Location Scout

  • Location Scout

Making a film is a lot like selling real estate: Location is everything! A “location” in the film industry is any place filming will be done that is not a studio or a set. For films, television shows, and commercials, finding the perfect location is largely the responsibility of the location scout, who uses investigative research, travel, and photography to document potential locations that are perfect for filming.


Duties

The primary duty of a location scout is to find an environment best suited for a particular scene, or the entire movie, TV show, or commercial. The search begins with the script, which indicates what kind of location is needed. The scouting of potential sites usually begins with a file search, leading to physical visits to actual sites, whether exterior or interior. The location scout is responsible for contacting property owners to gain permission to scout their property; permission also must be obtained from the appropriate authorities to prevent the possibility of trespassing or other legal liabilities that may occur. Location scouts often drive themselves to sites and may scout locations alone or with others. Once at a site, the scout makes descriptive notes and sketches and takes detailed photos and video that shows how the spot meets the aesthetic goals of the script, as well as noting details about the logistical implications of the site. The more details they can provide about a site to the director and producers, the better; a complete picture of what to expect during the shoot is expected. Ambient lighting conditions, ambient sound, parking areas for the crew, sources of electricity, and access to the site are just some of the most crucial details that should be scouted. Finally, once the location is chosen, the legal issues have been worked out, and the crew descends on the site, location scouts photograph the site to ensure that any “dressing” of the location, whether in the form of props and furniture or actual structural changes, can be easily undone and the location returned to its original condition once filming is complete.

Skills & Education

Location scout is not traditionally considered a high-technology part of the film industry, and as such the education requirements are not as strict as some careers in film. However, many location scouts attend film school and have a general knowledge of the film industry and the production process. Location scouts often start as production assistants and use their connections to obtain their position; being connected, having a strong network in local government offices (for permits) and neighborhoods, and knowing the area in which you work are some of the key characteristics of successful location scouts. An unerring sense of direction helps, as well as the ability to read maps or your trusty GPS locator. Cultivating a tight relationship with the film commissions in every city you visit is a good idea, as those commissioners can grant your production valuable tax breaks. While a background in photography is not required, knowledge of lighting and framing is certainly a plus; a good eye will help a location scout see and convince producers that a street in inexpensive Bulgaria may be able to pass perfectly for one in expensive Paris with a little dressing. Location scouts are at the front of a very important preproduction process and they must understand the goals of the director and producers, be able to solve logistical problems and prevent them before they occur, and convince even the most skeptical property owner that the crew will not track mud on the carpet during filming.

What to Expect

Just because a career as a location scout does not require years of schooling and advanced degrees, it is not an easy position to attain. Like most of the coveted positions in the film industry, you can expect to work your way up from the lowest rungs, often for no pay at all; joining the Location Managers Guild of America can also be a good move for the up-and-coming location scout. Location scouts often get their start working for free for production departments that are overworked and understaffed. Driving and flying a lot, eating in your car, and trying to convince property owners that theirs is the perfect house for the latest Meg Ryan movie are just some of the things with which a location scout should be comfortable. Networking and relationship skills are the lifeblood of a location scout, and while there will be driving, hiking, and photographing, most of the job will be spent talking to someone or another, asking for permission, negotiating, listening to suggestions, and working to find that perfect location that others might have missed.

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