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12 Expert Location Scouting Tips

The Ultimate Guide

This is a complete guide covering the location scout tips.

In this all-new guide you’ll learn about:

  • Location scouting definition
  • Why location scouting is important
  • How location scouts find locations
  • Location scouting tips
  • Lots more
 
Hiring a location scout is often considered a luxury. While I will be discussing location scouting for filmmaking, the same applies to location scouting for photography.
 
Small filmmakers can only depend on their small crew to professionally scout their location. 
 
With that in mind, we figured that we should create an ultimate guide for location scouting.
 
We will start by explaining what is meant by location scouting, why are they so important, and then provide a number of scouting tips.
 
Let’s start with the basics, shall we?

Sections

Section 1:

The Fundamentals

In this section, we will cover the

  • Definition of location scouting
  • Why it’s important
  • How location scouts find locations
  • Difference between location manager and location scout

 

Let’s dive in.

What is Location Scouting?

The location scouting definition is to search for a place to shoot your video, movie, or photography session.

This process involves a lot of travelling, negotiating, observing, and also planning. 

Scouts are required to search for several locations that match the script. Based on the script, they are given checklists that need to be satisfied. 

There is also a technical scout where the producer, G.A, Director, The Gaffer, and other necessary departments discuss the technical parts. 

They will figure the best way to shoot while considering the limitations of the location.

It is like searching for a date location for your significant other. 

You pick some of your favorite areas and eliminate them one by one according to the date theme/plan.

Photo by Pixabay

Why is Location Scouting Important?

Scouts determine how well the shooting process will go along with the factors that should be considered by the director and crew. 

Location scouting meaning is so significant that it is the first thing most productions do after getting a script. 

They get a location manager, scouts, and drive to the most suitable locations for the script.

If the scouting is not thorough, it will cause havoc and dissatisfaction for the crew and director.

Imagine if you were shooting a romantic picnic in the woods, and a random bear appeared. 

Everyone would start running away with their gear while sweating profusely. 

The scouts are responsible for noting every single factor that may make or break the filming process and script. 

Location managers would consider hiring private security, a ranger to keep them safe, and others.

Without proper location scouting, your film would look unprepared and rushed. 

The process does take time, planning, and energy, but hard work does show off.

Enjoy the process, take notes diligently, and figure out possible obstacles. 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

How do Location Scouts Find Locations?

Well, they happen to stumble that location. 

We were kidding. If it were that easy, then it would not be a separate role from location managers. 

The thing is, most location scouts ask their network, conduct research, and even travel to search the location themselves. 

They sort out the sites by the logistics, distance, and how close it is to the directors’ expectations. 

Better scouts tend to have multilingual skills, making them exceptional when working abroad or communicating with the locals. 

Photo by Lorenzo

What is the Difference Between a Location Manager and a Location Scout?

Location managers and location scouts may seem like the same thing. 

These roles can be held by one person only, but it often brings too much pressure and workload. 

So, what does a location manager do compare to a location scout?

Location Manager

Often seen as the higher up in the video maker scene, these people are tasked to prepare permits and supervise the crew at the location. 

Most of the work lies in striking the contract and negotiating. 

Still, these managers also do similar tasks to scouts, such as searching for parking spots, power supply, and other factors.

Location managers are mostly responsible for the on-location work during the productions. 

By cooperating with the director and production designer, they secure, choose, and even adapt the script according to the locations available.

Along with the other producers, the location manager also calculates logistics such as distance between shooting location, number of crew needed, and much more. 

They also need to prevent accidents from happening, by supplying a generator if there is low electricity, supplying a tent or umbrella if the location’s prone to rain. 

They also secure the site from any potentially disturbing factors such as random animals or random people passing by.

Caleb Duffy - Source - LA Times

Location Scout

The bulk of the work for scouts is in the pre-production phase of any film or video. 

They will conduct online research while being helped by his established network before visiting those destinations themselves. 

After arriving at the selected destination, they will start taking scout photos/filming to give the others a rough estimate of how the shot will look. 

