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Arts & Entertainment

Location Scouting Guide: How to Scout Locations for a Film

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 4 min read

Location scouting is finding real places to serve as the fictional locations described in a film’s screenplay. In filmmaking, the right location supports the narrative and helps to create a believable world.

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What Is Location Scouting?

In film production, location scouting is finding places to shoot commercials, television shows, or movies. A location manager (or scout) searches for interior or exterior venues to serve as the setting for scenes depicted in a script. Location scouting is an important part of the preproduction process.

6 Things to Consider When Scouting Locations

When looking for the perfect location for a film production, take these six things into consideration:

  1. Aesthetic: Does the space match the director’s vision and the description in the script?
  2. Distance: Determine how far the location is from the main film office to assess the feasibility of transporting cast, crew, and equipment there.
  3. Permission: Find out who owns the property and if they’ll grant permission to film there. If the location is on city, county, state, or federal property, there are permit applications that will need to be completed and reviewed.
  4. Cost: A film budget will have a line item for locations. With more than one location in play, determine if there are fees for any of the locations and how much each one will cost. If there is a location that costs more than you have budgeted, try to negotiate with the location owner.
  5. Logistics: For each location, consider the logistics of filming there. Things to take into consideration: parking, cell reception, electrical power sources, space for craft services, and bathrooms.
  6. Environment: Examine the natural light as well as interior light to include in your scout notes. Is there an ambient sound—like a nearby road, creek, or air conditioner—that could interfere with recording sound while filming? Notice the general climate of the area.

Find Martin Scorsese’s tips for location scouting here.

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How to Scout Locations in 4 Steps

While location managers and scouts have their own systems for finding the perfect spots to film, there are some basic steps in location scouting:

  1. Do a script breakdown. The location department will go through the script to determine every place they need to find for the film.
  2. Source locations. The location manager and their team will compile a list of locations for the film. Skim real estate listings to find potential houses. You can also contact a film commission. Many local government offices will have a film commission, or film liaison, to assist productions in their county. They often have a list of available film locations.
  3. Scout. The location manager, or scout, will travel to different locations to get a feel for the space in person, take notes, and photograph the area. The director, director of photography, and production designer will often check out locations as well, to make sure they are the settings they envision.
  4. Clear the shooting locations. Once you’ve decided on a site, get permission from the property owner and have them sign a location release form.

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7 Tips for Location Scouting

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In 6 hours of video lessons, Werner Herzog teaches his uncompromising approach to documentary and feature filmmaking.

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Follow these tips the next time you go out to find the perfect spot to film:

  1. Time your visit properly. Scout possible locations at the same time of day that filming will take place so you can see what it will look like under the right lighting conditions. Listen for any ambient sound that is present at that time of day.
  2. Take notes. Always carry a notebook with you to jot down any thoughts or observations while scouting a location.
  3. Have a contact at each location. Whether it’s the location owner or a representative of the owner, make sure you have a contact to work with at each location you scout. If you end up choosing that site, you will need to coordinate with that person to ensure a smooth shoot day there.
  4. Take photos and videos. Take photos of the location to share with the director and production designer. Take a video on your phone to capture the light and pick up any sounds you might not notice. In fact, if you’re a location manager, snap photos of any interesting places you stumble across in your daily life and note their address—even if you’re not actively looking for a location. They might become new locations for future video productions.
  5. Have your permit handy. If you’re filming out and about in New York or Los Angeles, where local authorities are film-savvy, have your permit available in case anyone asks to see it.
  6. Double up. If a location is big enough, or has both an interior and exterior area, check your script to see if you can film more than one part of the story in different areas of the same location. It will reduce movement during filming and save money.
  7. Consult satellite imagery of locations. Even if you’ve scouted a location in person, use Google Maps to check out the location and its surroundings. Is there a school or an airport nearby that might create audio interference? Cover all your bases before you book your location.

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