What Does a Location Scout Do?
When you think about your favorite movies and TV shows, you probably think about the characters, the actors, and the plot. You probably don’t think too much about where the story takes place, but the locations are a big part of what makes a movie or show feel authentic. Here’s a look at the life of a location scout and how they find the perfect settings for our favorite scenes.
Pre-production location scouting
Once a film or TV show has been greenlit and the script has been completed, one of the first pre-production groups hired is the locations department. They are responsible for bringing the setting of a production to life.
Most production companies own or rent studio space for their projects to use. Interior scenes, especially TV sets, are constructed on a soundstage and used over and over again. Larger studios, like Warner Brothers, Universal, Disney, and Paramount have lots and ranches for filming exterior scenes. If there’s a part of the project that can’t be filmed at a studio, then it’s up to the location scout to find the perfect alternative.
Responsibilities of a location scout
Depending on the size and budget of a film or TV show, there might be an entire department or just one person in charge of everything locations related. Each production is different, but here are some common roles and their responsibilities.
This person oversees the entire locations department and typically works closely with the production manager and assistant directors. They are responsible for getting final clearance and guarantees of use for locations and assist the accounting/finance departments with budget management and permits.
Most of the research, location visits, photography, and documenting is done by the location scout. They find and visit properties to determine the usability for production and work with the owners for permission to use the space.
Productions can have one or more assistants whose main responsibility is to watch over the location during filming. They oversee set preparation, ensure the location remains clean and undamaged, and close the location down when filming has wrapped.
How does a scout choose a location?
So now that we know the responsibilities of a location scout, how do they go about finding the perfect place to film a scene? The first step is to read the script and meet with the production staff to determine how many locations are needed, what the desired look of the production is, and the budget allocated to secure properties.
To find possible filming locations, a scout may start with a list of places they’ve curated over time, reach out to friends in the industry, use a location listing service, or may even drive around the city they’re filming in to discover new spots. Once they’ve narrowed down a list of their options, the scout will visit the location to take pictures and talk with the owners.
To determine if the location is usable, a scout looks for:
- How well the space matches the aesthetic of production
- If it fits within the budget
- Production feasibility (enough space to film with camera equipment/crew members, what the lighting is like, possible sound concerns, etc.)
- Cooperation from the location owners, neighbors, and/or local government
When the scouting is done, the locations team will compile all the photos and information to send to the decision makers for final approval. The production staff will usually pick their first choice and backup options in case any of the locations fall through. Now that a property has been chosen, the team will work on securing permits and will oversee prep work on the space.
Like Background Actors, a production’s location can add depth and authenticity to a scene. Be sure to pay extra attention to the setting the next time you watch your favorite movie or TV show.