The Scout


If you have been successful, the next step will be the scout. During a scout, your goal will be to convince key personnel that yours is the perfect place to film. In most cases, they will have looked at your pictures and will have given you an idea of the sites they want to visit. At other times, you may need to choose the locations yourself and modify the selections as the scout progresses.

A location scout can be exhilarating and fun or an absolutely dismal experience for all concerned. In fact, at times the scout may be all these things simultaneously. Everyone has experienced ‘scout anxiety’. Veteran commissioners all know the terrible feeling that comes when a scout is not going as well as planned and how exciting it can be when you show someone a location that meets or surpasses the filmmakers’ vision.

In addition, a whole carload of production staff can be daunting. While they are generally interesting people to be around, they are usually in a hurry and can easily become impatient. Although it’s important to be a good host, the primary thing they need from you is your expertise and knowledge of your jurisdiction.

Therefore, one of the most important things you can do as a film commissioner is to become familiar with everything that your area has to offer and be able to answer a wide range of questions, or get the answers at a moment’s notice. Among the many things you must know about are locations, film crew availability, hotels and rates, weather, climate and transportation information. Just when you think you know it all, someone will ask for something that you never anticipated! If you don’t know the answer, you should know where to go to find it.

The initial location scout usually lasts from a day to five days and can include one or more of the following people: location manager, production manager, producer, director or designer. If it is the location manager, most of your time will be spent showing locations. However, the producer or production manager will want to know about other things such as crew cost and availability, office space and accommodations.

Sometimes your client will expect a complimentary hotel room and at other times will offer to pay for it. However, you should not be expected to provide free rooms for more than a couple of days, if at all. Generally, you will be expected to pay for at least one meal a day during a scout, and sometimes for all of them. If your budget does not allow for you to provide rooms or meals, be honest about that before the scout begins. Legitimate production people understand that film commissions are not all funded at the same levels and will act accordingly.

Try to find out when the client arrives (or before) whether there are any script or location changes that will affect the scout. It’s often a good idea to start a scout off with a conversation about the needs of the production and your planned itinerary so that there are fewer surprises while on the road.

The following tips will help to ensure a more successful scout:

Have a written itinerary, including the name, address, contact person and phone numbers of the places you are visiting
Have your trip plotted out on a map and be sure you know where you are going. If you aren’t familiar with the area you are visiting, try to drive the route in advance or bring someone along to who knows their way around. Getting lost will affect your confidence and will also adversely influence your client’s confidence in you.

If there is reliable cell and data service, you can also email or text a link to a Google map or other map service, with the specific location or area.

It is also helpful to have the GPS coordinates

Think on Your Feet

It happens all the time: You’ve set up a beautiful itinerary and your client arrives only to tell you that everything has changed and that something else is needed. Or, as the scout progresses, your guests may decide that the way they have been thinking is all wrong, and they need to see something different. It’s important to remember that the look and design of the project is evolving during the scout and, in some cases, the director and designer have just met and are using the scout to refine their design ideas. Don’t panic and don’t take it personally. It’s a good idea to bring information about other potential locations with you, or to have someone back in the office that can help you to set up appointments with different locations if necessary.

Be Flexible and Ask Everyone Else to Be

When you conduct a location scout with a client, you must call the places you want to visit to set up appointments, with the possible exception of public places like streets, parks or fields. It is always a good idea to explain to the people you are meeting that it is impossible to set an exact schedule during a location scout, since you can’t always determine how long each visit will take. Also, be sure to get several phone numbers where people can be contacted so that you can call to reconfirm, reschedule or cancel an appointment. Property owners will invariably be concerned about the condition of their property and you should tell them not to clean the house, repaint, trim the hedges or make any major alterations before you bring the clients to visit and to not make changes if the scout goes well and they want the location to look just as it did when they saw it. It needs to be very clear that if a scout sees the property in a certain condition, that is what they anticipate it will look like when they return to shoot, unless otherwise specified or understood.

Provide Information

Be sure to provide everyone with an itinerary of the scout, maps of the area you are going to visit, GPS coordinates, if applicable, and contact information for the locations. This will help to keep everything organized during the scout and will help clients remember all the things you showed them. Offer to send pictures or information collected during the scout back to the client’s office. If there are seasonal appearance changes that will affect a location for a future shoot date, provide full disclosure and photos about that, if possible.

Be Early

If you arrive for the scout early, you will have a few minutes to get organized, gather your thoughts and take care of any last-minute details. The scout will be more productive and enjoyable if you are relaxed and prepared.

Food and Drink

Entertainment people love to eat, a fact that is readily apparent on every movie set. The first thing to remember is that they tend to prefer healthy food (or at least they claim they do). You should have places in mind for meals that offer a reasonable choice of healthy foods, including vegetarian selections.

People on location scouts often like to try regional specialties as well. This is a good opportunity to partner with local restaurants/markets that serve local food, beer and wine. Have reservations in advance if at all possible and don’t choose a place that has slow service, especially during the day, as it causes you to lose valuable scouting time during daylight hours. In fact, it’s a good idea to have a conversation early in the scout about the dining preferences of your clients.

Often during a scout, it will be necessary to skip lunch, so it is a good idea to bring along a cooler filled with water, juices, and healthy snacks or to make arrangements for pre-packaged lunches to be available in the car. Always bring plenty of water and snacks, especially if you are scouting in a remote area.

Determine the Client’s Personality

Sometimes people on a scout are very talkative, but often they are not. In many cases, people on location scouts are trying to formulate ideas about how the film should be made. It’s important for you to take the lead from them. Many novice film commissioners feel uncomfortable if the conversation lags but it’s important that you don’t talk just to fill up the silence in the car. Don’t be too chatty. At the end of the scouting day, some people will want to enjoy a leisurely meal with you, while others will want to go to their hotel rooms to ponder the day’s locations, call their families, get over jet lag or just watch television. Don’t be shy about asking them their preferences — most will not be shy about telling you what they prefer.