Movie Making Manual/Location Scouting

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There’s no great mystery to scouting good locations for a film. There’s no template that tells you exactly how to do it, either. Many of the requirements for a location will be in the script. Finding them is down to marshalling your resources. If you know the area where you are looking, you are well on your way, If you don’t, a good starting point is people who do know it well.

Start with the local film commission. It is their job to attract films to their area and not just big budget films. You may be shooting on a shoestring today, but what about next time? Film commissions are keen to generate future film spend, so they will always be willing to help you stretch today’s pennies so you will be keen to come back. Their collective body is the Association of Film Commissioners International, found at http://www.afci.org/ Their website is a mine of location information and their on-line magazine “Locations” is packed with features on places where film has been shot all over the world.

When we were locating King’s Ransom in Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northern Film Commission were delighted to assist. From notifying them of what we had in mind to the day we wrapped at the last location, they did everything we asked of them and more. They emailed photographs of possible locations from their photo archive before our first recce and then spent recce days with us getting firmer and firmer ideas of what we were looking for. You will find them at www.nsc.org.uk

Their suggestions were always pertinent and they would follow up with calls to local estate agents to establish baseline property rental costs for us before we negotiated with location owners. Until we got a local production office established NFC acted as local referral point for everyone contacting us. Nearer the shoot they also helped us find local crew.

Other people who can come up with useful location suggestions include tourist offices, jobbing builders, delivery people and local council officials. When we needed to find a tidal watersplash scene for a pursuit sequence involving 4X4s, we asked the local Landrover club. They not only knew the places where you could drive Landrovers safely through the tide, but they knew which rivers you could drive up with a Landrover as well! Useful people to know. Their members also have 4X4s for rent as picture and action vehicles.

Draw up a standard location form on which all essential information can be recorded. It is a good idea to attach a sketch plan showing the location layout, access points, fire hydrants, water main, parking areas and so on. Also space for all the phone numbers of contacts people for that location. You will also need to make a risk assessment for the location, of which more later.

Having homed in on some likely prospects you have to consider aesthetics.

The location has to be able to meet the needs of the scene. Will it shoot just as it is, or will it have to be dressed for the part? In King’s Ransom, Mr Bright’s antique shop was in a former cinema and the entrance we needed to use looked like the emergency exit from a cinema rather than the entrance to an antique shop. The broad pavement outside dressed nicely with large antique pieces like a huge wooden mangle. A fresh painted trading title and a couple of pavement advertising boards turned the place into Bright’s antique warehouse and the location exterior looked fine.

Location checklist[edit]

  • Sound
    • Will the location be quiet during your shoot dates?
    • Check with the local authority to ensure no building work will be running whilst you're filming.
    • What are the acoustics like?
    • If unsure, ask the sound recordist to check out the location.
  • Available light
    • Daylight?
      • Can you clean the windows?
      • In which direction do the windows face?
      • During which hours of the day do you get direct sunlight through the windows?
    • Can you swap out the fluorescent tubes for color-corrected tubes?
  • Power.
    • can you tie into the local mains power supply?
    • is it OK for you to use a generator?
      • check out the legal requirements for storing fuel.
      • Will people mind the noise of a generator?
      • where can you get fuel from?
      • Will the generator run on red diesel?
  • Parking
    • How much will it cost?
    • Where can you park the vehicles so they won't be in shot?
  • Check where you can and can not put gaffer tape.
  • And, most importantly, does the location suit the script?!?