10 Questions to Ask When In-Person Location Scouting
Location scouting is very similar to being commissioned to find a needle in a haystack. You’ve got to be extremely patient and equally diligent. Failure to pay very close attention to your surroundings or to note even the tiniest of details could result in huge losses on shoot day, and nobody wants to be at the receiving end of the upset producer’s call should the location that was booked be completely wrong for the shoot in some capacity! When scouting a location for a film shoot, make sure you’re prepared for every possible scenario. Ask yourself these 10 questions while you’re in-person, on-location so that you can properly plan your location scouting checklist.
#1 Is There Power at this Location?
What may seem like an obvious YES or NO question may not be as simple as it seems. Some locations have power but it may be limited to only certain receptacles or areas that have power. Likewise, there’s always a risk that the location has limited power and will require backup generators or additional support equipment in order for the production to run smoothly. Preparing for power needs up-front will help the shoot go without a hitch.
#2 Are there Airports Nearby?
Not for travel purposes, although a nearby airport may help if you’re traveling a long distance for a shoot. However, we want to know if there are airports nearby which may result in overhead air traffic and, as a result, noise! Consider the potential for nearby airports to result in noise at your location–even if you don’t hear planes when you visit initially, do your homework to make sure there aren’t changes in air traffic throughout different times of the day.
#3 Where are all of the Breakers or Breaker Boxes?
Most locations will have one major breaker box that you MUST know how to find for several reasons. First, with safety being the key consideration, you must know where the breakers are so that when you have the Grip team come to help out things can run smoothly and with limited interruption. Likewise, knowing where the breakers are will help should your use of equipment trip a breaker and require immediate attention during production.
#4 Is there a Bathroom Nearby?
This question arises for several reasons. Of course, a bathroom is necessary for yourself or your team during production but you don’t want a restroom so close by that you can hear (or that your sound recording equipment can hear) things like toilets flushing, water running and, the worst of the evils, the hand drying running! While having adequate restroom availability is necessary during a film shoot, make sure the bathroom isn’t too close to where the shoot is actually set to take place!
#5 Is the Neighborhood Safe or Not?
Safety first for you and your crew. A great film location is easily tarnished by a poor reputation for lack of safety! You don’t want you to jeopardize yourself or your crew by bringing them into an unsafe neighborhood. Just don’t do it!
#6 Is the Location Free or Not?
Some locations come at a price. Sometimes that price is reasonable. Sometimes it’s not. Location scouting is very much about figuring out what the location “looks” like, but it’s equally important to know the logistics of the location–the address, the costs associated with rental or purchase, and the underlying formalities that must be taken care of in order to shoot on location. (P.S. Don’t forget your film permit!)
#7 What Kind of Space is there for Parking?
Some film production location scout checklists fail to see the beauty if planning for every possible obstacle that could be faced, in advance, rather than dealing with situations as they arise. It’s really best to have a proactive stance when location scouting, especially when it comes to parking! Take note early on as to what the parking situation is like and whether there will need to be special accommodations made to ensure everyone can come and go from the location without interrupting those who regularly use the location or live there.
#8 Is the Location Gated or Otherwise Locked from Outsiders?
Some locations require special access in order to enter. Gated communities, certain parks, and recreational areas often require special access to be granted by a person at a gate or via a special code or another device. Make sure you know the rules of entry to the location before you schedule an entire film crew to arrive!
#9 Are Events Scheduled on My Shoot Day?
After you have reviewed location-specific data and determined that this might just be the right location for your next shoot it’s time to find out if the location is available. The easiest question to ask at this point is, “Are there events scheduled on my shoot day?” If events are scheduled, consider the impact they will have on your ability to bring your cast and crew into the location to shoot–chances are it would be better to choose a different location or change your shoot day versus vying with others during an event to HOPE you can have the location to yourselves when you’re ready to begin production.
#10 Is There Adequate Space for Cast and Crew?
Finally, location scouting is about determining whether a location has the right space, look, and feel to effectively and efficiently produce the film you’re working on. You need to ask yourself, “is there adequate space in this area for my cast and crew to do their jobs? Think of all the resources that will be brought in for a given production – cast, crew, trailers, parking, RVs, etc. If a shoot location doesn’t have enough room you have a few options. You can shuttle people in and out of the location via a bus or van in which they are picked up a certain time and dropped off at their vehicles later that day or you can ask your crew and cast to carpool to limit the number of cars to be parked. If you absolutely cannot make enough room for parking, it may be best to consider a different location to film in.
Make sure you’re asking these 10 questions when location scouting to ensure you only pick and choose the top film locations for your major projects. Unfortunately, failure to ask these questions can and very often does lead to forced last-minute changes to location which can be costly in both time and money. Make sure that you’re taking your time and asking all of the right questions before you choose a location for your next shoot.