How to Scout a Location for Filming

Location serves more than to just provide background for your characters. When thought through, it can almost be like a separate character that injects personality and charm into your film. Location is an important element when applying mise en scène to your film.

Good locations are as important to movies as colors are to a painter. With mundane hues and poor execution, location can go unnoticed when it shouldn’t. 

Yet the right execution results in a masterpiece for the ages. And we’re not talking about a constructed set rather about places out in the real world. Cinema’s beating heart has always been entwined with practical locations. When well done, they elevate ordinary movie experiences into something compelling.

Location is key to making epic movies

When most people think of Lawrence of Arabia, the 1962 British epic, what fondly comes to mind are the mesmerizing desert vistas and the heavenly scenes that seem so surreal. The movie was shot in picture-perfect dunes and backdrops across Jordan, Morocco, and Spain. It remains as the emblem of good location scouting almost 60 years later. 

Combined with flawless videography that does justice to the serenity, the movie’s plot flourishes in no small part to the alluring backdrops. The right locations bring more to the table than just eye candy. They set the tone for your movie and usher a believable fictional world for your story.

Are you constricted by a tight budget and aren’t able to afford the services of a location scout? With these useful pointers, you won’t need one. 

Here are a few tips on how to properly scout filming locations:

Know your script and permits

Your script provides the plot canvas. It is also the compass for your selection of shooting places. The locations are pieces of a puzzle that complete the film. Your locations, first and foremost, have to be in tandem with the story. They need to lend themselves to the plot vis-à-vis the mood you’re looking to create and the emotional packaging of the film. 

For example, an abundance of sunny beaches may not be a nice choice if you’re looking to create a melancholic theme. Views of water bodies inspire feelings of peace, relaxation, and consequently happiness.

Unless you’re making a movie that’s entirely going to take place in one room, then it’s safe to say it’s important to get familiar with your script and how you can make versatile certain venues. Hence saving money and time. 

Some locations can double up for interior and exterior purposes and others as different places entirely with the right angles and cinematography. Be sure to get in touch with local government offices when sourcing locations.

Respecting local rules and regulations are important elements to video production.

Often, they’ll have details of filming locations you can use and you can determine what you need from the list.

Will you need a permit to shoot some of the scenes? If you’ll be blocking traffic or access to someone’s business, probably so. For private property and spaces, you’ll need to talk to the owners first. 

For lightweight and small productions, you probably won’t need a permit for public street shooting. Consult an experienced videographer in your area, or the local government, just to be on the safe side. 

Don’t fake authenticity – Get creative!

Let’s say you need to create a hospital setting. One of your characters is involved in an accident and the script requires the emergency services of a hospital. Say it’s hard to get your hands on the necessary equipment or the actual room. 

You decide to go with your apartment doubling up as a makeshift ER that quite clearly doesn’t look like one. Everything seems a bit off and it’s unlikely that you’ll get away with the stand-in hospital depictions. Do you still go through with it anyway?

Nothing can bring your audience spiraling back to reality than clearly faked locations. They shatter the illusion and take away the power of storytelling. When unable to get the real deal, make a plausible excuse for making do with a half measure. 

For instance, in the above case, come up with a reason why the victim cannot be moved. Maybe there’s too much bleeding and he can only be treated on site. Perhaps he can only be tended to outside the hospital because of a health crisis, or due to the nature of his infectious condition, etc.

Here’s how the creators of Star Wars used their ingenuity using 1970’s props:

Before getting creative though, be sure to do your homework. You’d be surprised at how those hard-to-get locations easily become available and affordable when you put in the legwork. If you need a bar for some of your scenes, for instance, begin the search early. When you wait till it’s desperately late, obviously the owner is going to take advantage of you. 

Pay attention to your timing and space needs

Depending on your script, you probably have a couple of locations in mind. Maybe not an exact place but a few rough ideas in the way of streets, offices, forests, and the likes. Once you have a couple of specific locations in mind and are looking to narrow down your options, visit each place at the same time of day. One location may look one way during the magical hour and totally different at night. 

A place’s appeal may also vary from weekday to weekend. Perhaps it gets more traffic over the weekend as it’s a popular leisure spot so you have more noise to deal with. Compare each place and have a contact in each for coordination purposes just in case.  

If you have a specific time guideline for a scene, try a sample shoot according to the script’s dictation of the time of day and see how that looks. Repeat the step for multiple locations and compare the video and audio results. 

Establish a tone you’d like to go with and be consistent with that atmosphere across changing locations.  Also, be wary of the traffic and noise in potential shooting areas. Quality and clean audio is the foundation of every good movie.

Are you shooting in a tight space like inside a squeezed attic? Perhaps you’ll have trouble fitting your equipment in there. Professional videographers suggest handheld camerawork for such scenes if you’re not willing to part with the space. Also, ensure you can practically get to your intended shooting spots. Protection Status