Working on Film

Location scouting

I have always loved film and the process of filming ever since I studied it at A Level. I never pursued it due to the fact I never wanted to be a camera women, editor or director so thought it wouldn’t be worth my time. It has only been since I started studying photography that I realised there are so many other opportunities in the film industry. Travailing is also a huge passion of mine so I decided to look into location scouting for films as a possible career path after university.

What does the job entail?

“You’re likely to come across the terms location scout and location manager, what’s the difference? Quite often you’ll find that people embarking on this career will start working as a location scout for an experienced location manager. This means that they’ll start off doing the donkey work of finding locations for someone else. The Location Manager is the person who will be liaising directly with the film production company or advertising agency, and may be working closely with the film’s Director, taking decisions not only about the right location, but also the logistics of making that location work. The Location Scout may be convinced that he or she has found the perfect spot, but it’s not always the perfect spot that is the most practical: when there’s an entire unit to be moved into position, decisions are made about the distances involved, the availability within the schedule on that day of the stars, key personnel, special equipment, etc. etc. The Location Manager will be closely involved with the rest of the production team dealing with many such logistical problems and their solutions — perhaps none of which may have been known to the Location Scout when first they started scouting.”

“So what does a location scout actually do? Well, here’s one of the things that make the job a constant challenge: you never know. Each time a scout is asked to find something, it’s invariably something new and quite different to the previous assignment. Commonplace locations, let’s say kitchens or public parks, are very well covered by Location Libraries. However the world of filming (and photography) is the world of imagination, so for each new script, each new concept, there’s a new question needing an answer. For example, the kitchen might need a view through the window to a swimming pool, or the script might demand that the public park has a south-facing slope overlooking a lake. No matter how good library photographs may be, there will always be occasions when a location needs to be re-photographed to demonstrate its suitability.”

Examples of location scout briefings:

  • Location: two back-gardens with a low fence between them.
  • Script: one householder is envious of his next-door neighbour’s new lawn mower.
  • Scouting: select an area where there are likely properties, and go knocking on doors.

Advice: be sure to have identification with you, a copy of the script, and smile a lot. Potential location owners will need reassurance that you are not a mad axe-man before they’ll let you into their house.

  • Location: a school playground.
  • Script: a cuddly toy monster is handing out a new range of chocolate bars.
  • Scouting: contact the relevant education authorities and governmental bodies, ask them to suggest possible schools, send over the script, then make appointments with each school.

Advice: never go cold-calling, the school staff will treat you with justifiable suspicion and you won’t be allowed in.

What equipment will you need?

  • A camera is first a foremost essential. It doesn’t need to be super expensive but must work well in natural light as this will give an accurate portrayal of the location for filming.
  • A valid license and car is also an important. You need to be able to travel around off your own back so something with low running costs but the storage to hold your equipment is beneficial. This may be an issue for me personally as I don’t currently drive, although I was planning on learning over summer, this will hold me back if I want to pursue this career straight out of university.

Where to begin?

“As with any job in the film business, it is notoriously difficult to get started, and there are lots of other people knocking on the same doors. Dogged determination may be required! It is unrealistic to believe that you can simply introduce yourself to a film producer and be out scouting the next day. It’s best to start by offering your services to an established location manager, or location company, and gain experience that way. You should prepare a concise, articulate Curriculum Vita that includes all your relevant qualifications, knowledge and experience. Make triple-sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors (the location manager’s job consists of emailing, frequently, to people whose willing co-operation is required). After writing a letter, or sending an e-mail, see if you can’t get to visit the recipient; you will never get the job on the basis of your CV alone.”

Some of the directories this article recommends:

Tips for being a successful location scout:

  1. Know your script — select locations that lend themselves to the story and match any descriptions you are given.
  2. Scout at the right time — locations can look different at different points in the day so, if known, shoot at the time you would be filming.
  3. Look at the light — if you are shooting indoors you may need to test the lighting already available. Take a small camcorder to test what it looks like when filming.
  4. Follow the sun — if you are shooting outdoors look at where the sun is producing the most light and if that is helpful or not to the filming.
  5. Check power supplies — whether you are shooting outdoors or indoors you need to figure out if you can use the mains for electricity or need to stock up on battery packs.
  6. Listen — if your location is situated somewhere noisy, such as next to a busy road or airpot, will this interfere with filming too much?
  7. Check the weather before you go on a shoot.
  8. Deciding where to set up — it’s all very well and good to have the perfect location but if there isn’t enough room for the lighting, camera, crew etc. it won’t work.
  9. Make sure you can get permission to use the location.
  10. Evaluate the area — is there phone reception incase of an emergency when filming
  11. Take notes — you will need to do a report on the location so it is imperative that you make notes on all the benefits and weaknesses of a location to give your manager a full understanding of the place.

Interview with a location scout:

These were the three main questions I was interested in:

“How do you get into a career as a location scout? Location scouts are different for print, commercial, TV and film. As a location scout, you need to specialise. Getting in is about meeting people, working with people, and growing your network. You usually start off in something really junior such as a photography assistant or freelancer; in film and TV, it might be a Production Assistant or even someone’s Personal Assistant. Either way, you start working and people will start trusting in you and your skills. You can tell your boss you want to move into scouting. Or if someone is needed for scouting, volunteer to do it. After getting some experience decide on whether you like it or not, then you can start considering it as a career. You can become a freelance scout or start your own company or try to find work with a larger company. A good starting point is by finding and contacting your local guild or association.”

“What kind of scouts are there? Besides being specialised in one geographic area and media format, there can be other types of scouts. There are executive scouts for films who are responsible for finding the locations in general, but then recruit several local location scouts to find specific scenes once a general place has been decided. There are technical scouts who go to the location to figure out the technical aspects of the shoot. For example, lighting, space requirements, angles, etc. The scouts can be involved even during the shooting in some cases. In other cases, only the location manager is on site during the shoot. The location manager will manage the shooting permits and licenses.”

“What’s it like being a location scout? It’s a lot of variety. If you own your own location scouting company, it can be very seasonal. It will be project based. You find clients, give a quote (rough estimates are $300–500 per day) and are paid to do the work. For scouting: you use online websites such as flickr and wikipedia, do google searches, use location databases, archives and libraries, and go on-site. Talk with owners, get permissions, negotiate deals, take preliminary pictures, schedule visits, and coordinate the final shoot.”

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