In my post about the different types of productions, I talked about on location shoots. Good locations can make a huge difference in creating the atmosphere of a production, so it’s important to find the perfect place. On many projects, there is a Locations Scout to do just that.
Finding perfect locations involves more than meets the eye, and is a process that begins early in pre-production. The locations scout will talk to the writer, director, or creator to find out what look they’re going for, and then starts the research process, finding as many different options as possible and calling or emailing ahead to gauge interest.
The Internet makes location scouting infinitely easier, especially if a shoot is happening far away from where pre-production is. The scout can do some preliminary research about bars or houses or parks or museums or any specific place that could be a possibility. In doing some locations research for an MLP project, I even used Google Maps street view to look around and see if it looked like something they’d be able to use.
Of course, nothing beats an actual visit, so, time allowing, any good scout will travel ahead of production to check out the details and solidify plans.
The thing about picking a location is that you can’t just shoot anywhere. Private places like bars or houses require not just permission (preferably written), but many will also require a payment. Some places are more expensive than others, so how perfect your locations are may be limited by your budget. Production is, let’s face it, extremely disruptive, so any location you’re using, no matter how much you’re paying them, is doing you a huge favor by letting you shoot there. If it’s a business, they likely have to shut down while production is there, which can be detrimental to their business if they’re not being paid enough. And if it’s a house, the production is taking over someone’s personal space for hours or days, with equipment all over the place—and, generally, having a bunch of relative strangers in your house can throw off your day a little bit.
Public locations have their own requirements. Unless you want to live by the “do it now and ask forgiveness later” mantra (not suggested), a shoot in a park or on a sidewalk or in any other public space requires a permit from the city or town it’s in. There’s usually a fee to get the permit, which can be really steep depending on the city.
A perfect location can often involve more than just the look, as well. Productions use a lot of electricity, so how many outlets are there? How easy are they to get to? Will you blow out the circuit if you plug in too much equipment?
How is the lighting? What about noise? Is there a loud refrigerator or air conditioning unit? Is there a dog who might bark? What happens if it rains or snows?
And of course, how long are you allowed to be there? How much access do you have to the location? Will they continue business while you’re there (which means you’ll have to keep patrons in mind), or do you have full reign? Is there somewhere to keep equipment?
Shooting on location is great for creating an accurate atmosphere, and if you don’t have access to a studio where you can build a set. But, as nice as it might be to just go and start shooting, picking the right location involves much more than that. There’s a lot to keep in mind when finding a location, but with a great attention to detail, a locations scout can put the finishing touches on the look a production is going for.