Scouting For Fun on Location

Thumb Ben Wolf, Arthur Vincie

The director's looking at the beautiful archway. The DP is figuring out where the morning light comes in. The sound guy hears an ice cream truck nearby. What should you, the producer, be doing? Figuring out where everyone's going to pee.

Your main job on the scout is to identify and solve the logistical problems associated with the location.  The shortest route to accomplishing this is to find the nearest school/religious house/gym/community center nearby.  You need one for three reasons:

  • The head honchos can give you their blessings, and thus the cooperation and support of the neighborhood
  • They can tell you if there's going to be a parade, street fair, or an army of school buses rolling through your shot
  • They can rent you space for your non-shooting footprint (see below)
  • They can steer you to local resources (see below), thereby spreading the wealth

Some resources you should suss out while on the scout:

  • The hardware store
  • The locksmith
  • Restaurant/deli for second meal
  • Gas station
  • Auto repair/tow shop.  No matter where I've shot, some car-related problem has come up
  • Hotels
  • Parking
  • LOCAL Police/Fire/Hospital.  It's much better to head to the emergency ward directly than call 911 and wait
  • Bar.  Essential at the end of the week

Apart from needing bathrooms, you'll need to make sure there's enough space for the following:

  • Hair/makeup mirror, tables and chairs
  • Wardrobe changing area and racks
  • Holding (for the cast and possibly crew)
  • Staging for props, set dressing, equipment
  • Battery charging and dailies download station

Add parking, video village, and catering tables (unless you do walkaway meals), and the overall shoot footprint can easily become 3x-4x the size of the actual set.  A lot depends on the number of actors, the size of the set, and the lighting plan

Consider how much will change between now and the shoot date.  A lush green wooded park may look barren come wintertime.  How much daylight or nighttime will you have available when you shoot?  Where is the electricity going to come from?  If you're in a residential neighborhood, where's it safe to put the generator?

Ask about plane/train/buses, but don't be surprised if you get vague answers - people who've lived in one place for long enough will filter out traffic noise.

Also, take some time to suss out the neighbor situation.  Are there local feuds, or is there a grouch living nearby?  Are thefts frequent?  Where can you put your trash?  People get more upset about garbage piling up than about anything else.

Don't forget to have some good cheer while on the scout, too - a genuine smile and a few kind words will go a long way to making people feel like trusting you with their homes and streets.