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5 Tips for Finding a Great Film Location

Caleb Ward

Need to scout a location or your film or photo shoot? Follow these tips for success.

Location scouting is a lot like finding a needle in a haystack –  it takes time and patience. Take advantage of the following tools and approaches to find a great location for your next film project.

1. Go Digital

While having an official location scout is still necessary for big budget productions, you may be able to virtually scout a location. Using this approach is also useful for doing a preliminary look before you go and see a location in-person.

Here’s a few online location tools that you can access from your desktop:

Locations Hub

Locations Hub is a really great website for scouting because it is entirely dedicated to locations for film…not photography. This is important because a lot of locations that are great for photography aren’t that well suited for filmmaking due to noise, traffic, etc.. You’ll also find detailed maps, pictures, and website links to film commissions here. The best part is Locations Hub is completely free to use. However, many locations on Locations Hub will charge you to shoot there so be sure to do your research.

Flickr Map Search

On top of being a really great photo sharing website, Flickr can be a really useful tool for location scouting. Using Flickr’s map search users can see where photos were shot on a detailed map. Flickr’s extensive user base also makes it really great if you are looking for something specific. Users can search their area by keywords so if you need to find a “grungy blue wall” you can easily search for one.

Shot Hotspot

Shot Hotspot is arguably the best location scouting website for photographers. Shot Hotspot is selective about the shooting locations they accept. Users can refine their search by landscape, architecture, water, and a variety of other factors. Shot Hotspot also ranks locations near you based on popularity.

In addition to these websites there are also a lot of location specific websites with shooting locations, especially if you live in a major city. It may seem obvious, but do a simple Google search to see if there is a location scouting website for your city.

2. Contact the Local Film Commission

If you’re shooting a big production than odds are you already contacted your local film office to get film permits. A film commission is also a great place to contact when you are looking for a potential shooting location. Many film commission websites will have detailed maps and photos of popular shooting locations in their area. More often than not, film commission are happy to work with filmmakers coming to their area to shoot.

3. Tour In Person & Take Lots of Pictures

It almost goes without saying, but touring a location before the day of the shoot is a must. While you’re location scouting take along your phone to capture pictures of you location that you can share with your producers, lighting director, sound recordist, set designer, and anyone else who will be a leader on set.

There are also a lot of really good apps that can help you with capturing your potential locations like Panascout and Map-A-Pic. Both of these apps allow you to not only capture photos with cinematic cropping, but also record the location that the photos were shot.

Location Scouting Home

Make sure to take a director’s viewfinder with you so you can see how your location looks at various focal lengths. This is critical. Eyes can be deceiving, so by purchasing a cheap director’s viewfinder you can get a better idea as to what the location will look like once you get your camera on location.

While you are at a potential location there are a lot of questions you need to be asking including:

  • Is there power?
  • Is this location near any airports?
  • Do I need a person to let me into this location?
  • Where are the breaker boxes?
  • Is the neighborhood safe? (Seriously, I’ve got stories…)
  • Will there be a place for the crew to set up equipment?
  • What’s the parking situation like?
  • Are there any events scheduled for your shoot day?
  • Does this location cost money?
  • Is there a bathroom?

It’s also very important to understand what the lighting is going to look like at the time of day you will be shooting. Your location may look perfect at 10 am, but come 5 pm you might be dealing with shadows from trees, buildings, or electricity poles. This is why it is best to location scout at the time in which you will be shooting.

4. Know Your Script

Script

Don’t put the cart before the horse. While you may feel inclined to go location scouting before you have a script it’s best to wait. You don’t want to show up on set and realize that the pivotal window shot can’t happen because there isn’t one.

5. Take Audio Seriously

While you’re at a location, talk, clap, and listen to hear if there is anything to be concerned about. In our post ‘5 Tips for Planning Your Audio in Pre-Production’ we talk about a few ways you can ensure your audio will be top notch.

Have any tips for finding a great location? Share in the comments below.

Resources

It’s All About Making the Scene – NPR
11 Tips for Location Scouting – Videomaker
Location Scouting: What you Need to Know – MasteringFilm

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