be required. For outdoor locations, the sun is always changing position so light and shadows are also variable. A reflector may be required to adequately direct sunlight to illuminate faces.

Audio for Your Location

When scouting a location, become familiar with the ambient noise conditions, as well as potential out-of-the-ordinary sounds such as planes flying overhead frequently, or noisy traffic on a busy street, or natural sounds such as a babbling brook or rustling leaves.

Best Time to Scout for Your Location

Good idea It is best to scout a location on the day of week/time of day that you will be shooting. This way you get the most accurate indication of typical sights and sounds such as traffic, crowds, and lighting conditions.

Environment for Your Location

Be aware of the environmental conditions of a location: muddy, sandy, salty, dusty, moist, hot, cold, etc., in the context of handling and protection of the equipment. Be prepared to take precautions to avoid damage to the camera and other equipment.

Document Your Location

Have your location scouting kit with you, allowing you to take detailed notes, still photos, and test audios/videos of potential locations for evaluation.

Even if a particular location is not right for your current project, it may be useful in the future. So collect information on all potential locations.

References

  • Cathrine Kellison, Dustin Morrow, Kacey Morrow, Producing for TV and New Media, 3rd Edition, 2013, Focal Press
  • Videomaker
  • Wikipedia: Location Scouting

Conclusion

Filmmaking is not easy.  Coming up with the right locations for your project is very important.  Locations are really part of the story and advance the story, just as the dialog does.

Please provide feedback or questions in the Comments.  I would really enjoy hearing from you.


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