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 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

You can find me via Twitter here - @amyclarkefilms