Mastering Location Scouting
Every project you work on will be different. Among those differences will be the shooting requirements and locations available to you. When you need to work outside of a traditional studio, knowing how to locate viable options and select the right one for your shoot is an invaluable skill. As is always the prime directive with storytelling – be it a movie, commercial, or pet project – selecting the right locations will further the narrative and set you on a path to success. Here are three major tips to help you find the best location possible.
1. know your story
The ideal jumping off point is knowing what type of locations you’ll need. Relevance is the main consideration here, as location sets tone and directs your audience’s attention depending on how distracting or subtle the backdrop is. Essentially, your location type will either strengthen your message or confuse the audience. Let your location support the main takeaway or point that the subject is trying to portray.
When deciding what those locations types might be, your script is your best friend. You might feel inclined to scout for locations prior to having the finished script, but last minute changes can drastically shift the locations desired. For instance, imagine working with a local sporting goods store to shoot a new commercial only to find at the last minute they want to focus on their soccer products rather than football gear. Suddenly, your story has changed drastically and your location will need to be re-selected to fit.
2. Thoroughly Investigate Options
Knowing what type of location you need (or desire) and finding one are two very different things. Physically seeing locations, taking thorough notes, and documenting the location via photos or videos are of the utmost importance. Keep a phone or camera with you at all times incase you get a surprise callback to check out a location option – with all the other considerations you’ll be working through for a project, you may need the footage for yourself to remember the pros and cons of each option. It can also be helpful when working with a crew, allowing you to create collaborative visual reference points. Every crew member brings different experience and perspectives to a shoot, meaning there could be many positives for the audio crew at one location, while the same place is a challenge for the director of photography.
You also have to keep in mind the considerations specific to your project. For example, knowing what time of day you’ll be shooting and trying to tour prospective locations at that time. If you’ll be shooting around sundown and you tour in the morning, than you might not get an accurate picture of what the natural light of the area looks like. Likewise, listening for the natural (or manmade) sound in the area will likely affect your decision. If the location is near railroad tracks, then your shots could be constantly interrupted or ruined by bouts of loud sound that don’t fit into the story of your project and would have to be edited out or re-shot.
3. Compare and Contrast
Once you have narrowed down the types of locations you’re looking for and toured the locations you’re scouting, it’s time to compare and contrast your options. If you have taken thorough notes as well as visual documentation, then you can quickly discern the pros and cons of each. Some additional considerations to factor in are things like power supply in each area, cell phone reception, security and safety. Asking the proper questions, or even bringing in a second opinion, directly correlate to feeling prepared and informed when the time comes to decide.
Keeping backup options is also important, because you can truly never know everything about a location going into the shoot. If issues arise that you haven’t accounted for – and they often do – the quality of your documentation for each location you’ve scouted can make the search and selection of a replacement efficient and get you back on location in no time.