A version of this article appears on MarzMotion.com.
Whether you plan to shoot in a remote scenic landscape or in a tasteful residential home, location scouting for professional video production is a vital component of pre-production. Although location scouting can have a sizable cost, leaving it to a local expert will yield immense dividends in the long run, ensure your production avoids common pitfalls, and help you stay within budget. When we consider locations for professional video production, we take into account four main factors: appearance, availability, accessibility and cost. There are other smaller factors, but we'll deal with the big hitters in this article.
Appearance is the most tangible factor for video location scouting. It’s crucial that your chosen location fits with the creative’s locale aspirations. The chosen spot(s) must ooze authenticity and for that reason should blend in naturally with, rather than distract from, the production’s message and purpose. Although gorgeous and ideal locations are commonly sought after, there is a happy medium that can and should be reached. Too striking and amazing and shots can come off unnatural, just as they do if your video is shot in an area too dingy and inappropriate for your desired message.
Just because a location looks the part doesn’t mean it’s accessible – meaning you have the legal right to use it. If you’re desiring a residence for your video, you’ll need the permission of the residents and additional money budgeted to pay to displace them for the duration of the shoot. There are many beautiful locations in public spaces, like national, state, and local parks, but although they are open to the public for recreational purposes, certain areas such as designated wilderness areas are not available for any form of commercial use, including commercial filming.
You also have the added challenges of ensuring your location is available on the dates your production is scheduled and that you have enough lead time to complete the scouting and permitting. Many state and local public spaces require at least 7-14 days notice (after you scout and choose your exact location) and a majority of federal lands require 30-60 days notice for permitting.
Say you’ve sifted through hundreds of options and have finally found three picturesque locations you can get permits for within your production budget. On the first day, you’ll shoot in iconic Sedona with its world-renowned red rock. For the second day, you’ll head to Lake Powell and utilize a remote scenic overlook with sweeping landscapes. On the third day, you’ll shoot in an outdoor urban area in downtown Phoenix. You schedule them for back-to-back-to-back days of shooting to save time and money, naturally.
What you didn’t realize is that the first location in Sedona is a two-mile hike from the closest road, 250 miles from the second day’s shoot, which is then 350 miles from the third day’s shoot. Your crew can’t reach the location and setup in time to take advantage of the desired light. They’ll also be too exhausted for the next day’s shoot due to the travel time in between. And you can forget about working your models in that tight time frame with their multiple outfit changes and makeup needs.
Unless you have a fleet of helicopters, this would be a near-impossible feat to pull off and highlights how much the accessibility of your locations can affect your overall video shoot. Some of the best video locations are also some of the most remote. The complex video equipment needed and extensive production crews that have to reach those locations require an experienced location scout to coordinate and ensure the logistics run smoothly.
Most professional video productions come with a rough budget to work with, and it’s the job of the location scout to ensure the locales chosen will allow the production to be within that budget. They must factor in various costs, including an intangible element many creatives often disregard: time. In addition to crew, equipment, and permits – just to name a few costs – time is a cost that must also be considered. Partial or complete travel days for the crew must be budgeted, or alternative locations and lodging that can accommodate them.
In the above Accessibility example, Papago Park and Canyon Lake are about 40 miles from each other and could be substituted for Sedona and Lake Powell. The Papagos, while still picturesque and red in hue, are located in an easily accessible municipal park in the heart of Phoenix, and Canyon Lake is a fairly quiet lake just an hour’s drive east. Is there compromise in these choices? Yes. Do they allow the production to meet its goals realistically? Also yes.
Leave the Location Scouting to a Local Professional
If your video production merits location scouting, don’t skimp. By investing in an experienced location scout, you get an amplified value that consists of many years of experience. Whether you’re looking for a scenic vista or a modern home that’s large enough to shoot in, a professional scout is going to provide more options that are instantly available and, perhaps more importantly, steer you away from locations that aren’t realistic because of time, money, access, or logistics.
While scouting may seem deceptively easy and you may even be tempted to “Google scout” locations yourself, do your homework. Even high-quality and encouraging online guides to location scouting are filled with warnings and considerations that add up quickly to a complex job. When you hire a professional location scout, you truly get what you pay for. Leave the location concerns of appearance, availability, accessibility and cost to your expert, and you can invest your time on bigger creative concerns to ensure the whole picture comes together seamlessly.