Partnered with a location manager, they will scout the area for potential factors and technical issues that the crew would face to shoot in that area. 

Everything gets written down on notes and shot on the camera.

To conclude, the difference between location scouter and the location managers, let’s say the location manager is the leader, and scouts are the members. 

Location managers pull more strings and deals.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Section 2:

12 Expert Location Scouting Tips

Location scouting is not easy work.

Every location will have its own set of circumstances that regulate filming on their property. 

With that in mind, we made an expert location scout checklist just for you.

Either you are a beginner location scout, a veteran, or even a curious soul, we think you will need this.

1. Stick to The Script

Sticking to the script is the first and most important tip in your location scout checklist. 

As your main goal is to figure which location will suit the script, this should be the priority. 

If the script wants to shoot in a bustling city district, then search for one. 

If it demands a location for romantic sunset dates, then search for a strategic place for that occasion. 

But there will be times when you cannot fully satisfy the scripts need. 

When that time comes, you need to think of alternative options that still suit the theme and ambience of the movie. 

Let’s say the script demands filming at a famous sidewalk where the character’s favorite locations are at. 

But the team has a limited budget and would instead not burn their budget and time for permits.

Maybe choose other locations that are still tied with the concept but more friendly to the budget.

Photo by Markus Winkler

2. Take Note of Time and Weather Conditions

Lighting quality is heavily affected by the time of the shooting, along with its weather conditions. 

You may find a stunning location coupled with the almost perfect surrounding for the script and team but always keep on the lookout for its weather.

Knowing what season, you are in should also be considered. 

The weather may abruptly change, so consider asking a local about the weather. 

Another factor would be the surrounding light levels.

Light levels should be measured when scouting the area. 

As that will affect how much lighting the crew should bring on set. 

Photo by Nadi Lindsay

3. Observe the Lighting

Lighting is crucial to your scouting process. 

Many scouts have their sun seeker application which tracks how much light is in the recorded area. 

Pick one you like, they pretty much do the same thing, but others may have a UI that you prefer. 

This topic also includes the lighting effects that you can use in the shot to make a scene more dramatic. 

Examples of this would be adding light shooting into a room, or pretty much anything needed.

As we all know, the quality of light changes based on the current time. 

It will become much harsher at 12 in the afternoon and becomes softer at 4 pm. 

But if you are shooting indoors, that would mean you can control the lighting better.

Meaning that you should also follow the sun as the shooting progresses, to achieve better shots in the afternoon. 

Note how much additional lighting or even diffusers you should bring to the location and bring your camera for visual evidence. 

Photo by Victor Freitas

4. Listen to Surroundings

Locations can always seem unknowingly noisy. 

Background noise is one of the main concerns when filming in a populated area. 

Say you are at the street near office buildings, there will be sounds of the crowds, vehicles, exhausts from surrounding businesses.

These sounds are not desirable for most filmmakers as they make unwanted noises. 

But they are mostly factors that you cannot control, so focus on sources of sound you can handle. 

By not shooting at rush hours, knowing the time when planes/big vehicles drive by your location, and many others. 

There will always be some sound that leaks into the video, so there is no stopping that.

Get creative when solving your problem and think about what you can do to prevent/minimize the total sound.

Photo by Stefan Gabriel Naghi

5. Hunt for Unique Shots

Take different angles that seem unconventional.

The location scouting definition is not limited to just sightseeing and predicting how useful a scene is. 

Sometimes we need to focus on the entertainment value. Your audience will always be ready to see the actor facing the camera, but did they expect a shot from a strange angle?

Now that is a hook towards the audience. Taking shots or recordings from a bizarre angle may be what you need. 

Try to explore and ask your model, sound director, or anyone accompanying you to pose there. 

Play around with the framing and focal lengths. If you like it and it is engaging, then your audience will also feel the same. 

Keep the script in mind while doing this so you can get an idea of how it would fit in.

Photo by Tuur Tisseghem

6. Search for Power Supplies

Not all locations will have power breakers. 

The numbers of these breakers alone will determine how much equipment you can bring onto the scene, along with other pieces of equipment.

