Location Scouting – What You Need To Know

Okay, you’re a little tired of reading the script. Who could blame you? So it’s time to get out and stretch your legs. And ride around in a compact car with five other people, all over town, to neighborhoods you wouldn’t go to on a bet, on either the hottest or coldest day of the year. And it’s raining. This is what’s known as location scouting.

If there’s no location manager, the DP and the director will be the ones going all over hill and dale hunting for something that looks as if it might work. You may have some production people doing this scouting, but if you don’t have a location manager or a production designer, you also don’t have a lot of people in the production office. Since it matters most to them, the director and the DP get stuck doing the work. It’s really not that much fun.

For a DP, there are some vital questions to be answered by the location scout. Always carry a compass, and not just for when the driver gets lost. No matter what the conditions of your shoot, you always want to know the compass point orientation of your location. I don’t care if everything is interior and there are no windows in the place. Something is likely to come up (“Let’s just get an establishing shot of the place”), and you’ll need to know where the sun is so you can shoot in the most beautiful and revealing light. If the house faces west, say, and you want a richly illuminated look, you’ll wait until late in the day to get the beautiful butterscotch of sunset. Or if you want it looking glamorous or mysterious, shoot in the morning for a dark front with an elegant-looking backlight. Or shoot during midday for a nondescript look.

And take a notebook and a camera. You’ll need to make notes about a lot of factors for every location. You’ll never remember all the details, and even if you did, you’d never remember which location has which characteristic. Take pictures so you can remember where you were and how it looked and so you can refer to a specific concrete image when you’re discussing the location with the director or with the rest of the crew.

The following are my Hot Tips for shooting location stills:

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