Location scouting for film. Tips on finding and prepping your film location

 
location scouting for film
 

Location scouting for film , tips on how to find locations for your films and what to keep in mind whilst sourcing them. This post also comes with a free location scouting checklist which you can download below.

I am guilty of limiting myself whilst writing film scripts, deliberately downplaying a scene as I write to make them easier to film later on. In many ways this is good practice for student productions, as tempting as it is to go full out, why not make it easier for yourself, shooting on location (especially exteriors) can be very hard. Location changes take up a lot of time, In my last short film one location change took  3hrs out of the shooting day, Which is why you should ideally shoot one location per day. It takes a lot of time to move people around, it takes time to re-set up equipment, even a short drive from A-B can easily cut hours out of your filming day.

Whether you choose to keep things simple, or be more daring there are still guidelines you should follow when location scouting for film. These guidelines are not there to stifle creativity but to help you make the most out of you pre-production time to make it easier to film later on.

You can download a helpful checklist below with ideas to keep in mind during the location scouting of your next production -

How to find your location

1. Needs vS Wishes

When searching for a location keep in mind your scenes needs. It is unlikely you will find the ‘ideal’ location you have in your minds eye (that is to say don’t shun a location just because the wall is painted the wrong colour you imagined it to be). Consider what is vital for the location to have for the scene to be carried out. Filmmaking especially when the budget is not there to build sets from scratch is about compromise.

2. Where to look

Your local film office might have advice and help for scouring locations, they may also have a list of locations you can use. Google maps is also a simple tool that makes things easier – you can check out your location with a 360 degree view straight from your home. I usually find a few locations online them check them out in person. I found these sites which could also be helpful Creative England Locations , Locations Hub

3. Permission for locations

It can be very expensive to acquire locations. High budgeted productions pay thousands to use locations (as these films are being made for guaranteed profit). For private property a fee may be agreed upon between the producer and owner. For low budgets sets we are lucky to even pay our crew let alone pay for locations. Public land such as streets, beaches, some parks are classed as public property and you will be able to film here for free. With persistence you may get permission - on one of my student short films I had access to the underground train stations in Liverpool – Thanks to my brilliant producer.

3.5 Shooting without permission

If you don’t get permission you will be shooting guerilla style, in which it is best to keep crew minimal. You may be asked to move even on public land (usually by the police, security or busy bodies) – at this point explain that the film is non profit, that no one is getting paid. Saying you are student can also help, claiming the film is a student production or personal project stresses the low budget nature of the film. Be friendly with anyone who challenges your right to film at your location, likely they are just curious. Filmmaking is more accepted in the world these days, people are not as intimidated by a camera as they once where. Its is good to have a friendly, chatty producer or AD with you to explain the situation. 

4. Location Recce

The act of going to a location to see of it is suitable for filming is called a Location recce. The first recce may be done alone by the location manager, The next by the director and DOP. A group recce may also be done with all heads of department so that every dept can foresee any problems that may come up during filming. This will save you time, money and surprises during production.

5. Public Liability Insurance

'Public liability insurance protects you if clients or members of the public suffer personal injury or property damage because of your business. It can pay for the costs of subsequent legal expenses or compensation claims and is an integral cover for businesses that interact regularly with customers.' - I copied that straight from Google, having PLI can also give you peace of mind and it need not cost a lot of money for an business or individual. For the UK I recommend BECTU PLI 

DURING YOUR RECCE

During Location scouting for film there are questions to keep in mind during recce - 

  1. Is there power - Do you need power for your equipment and lights. Are there enough plug sockets for indoor locations will you need to hire out a generator.

  2. How is the ambient sound – Especially if there is dialogue in your scene, is there any distracting noises to be heard such as traffic. It is best to have a quiet location and place background sounds in later than have unclean dialogue.

  3. Is there a nearby bathroom – where will the cast and crew go to the bathroom. Is there a nearby, pub, hotel, restaurant, inform the owners - ask nicely if your crew can use the restrooms for the day. Return the favor by ordering food from them, or come up with a deal.

  4. How is the lighting – consider how the light changes throughout the day. Weather can be unpredictable, shadows can change throughout the day, check to see which way the sun is going down.

  5. Is there a car park – you need a space for the cars and vans to be parked, can you park close to set, do you need to pay for car parking

  6. Is there space for a Green room – Is there a quiet area for actors to wait and for costume and makeup to be carried out

  7. Safety – is the location a safe place to film within and what can be done to ensure that cast and crew are safe during the filming

During the location recce take many photographs to remind yourself of the location later. Also consider taking video footage of the scene.

Resources - How to become a Location Scout

If you have any advice for others on location scouting for film please let us all know below -

Tips for beginner filmmakers , what is the best camera to start filmmaking with?

 
What is the best camera to start filmmaking with
 

Tips for beginner filmmakers , what is the best camera to start filmmaking with? When I first started making films I used a handycam with DV tapes to record on, the slightest knock to the camera body and you would get interference on the screen. Digital grey squares would appear in and out of frames, internal sound recording meant you heard a constant mechanical hum throughout the footage.

It doesn’t matter what camera you use when you first start out. It really doesn’t, use whatever you can get your hands on. Most Mobile cell phones now have high quality cameras, technology is improving every year, HD is not hard to obtain. I have made a list of filmmaking equipment below to guide you if you wish to start spending money on filmmaking equipment.

This is a beginners guide! I am referring to high quality products and brands that do the job well but don’t cost a fortune. I am not techy minded, I figure there are other filmmakers out there which lack a technical care like I do, so I made this guide easy to understand. Feel free to add your own thoughts or reviews of products you have bought in the comments section below. 