Starting from adaptors, generators, are there other sources where you have permission to pull electricity from?

These questions should be answered on the day of scouting. 

According to the crew’s needs, you can cooperate with the higher-ups (such as the location manager).

Photo by Burak K

7. Choosing the Best Location to Shoot

Locations and scripts are always correlated. But what if you stumble upon a good site or objects along the way? 

Maybe something interesting perhaps an exotic animal or a small place within the area you booked beforehand.

Maybe you were planning to shoot your interview in the model’s house, but instead, you find out that they have a fantastic looking shed with an exciting vibe that coincidentally fits your script.

Script changing may seem a bit challenging and unnecessary at first. 

But as the location scout and manager that cooperate with the director, some boundaries can be pushed. 

So, if it fits your script and you see it as impressive, your audience will see it as enjoyable too!

Photo by Lê Minh

8. Remember the Crews Need

Your crew will always need supplies and shelter.

Supplies will include food, water, etc. In comparison, the shelter is adaptable based on the location’s weather and area. 

Setting up base camp would be better in an accessible place for crew members to enter and exit.

If there is no shelter, bring one yourself! You could get a couple of tables or even tents to set-up, maybe get a patio/beach umbrella if the area is too hot.

Some locations may not be as practical for your crew, e.g., limited area to work. 

To counteract this with the tight budget in mind, maybe taking the long way around is worth it. 

Ask your crew about the best way to handle the situation with current resources available to them. 

Photo by Kyle Loftus

9. Get Permission & Be Honest

Getting permission is one of the problematic parts when scouting a location. 

Intellectual property is one of the problems you will face when filming in an area.

Because almost everything you see starting from logos, art, and even decorations, count as intellectual property, this means that each of those properties that enter your shot must have a permit.

When asking for permission to shoot in a location, always be honest. 

Tell them what movie genre you are going to take. Be transparent and be open for the sake of permit.

Even if you are recording a risqué scene that may involve suspicious-looking action, you better be honest in the permit. 

Nothing is worse than getting kicked out by the owner while filming.

Photo by Marcelo Chagas

10. Search for Back-ups

Back-ups are always significant whatever the circumstances may be. 

Although there is a clear distinction between over and under preparing, there shall always exist a back-up option. 

Your scouting should find a handful of potential locations, including another scene appropriate for the script if everything goes south. 

These back-ups may also include searching for the nearest gas station or electrical store for a quick fix or adding more equipment.

Bring your location scout checklist with you and secure the prioritized items first, then the rest. 

Photo by Negative Space

11. Always Return the Favor

Through the course of your journey, while making deals on locations, you will always stumble on kind souls that will allow you freely use their site. 

But please take into consideration that maybe they are underestimating how time-consuming video making is. 

Some think it would take a minute or two, but never an hour or a full day.

With that in mind, try offering them something in return for the trouble, either cleaning the place up after you leave, offering them some promotion or endorsement, or any other viable options.

For example, if they own a sleeping lodge or a small business, offer to promote their business through your film. 

Another choice would be buying products from them, such as souvenirs, food etc.

Photo by Edmond Dantès

12. Take Accurate Notes

Detail everything that you see into your notes. 

Add in every nitty-gritty detail that should be noted based on the scripts need and the location managers’ survey. 

Bring your camera to reinforce these notes. 

Take a video and record yourself while making a commentary on the location. 

This will serve as an example of what the lighting looks like at the said time, the audio quality in the site while also noting the details of the taking in the video. 

There might be another time where you will need a location that coincidentally fits your earlier site.

Photo by RF._.studio

Final Remarks

I hope you enjoyed this guide.

People often see location scouting as a mini adventure to seek out a stunning and befitting location. 

Yet the location scouting meaning much deeper than that. 

They do negotiations, searching for potential risks and things that might slow down the process. 

To sacrifice a tremendous amount of time and effort to make the shooting progress go smoothly, that is the location scouting definition.

Now I want to hear from you!

If you found any of these tips/techniques to be helpful, or you have a tip that works for you —

be sure to let me know by leaving a comment down below!

 

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