The Basics of Movie Location Scouting

31 January 2019

The movie-making process is a mystery complete mystery for many of us. Not without reason — film productions consists of so many invisible for general audience component. Movie location scouting is one of those magical parts of the process that we remain largely unaware of. But it does not mean it is any less important to a movie then actor’s work. A location is not merely a decoration; is a character in the movie that can make or break the film. Sometimes it is even the main hero of the movie — think Grand Hotel Budapest and The Shining — and thus needs to be perfect. 


Movie location scouting is an exciting job. People who select locations for Hollywood movies get to travel all around the world and view some majestic places. But as everything exciting, it comes with a price. Movie location scout not only you need to make sure that the location looks like what directors have in mind, but they also need to know how to talk to the right people, one practical and patient. 


If you are not scared and want to learn more about the process, then keep on reading. This is our step-by-step guide to movie location scouting. 


1. Preparation


– Get acquainted with the script




The first thing you need to do when movie location scouting is get acquainted with the script. The director and production team might give you descriptions of sets beforehand. Most of the time, however, you will be the one to describe what the set needs to be like. You need to study the script and take notes in both cases carefully. The ideas of movie location scouts, especially if they are experienced, are just as valuable as the ones of other members of the crew. 


– Listen, evaluate, and take notes


Before location scout can start looking for locations, they need to understand the scope of the projects. They need to learn about people’s expectations and take into account the limitations of each project. In other words, if that is what you want to do, you need to have a clear idea about with what kind of resources you are working, how many people will be in the team, what is the budget, and what is the vision of key stakeholders is like. You also need to know if the director already has a place in mind for each scene and what he likes about it. It will make the research process much easier. 




It is better to take care of those things before you start looking for locations. There is nothing just as disappointing as finding what you thought is going to be the perfect location and learning that it was a complete miss. Create a document where you would keep all the notes, layouts, and images for each location. Not only it will help you to find the right one, but also will make it easier to ask other people to help you out.  


– Research, using all the available tools 


This point is probably the least surprising. To find the location that the movie is asking for, you need to drown yourself in research. Googling is where you should start, but it cannot be your only source of information. For when it comes to movie location scouting the best place are yet to be discovered. You will need to walk around more — the perfect location might be just around the corner.


Already existing agencies and other film commissions are also a useful source of information. Not only they already have lists with contacts and places they also really want you to find what you are looking for. They will help you do shut down the street and give important technical information about the place. Location scouting is not only about the location after all. 




The other valuable resource is people around. Don’t be shy and let the city help you out. Ask people that spend a lot of time on a go — drivers, policemen, and realtors — if they know a place that looks like what you are looking for. Take notes, and keep a record of their comments. It might not work this time, but it might be useful in the future. 


Use the power of social media. Write in Facebook groups and twitter about what kind of location you are looking for. But of course, do not forget to check in advance if it is ok to make public requests.


– Prepare a checklist


Before reviewing the location, you need to be aware of all the important points that need to be accounted for. You should be mindful of the following things: 




  • Parking (you need to make sure that the place has enough parking space to accommodate everyone)
  • Space available (it is not enough for a location to look good, it also needs to be large enough to fit all the actors, cameras, crew members, and lights)
  • Mobility and accommodations (you need to make sure that it is easy to get to the location, not only because you probably do not want to spend more money than you have to, but also because transporting heavy gear to the seventh floor with no elevator in is no fun. Try to stay on the ground level if possible.)



2. Scouting


– Work with the location




When you get to the place, it is important to document your findings with uttermost attention to details. You should be taking photographs of everything, keeping detailed notes, and studying the space. Leave the people you come in contact with your contact information and let them know what you are looking for. Use the almighty power of word of mouth.


– Explore the places




Don’t be afraid to get lost; we would even encourage it. When you feel a little anxious, you become more attentive and start really ‘seeing’ what is in front of you. Disconnect and spend time looking around. Look inside every door, be brave, and try to convince people to let you in places that you would not go otherwise.


– Think of the ways to utilize/redesign locations




When looking on something on the screen you might think that it the set look that way from the very beginning, but it is far from being true. More often than not, it is the other way around. It might look nothing like the final result. Sometimes it takes quite a bit of imagination, a good special orientation, and other factors to know the real potential of the place. Be flexible and open to new perspectives and practical at all times. Always think of many ways to use the same location. The more scenes you can shoot in one place, the better.



3. Shooting


– Communicate




You might think that movie location scouting is done when you find the perfect location. But no, not quite. It is not enough to ‘find the location’; part of location scouter responsibility is to work with other members of the team to get permission to shoot on the scene. The owner of the property needs to sign an agreement for the shooting process to be considered legal.


– Make sure that all requirements are met




On the set, you need to make sure that the streets are closed and that you have official permission to do it. All the warnings need to be in place, and it should be done as seamless as it is physically possible. During the shootings you need to make sure that nothing gets damaged, and that no one is getting injured.


– Clean up




You need to leave a location in the same condition (or even better) than you found it. Shootings are massive; sometimes you need to redesign and adopt the set, but it does not mean you should not take care of it. Not only it is the right thing to do, but it will also make it easier to get new deals in the future. 



Movie Location Scouting is a lot of fun, but also just as much responsibility


We just broke down for you what the process of movie location scouting is like. You can see that it is a fun job full of new possibilities and promising adventures. But it is also about responsibility and attentiveness. It is a methodological process that needs a lot of patience and dedication to the craft.



At NDigitec we offer digital production services. We will happily take over the management of your photo, adverting, and movie projects. We worked with some of the best companies in the world to produce beautiful and meaningful movies and scouted dozens of locations to create beautiful sets. Take a look at our portfolio and contact us if you want to learn more. We produce awesome stuff, and we love our job.

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