The most important rule in finding locations is that you must never make promises about locations that you can’t keep. Likewise, avoid showing a location you aren’t reasonably sure will be available for filming. Sometimes it’s not practical to check on the availability of every location photo you provide – particularly when your location library is online and readily available to everyone. You must be sure that the client understands the locations you are suggesting are not guaranteed to be available. However, as will be discussed later, you must be certain that, if a client expresses an interest in a location, you must verify the availability of that location as soon as possible and inform the client of any potential problems with the location. Never take a client to see a location that has not been verified!
Once you have determined what is needed and know you don’t have the appropriate locations readily available in your files, you will need to begin a search. It is a good idea to have a network of people who can be your ‘eyes and ears’ and who can assist you in finding specific locations.
There are many kinds of people who will be helpful to you in this effort, including:
If you are from a fairly large region, you should have community contacts located throughout your area. These are often government employees who might work in tourism, economic development or in the office of the mayor or other governmental leader. Not only can they be helpful in finding locations, but they can also act as government or community liaisons when a project is shooting in their areas. Many film commissions offer training programs to their community contacts so that they can be effective location scouts and liaisons.
Professional Location Scouts:
You will want to develop and maintain a close relationship with professional location scouts from your area. They know where the unique locations are, understand how to photograph them to best advantage and can help you to determine if the locations are ‘film-friendly’. You can negotiate a standard scouting fee with them if you can afford it or, if you’re a new commission, they might be willing to help you get started. If you don’t have any professionals, it would be a good idea to start training people to act as location scouts. These could be students, freelance photographers, or local crewmembers with an understanding of the special needs of filming.
Real Estate Agents:
Real estate agents have a good grasp of residential or business properties available, as well as other kinds of locations. They are especially helpful in finding homes and buildings that are not occupied and therefore may be more readily available for filming.
There are many people working in government positions who will help you find locations. Those working in transportation know about roads and bridges while agricultural employees can help find farms, ranches, fields, orchards or other rural locations. Many places have governmental boards that cover such diverse areas as horse racing, maritime affairs, waterways, vineyards or forests. These people are invaluable in helping to find specific locations and are usually very willing to help.
Keep a list of people who are involved in specific activities that will be useful to you. Garden clubs, historical societies, libraries and museums are all great resources. People in these groups are extremely valuable in helping you find the kind of obscure and specific locations that are often requested. You can also post requests on your Facebook page – if you are looking for a specific object or location, as long as you use appropriate discretion about the production details.
Sometimes you will find the perfect location, only to discover that there are problems that make it difficult for filming. It’s better to identify potential problems in advance before you show it to a prospective client. The following are some of the situations you need to be aware of:
The first and most important rule of location work is never to make promises about location availability that you aren’t absolutely certain you can keep.
Unless you have had a very recent conversation with a property owner, you can’t really be sure of the status of the location. When the client expresses a serious interest in a location, you should then get in touch with the owner or manager and get approval to film on the property. It’s good to get a provisional “yes” with the major location or locations early in the process.
Find out if the location were available for both night and day filming and if there is anything scheduled that would impact its availability. The production company will secure final approval from the owner in most cases, as it involves negotiations about fees and access to the property. If you are refused permission for filming, examine the situation carefully to determine what the concerns are. If there is a compelling reason for refusal (like a serious illness in the family) you should probably not interfere. In most cases, people can be persuaded to allow filming if you are pro-active and address them individually.
Always be aware of noise issues, unless it is a still shoot or they will not be using the audio from the location shoot (referred to as MOS). Be sure you are aware of whether or not it is a sound shoot. If a location is on a busy street, under a flight path for an airport, or near a major highway or railroad, it could make it extremely difficult to film there. If it is the perfect location, you may need to check train schedules so that the company can consider filming around them. In some cases, film commissioners have even arranged to divert airline flights for the duration of filming. It is important that you tell clients about any potential noise problems in advance, so that they can decide whether the location is worth.
Accessibility and Parking:
A film crew and its equipment can resemble a small military unit in size and is cumbersome to move from place to place. It is not unusual for a movie set to have semi-trucks with supplies and equipment, more than 150 crew members and actors, catering trucks, portable toilets, dressing rooms, generators, cranes and lifts, not to mention several hundred actors and extras. All of these people and equipment need to have roads large enough to give them access to the location and they will also need a place to park, to eat and to wait while each shot is set up. You must carefully examine each location to determine whether it is accessible for heavy equipment and whether there is a place to park vehicles and accommodate catering facilities and tents.
Church or business parking lots are often used for parking in urban areas, while a large field or pasture can be used in the country. As with noise, if the location is perfect, and the production company is willing to put up with inconveniences, a way will be found to use it. Many projects will set up a ‘base camp’ of operations away from the shooting area and will transport crew and performers to set in a bus or van. However, in all cases it will be important to have ample access to parking and roads that can accommodate trucks and heavy equipment. If a location is difficult to get to, be certain that you inform the client in advance. Independent films, documentaries and commercials are smaller in scope and can usually be shot in more intimate and difficult-to-reach locations.
Although location owners are entitled to know what is going to be shot on their property, showing them the entire script can present problems. While you should never misrepresent the kind of script that is being made, unless you are specifically asked to provide the entire script, you should offer location owners only the portion of the screenplay that will be shot on their property. In all cases, you must never show the script without the approval of the production company.
It’s important to find out if the owners will allow the film company to change the property by painting or adding, altering or removing such things as signs, railings, walls, or landscaping. Although this is ultimately a contractual arrangement between the owner and the production company, you should know in advance if the owner is opposed to such an idea, as it will affect whether it can seriously be considered for filming. Be clear of the agreement, as this location is in your jurisdiction and you don’t want negative production stories to tarnish future productions due to misunderstandings or a change of mind.
There are numerous other potential problems to keep in mind while scouting for locations. These include telephone or power lines, especially when a project is set in a period before these were common. Structures like antennas, water towers, cell phone towers or transmitters can mar an otherwise pristine landscape. Neon lights, street lights and lighted signs are also a potential problem. While movie magic, money or a lot of hard work can remove these obstructions, it is important to recognize and acknowledge the potential problems. Some companies will have the time or money to overcome these kinds of obstacles to filming, but most will not.
It becomes a problem if crewmembers or actors have to travel more than 20-30 miles (or 30 minutes driving time) from the hotel or production office to any of its locations, or from one location to another. In some circumstances, there will be union rules or laws governing the amount of travel allowed. In other cases, it’s just not practical to require people to make extensive trips to get to a location. Therefore, the more suitable locations you can find close to the production office, the better it will be for the production.