Camera

What is the best camera to start filmmaking with ? From the lowest price and easiest to get hold of a DSLR camera with video will give you a great start. The camera quality is high and you get full control of your focus (allowing you to make those blurry background shots). 

A Canon 750D costs from £450 ($570) usually coming with a zoom stock lens so you can start filming straight away. For a lower price any DSLR with video will do, for the lowest price I recommend a second hand Canon 550D (£200 / $250).  

Sound

We often forget about sound when we first begin to make films but bad audio can ruin everything. The DSLR cameras do record internal audio but this will come with internal camera noise. A quick fix is the RØDE VideoMic this fits on top of the camera and is good for close up audio and interview recording (£80 / $100).  It is the cheapest of fixes.
For further improved audio use a Lavalier Microphone (£150 / $190  ) this attaches to the actors shirt allowing you record their dialogue even if far away from the camera -  but you will also need an external recorder with this such as the Zoom H4n (£180 / $230 ). For more versatility a BoomPole , with a Shotgun Microphone and an external recorder (Zoom h4n). A complete Boom pole set up like this will cost you around £450/ $575 so you see sound recording can cost you as much as a camera.  
what is the best camera to start filmmaking with
what is the best camera to start filmmaking with
what is the best camera to start filmmaking with

Lighting

Tips for beginner filmmakers Natural light can go a long way, remember you can use the lights you already have in the room to create atmosphere. Lamps, torches, the light glow from a TV can all be used as a cheap alternative to paid for lighting.

For outdoor lighting a simple Light Reflector (£10/ $15) can reflect light from the sun to light up your actors faces. 
For white natural daylight Photography Soft boxes £60/$100) can fill a room with light. A set of Red Head Lights (£100 / $130) can be used on any student film set, you could also get colourful lighting gels to peg to the front of the lights to change the colour of light in scenes. Remember cinematography is all about creativity.

 

Accessories and packages

For your camera you will also need a tripod, the best company for this is Manfrotto which do a whole range of tripods, ideally you want one will a fluid head allowing you to move freely.

The Manfrotto is rather expensive so I found a cheaper, recommended alternative Magnus (£160 / $200) Your cameras will also need cards to record on to (SD Cards). A recommended camera bag company is Lowepro. Below I have built a list of eqipment packages so you can see the price of a starter filmmaker kit.

Filmmaker Package ONE -  £500 / $640

Canon 550D, (comes with a 18-55mm lens), SD Cards X2 , Magnus tripod , Zoom recorder, light reflector, 

Filmmaker Package TWO –  £1000 / $1275

Canon 750D (comes with a 18-55mm lens), SD Cards X2, Magnus tripod, zoom h4n & lav microphone, 

Filmmaker Package THREE - £1500 / $1900

Canon 750D (comes with a 18-55mm lens), SD Cards X4 , Manfrotto tripod head and legs,zoom h4n, Rode boompole, Rode shotgun Microphone, Set of red head lights and gels, Lowepro DSLR camera bag, Manfrotto tripod camera bag

Of course you could always do what I do and borrow equipment  from others (all universities and colleges will likely have equipment you can borrow).  

You don’t need to splash out money to make your first films, you can very much learn the basics for free, and create high quality content for a low cost. If you have any advice for first time filmmakers, or film equipment recommendations please let everyone know in the comments section below.

Storyboarding my short film

 
how to storyboard a short film storyboarding a student film
 

How to storyboard a short film.

I have started to storyboard my short film. I need to get a move on, I hope to start filming in as a little as a month. The more prep I do the easier the shoot with be, the more smoothly it will go and the less chance I have of messing up.

Storyboards are used in filmmaking, animations and theatre to help visualise a scene taking place. Storyboards are like the comic book version of the film, using them can help you see any problems that may occur during filming.

Storyboards show various camera angles that would be used on screen – close ups, mid shots, establishing shots etc. A white  arrow is used to show a camera movement – zoom, pan, dolly etc. A black arrow is used to show an on screen movement such as a character walking off screen.

  • White arrows – camera movement

  • Black arrows – on screen/character movement

A lot of new filmmakers  worry about their drawing skills.

It can look impressive to have well drawn storyboards (if only to show off with) but for practical purposes it doesn’t matter how good your drawings look. Stickmen still do the job.

When I made student films I storyboarded every single shot in the film. I was not great with communicating what I wanted with the cast and crew so I relied on storyboards.  In the past I was mostly a one man crew, I felt a lack of experimentation during filming, I was afraid to mess up since I only had one chance.

These days I still have one chance but I am more confident. I am going to try and step away from storyboarding, be more relaxed, open to changes and spend more time with my actors.

I am only storyboarding special effects and complex transitions for my short film. I have also done a few location and character sketches since I will likely be art designer too. You don’t have to storyboard every scene in your film.

Some directors choose not to storyboard at all, they believe it stifles creativity during filming. Werner Herzog and David Cronenberg refuse to storyboard. Directors such as the Coen brothers and Ben wheatley storyboard all of their films by the shot.

  • Not every film is storyboarded

  • Special effects and stunts are more likely to be storyboarded

I have made a video explaining how to storyboard a short film that can be watched on Vimeo. L

How to storyboard a short film video

I also created the E-book ‘Find Work In Film’ which explains step-by-step how to find and apply to film industry jobs.

It took some time to create the short film storyboard templates. So I have made them downloadable so you can use them too. Next time you are storyboarding you can download the templates here –