Location Scouting is the on-ground analysis of a location to find whether it perfectly fits your script and has feasible logistics. It requires a lot of travelling, observing and taking notes.
An integral aspect of the pre-production, location scouting is often ignored or taken lightly by many. Apart from the location aligning with the script, one also needs to check whether the equipment can function properly, and the cast and crew have no trouble on the D-day. This ensures no last-minute hassles and emergencies.
Certain factors need to be kept in mind while heading out for a location scouting exercise: The size of the crew, budget, filming location and the script.
For example, the location should not only have room for the scene to occur but also for equipment and props to be staged. There must be washrooms, electricity and parking space per the size of the crew.
Most of the time we let aesthetics dominate over feasibility, which might cause a problem while filming. Make sure you check the weather, permits and legalities, lighting and sound. Time of the scouting should be similar to the actual shooting time. This helps you get an exact idea of the setting as it would be on the day and time of the shoot.
So, while I have been to multiple scouting sessions for my films, there have been a few misses amidst the hectic schedule. Here’s a comprehensive scouting checklist that covers both set and tech aspects to help you out while you are on the run:
- Know thy script - thoroughly!
The first rule of location scouting is to be familiar with the script as much as possible. The places you take your viewer on the screen have a significant effect on the emotional places they will be taken. The ultimate goal is to show them exactly what you want to depict.
Multiple locations would be available that might look befitting to your script. However, you need to grasp the exact feel of a particular scene to find the right spot that suits the story of your commercial/film/documentary.
- Do your research.
Start with doing online research on the location you are about to film in. Check out official websites that provide weather forecast, permit requirements, facilities amongst other details to know whether the site fits your basic needs.
This can be as simple as “Is the location good enough to shoot from multiple angles?” or “Are aerial drones permitted?”
In case you have multiple scenes in mind, check out for other locations in the vicinity that might fit in the script. If the site is famous, you can even refer to the ad films that have been shot there before to get a more detailed idea of the setting before you start with your on ground analysis.
- Scout on time!
Locations change depending upon the time. It is essential that you go scouting at the exact same time as your crew plans to shoot - morning, afternoon or night. This helps you take notes of what it will look like exactly, the position of the sun, the shadows, lighting, colors, and the overall setting of the area.
Pay close attention to the noises and public interference that might occur on the day of the shoot.
- Take pictures - a lot of them!
One important equipment to carry along with you while heading out for scouting is a good camera. You'll need to take a lot of pictures and videos of the interiors and exteriors you plan to shoot in.
These will serve as a reliable reference while comparing locations, deciding on props and equipment and showing it to the team.
- Space Matters!
A spacious set can do wonders. It makes it easier to fit in the equipment and the crew, and if needed it can be transformed into a smaller space. The other way around can be a bit hectic and heavy on production.
For example, here’s how with the help of three motion control cameras running in three separate studios Adidas created this action-packed film starring David Beckham.
- How’s the natural lighting?
Check the lighting by taking a few seconds of test footages. This will give you a rough idea of how the set will look on screen. If not desired, your crew can come prepared with the necessary lighting equipment on the day of the shoot.
Indoor lighting is controlled and can be adjusted depending upon the requirement to produce consistent results. Exterior illumination changes all day long depending upon the sun. Keep a note of the sun’s position, shadows and clouds.
Remember, bright light is harsh on people’s faces, and a light-colored surface blows out in full sunlight, causing underexposed shots.
- Is the sound okay?
Clean, high-quality audio is a critical part of a good film. Most of the scouts forget to take sample audio recordings, resulting in a mismatch during the day of the shoot.
Traffic noise, the buzzing of electronics, echoes of voice and movement can cause a disturbance in the audio. Taking sample audios with the mics will help you come prepared with the necessary equipment on the day of the shoot to cut down on the disturbance.
- Having extra batteries isn’t enough
Start with asking the owner whether you can use the available power sources and are the circuit boards accessible? Then check whether your location has enough power source to support your equipment and crew. If not you can carry the necessary batteries and generator. Also, count the number of sockets available and note down their kind (two pins or three pins).
In the case of an emergency, you should also know about the nearest power source that is available and how it can be harnessed.
- Check nearby facilities.
This part of the checklist will help you sort out your logistics which is an essential aspect of location scouting. Make sure you evaluate the area for crucial services like phone signal, roads, banks and ATMs, food, medical facilities and most essential - washrooms! Create a plan accordingly.
- Permits and Legalities
Without necessary permits and approvals, nothing is possible on the location. While on the set make sure you do a legal reality check and get familiar with the permissions.
For example, shooting in the middle of traffic requires a permit from traffic police. And buildings like hospitals, cemetery, corporates and hotels also need permissions.
It’s always better to get permits in advance than having your shoot interrupted by the authorities.
- Consider the elements
Sun, rain, wind, heat — all can affect your shoot on a large scale if not taken into account. Hence, it’s essential to check the forecast while scouting.
While video cameras don’t function properly in moist and humid conditions such as on a beach, bright, hot locations can also be a problem since the camera bodies absorb the sun’s rays causing overheating. Carrying an umbrella is advisable to protect your gear.
Cold temperatures drain batteries and make your crew uncomfortable. Plan to keep your equipment safe until and unless not needed for filming and ask the crew to carry necessary clothing.
- Take notes
Location Scouting is pointless without taking written notes of all the criteria that have been mentioned above. Make it a point to note down every aspect of the location, be it an advantage or a disadvantage for future reference and to help your crew prep up adequately for the shoot day.
Location scouting is a demanding job, I hope through this checklist your job becomes more efficient and hassle-free.
After ticking all the boxes in this checklist make sure you double check everything. Filming is a serious business, and even the slightest of mistake can cause immense damage. So, make sure everything has been noted down and cross-checked.