One of the most important steps in pre-production is the location scout. Scouting locations properly will ensure that you will fit the vision you are going for, and things will run smoothly during production. There are a few steps to properly scouting locations: a general scout, and a technical scout. A general scout is usually just finding a few locations that could work, and a technical scout goes into detail to make sure everything will go according to plan. There are many things to think about when doing a technical scout, so here are some factors to keep in mind.
1. Scout at the appropriate time
You will want to scout the location at around the same time of day you plan on shooting. This will ensure that the lighting conditions are similar to what they will actually be during production. Take note of where the sun is, and what the weather is like. This effects the harshness of light, the shadow angles, and how much contrast your scene will have. This can determine if you will need tools such as diffusion or flags to get the look you are going for. There are many great apps available for finding the path of the sun, so take a look at those and see where the sun will be at specific times so you know how your lighting will change.
Listen to the sounds that are around you. If they are uncontrollable, will they be an issue? If you plan on shooting a dialogue scene under a busy freeway you may have some problem picking up good audio, which will lead to more time and money in post-production doing ADR work.
3. Know your surroundings
What elements are around you that you won’t be able to control? If you are shooting at a busy park you won’t be able to control who walks by in the background. Do you want to film on a street where traffic may be an issue? Chances are you won’t have the type of budget to block off a road, so think about workarounds such as filming early in the morning where traffic may be lighter. If you want consistency take after take, you will want to be in an environment that you can control completely.
Is your location easily accessible? Think about what type of equipment you will have to bring, as well as the size of your crew. Will you be able to fit everything? Will you have to come up with creative solutions to get the shot you want? (you want a tracking shot with a dolly, but you have uneven ground) Will your crew members be able to find and get to the location easily? Surroundings also come into play here, as you do not want to set up a big lighting rig to get that night shot you wanted, only to have the neighbors complain. Think about if you will need power. Are there any outlets around? If the answer is no, will you be able to bring a generator in?
Permission is something that most definitely shouldn’t be overlooked. Imagine getting all of your equipment set up and all of your crew members ready, only to have your production shut down because you didn’t have permission to be there. Think about if you will need a permit, which you will have to work into the budget. Technically you need a permit to film in any public area, so keep that in mind when planning to use that park that you think will be hassle free. Sometimes you can get away with filming in public places without a problem, but the bigger the production is, the more likely you are to raise attention. Small businesses or private property will be your best bet, since you can usually work something out with the owners to fit their needs. Let them know you will advertise their company, or put their name in the credits in exchange for use of the location.
6. Take photos and notes
Go around the location and take as many photos as possible. If you already have your shot list or storyboard, try to take photos that match the shots as close as possible. Use a stand-in actor to get your composition, shot design, and even lighting figured out. Try to use the same camera you will be filming on if possible. Take notes of your camera settings, where you want everything set up and what else you will need to make the shot look the way you want. Make a mockup storyboard using the photos to get a better idea of what the shots will look like put together, and what you need to fix. This will dramatically decrease your setup time during production. You will also go into shooting feeling less stressed and better prepared knowing where everything will go.
These are just some of the things you will need to think about during your location scout. Try to hammer out as many details as you can so that you are prepared when it comes time to shoot. Knowing your location is secure and will fit your vision ahead of time reduces stress, and will make the overall production quicker and easier. Besides peace of mind, you may also come up with new ideas as you walk around the location (maybe you found a good angle that works with the location that you couldn’t possibly think about when storyboarding). There is no better feeling showing up to a location on the big day knowing that everything will run smoothly without interruption. This will become more and more crucial as the size of the production increases, since a lost day due to a location problem can waste valuable time and money.