Scouting for film locations is an art form. Any good location scout will find a balance between what works for the script and the technical requirements of the film crew. In this post, we’re going to talk about the seven most important things to look for when location scouting for a film location.
Location scouting for indie films
While big budget films will have entire departments dedicated to finding and securing locations, productions with small budgets have to make some compromises. Many times the director or the DP will take on the role of the location scout in an indie film.
7 technical questions you should ask when location scouting
Here are a few things to consider when location scouting.
Is there enough natural light?
One of the biggest things you need to look for when you’re location scouting is where and when a location has the ideal amount of natural lighting.
Of course, you’ll be bringing plenty of lighting equipment with you, but the position of the sun is also very important for continuity purposes. Learn more about properly lighting a scene here.
Are there rest facilities close by?
This might not seem like a big deal a first, but if you get a film crew of 10 people out in the middle of nowhere for an all-day shoot, somebody is going to need to use b-room.
It’s always good to identify the locations of facilities like these ahead of the shoot so you don’t waste time the day of.
Making sure that everyone on set understands proper etiquette is also important to a successful production.
Is there noise pollution?
It’s getting harder and harder to find places that are completely devoid of noise pollution. When you’re location scouting, you need to be thinking about nearby highways, factories, nightclubs, and fire stations. You also can’t forget about air traffic noise.
Nothing can ruin a shot faster than a plane flying over. Apps like Air Traffic can help give you an understanding of the amount of plane traffic in a given area.
Is there enough parking?
While not often thought of, parking is a big thing you need to consider when scouting. This is especially true if you’re filming in a city.
Making sure that there is enough parking for the entire film crew and understanding how much it will cost are all the responsibility of the person scouting the location.
If parking is limited, you may need to arrange carpooling or simply uber to the site.
Can we operate equipment here?
Every film production will have a list of necessary equipment that needs to be taken into account when scouting. This equipment will require electricity and space to be able to function correctly, so making sure you have both at the location needs to be a priority.
Check for freight elevators and make sure that the electrical system of the space can support whatever gear you plan on bringing.
Can you control the space?
One thing that you need to make sure of is that you can control the space. Of course, there are somethings that will be difficult to control, like traffic, but other things like entry into a building are very controllable.
A location that is not controlled is like the wild west, people can walk into the shot or make noise at any second. If you can’t control the location then you could easily have a shot blow wasting a ton of time and money.
How careful do you need to be?
You should know how conscious you need to make your team about a space for setup, noise, and special effects. If the space is a historical building then you will need to be considerably more careful than a parking garage.
Use common sense here. If you selected a place where you need to be careful then you should consider getting insurance, even if you’re only a small production.
Finding indie film locations on a budget
Small budget indie films have to work with more dynamic when it comes to finding a location that meets their requirements. Anything that would require you shutting down a city block or emptying out a department store is probably out of the question if your budget is under a certain threshold.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to find great film locations on a budget.
Once you know the general geographic area that you’re going to be filming in, you can start to drill down into the possible filming locations by using one of several methods:
Contacting the local film commission
The local film commission will have a good amount of information on the available film locations in any area. Building a relationship with the film commission is almost always a good idea when starting a project in an area.
The film commission can give you useful information about the permitting process, and they will know where the best places to film are, both paid and unpaid.
Searching with Google
This is probably the most obvious way to look for film locations in any given area. The technology that makes location scouting possible remotely is both free and widely available, all you have to do is learn to use it effectively.
Used properly, tools like Google Maps can help focus your location scouting efforts so that you don’t waste time when you do inevitably have to scout a place in person.
Knocking on doors
The most tried and true method of finding a place to shoot a movie is to drive around, find a place that fits, and ask if you can film there.
Take the time to make a good pitch for why people should let you film in their space, and you’ll be surprised at what can happen. While actually finding places in this manner at scale is probably not practical, it’s still a useful method to keep in your toolkit.
Reach out to local photographers
One of the best resources that you’ll have when looking for places to film a movie are local photographers. Nobody you’ll meet will have a better understanding of where to film than professional photographers.
Local meetup groups or online forums are great places to start developing these relationships. Most of the time, photographers will share their knowledge freely if you are actively involved in a group they are in, and they might even be able to help directly on your project as well.
Location Scouting – Conclusion
There are a million more things about scouting locations that come from direct experience, but this list is a good place to start. Location scouting is an art form and should always be afforded the respect it deserves.
We hope this article on location scouting has been informative and a useful read. What are your experiences with location scouting? Let us know in the comments below.
Location scouting is tough. This guide makes it that much easier.