I recently went to see an excellent, overlooked movie, “A Most Violent Year” with a friend. As we sat through the credits, I mused that they had somehow found pockets of NYC that still resemble 1981 New York in all its decay to re-create their story. We tried to think of where exactly they must have shot to get that footage but as the credits ended, something popped up that answered our question: Parts were shot in Detroit, not New York. A city that is still trying to rebuild itself after much economic hardship has ended up standing in for many others whenever it cannot be found close by.
In our latest installment of the What Is A….? Series, we delve in to the people whose job it falls on to find these places to shoot, the Location Scout.
As a script is finalized and the production team is put in to place, the director begins to plan out their shoot. As part of the pre-production, in addition to all of the casting, what becomes most important is locking down where everything will end up being shot. Many films may opt for a soundstage as it gives a controlled environment and can be modified with lights, audio mics and camera equipment for various different looks. However, soundstages can oftentimes be extremely expensive to rent, sometimes thousands of dollars a day. Likewise, there is something that cannot be faked when it comes to the realism of shooting on a location.
That is where the Location Scout comes in to play. It is their job as part of the Location Department to find the best locations to fulfill the writer and especially director’s vision for the shoot. All sorts of factors now come in to play, including the availability and cost of the location, the types of outside obstacles and forces that can impact the location such as weather, and how accessible the location will be to the cast and crew.
The Location Scout is the first person to see a potential set, so they must take a lot of pictures. Ideally, you want to give as close to a 360 degree representation of the space so that everything can then be planned accordingly. Everything in the area, from how far away other residences are to what time local trains or planes may run must be taken n to account.
Once the Scout has found what they feel is the best place to shoot, they report back to their Department head, oftentimes the Location Manager. The Manager is the direct contact with the overall Pre-Production team. They are the people who help to get permits, to establish the needed links among the production teams needs and what the Scout has found. Most Managers have been Scouts themselves before transitioning to this position of greater authority and management. This way they know what an efficient Scout should be looking for and trouble-shooting any potentially overlooked issues.
A good Scout will have a long index and catalogue of places they’ve already seen and cleared with their team so that they can be easily accessed when they are needed. More than anything else though, a good Scout will have done their homework on a specific site. They will know who to contact to get the rights to use a location, be it a private house, public school or historical building. The Scout’s job is to reassure whomever owns the location that their property will be treated respectfully and taken complete care of. The last thing any production needs is a delay because someone has not taken the right steps in covering all the bases and smoothing over every concerned party.
It is usually the job of the Manager to secure the permits and be the go-between for the crew but a Scout who has done their research will make the Manager’s job much easier. Likewise, the Scout should make note of the surrounding area, should any last minute things be needed, from food to equipment to the random items that.
Once the set has been locked in and shooting has begun, the Location Manager will end up being the first person on set each day to make sure things are set up properly and that everything goes as smoothly as possible. Likewise, they will often be the last to leave as they secure the location for the following days shooting. At this point, the Scout can move on to other projects or find sets for later on in the production. It’s an ever-changing, ever-moving process.
Sometimes, finding a great location can prove difficult or take a longer time than is planned but when it clicks and it really helps the making of the movie or show, the location team can feel the gratitude and pride of everyone else involved.