LOCATION SCOUTING
by Scott Trimble


written Jul 2005 and updated Feb 2019.
© 2005-2019, previously posted at GFL


Location Management

Supervising Location Manager
Key Location Manager
Location Manager

Key Assistant Location Manager

Assistant Location Manager
Location Coordinator

Key Location Assistant
Location Assistant


Location Scout Photos

 

 



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The Location Managers fill important creative and logistical roles on motion pictures, TV shows, and commercials. They work for the Director and Production Designer in that they are partly responsible for the look of the movie through their role in scouting the filming locations, but, at the same time, they also work for the Producers and Production Manager in that they need to organize everything that needs to be done to actually film at those locations.

SCOUTING

The location scouting process begins very early in the creation of a motion picture, often before all the stars have been cast or before the movie is even greenlit. I've started several movies a good three to four months before filming began, but it's not unusual for a scout to start even earlier than that sometimes.

We begin by reading the script and then breaking it down into its many locations. We'll then have long conversations with the Director and Production Designer to determine what it is exactly that they envision. For example, the script might just say  EXT. HOUSE , but we'll need to find out if they want a place that is modern or old-fashioned, brick or wood, crowded or secluded, etc. Or, if there is an  INT. OFFICE  location, does it have a view from a downtown skyscraper, is it located in an office park, or is it in a ramshackle little building in a dilapidated neighborhood?

Around this time, we'll also have conversations with the Producers to figure out what regions, states, and countries are possibilities for us to actually consider. For example, many movies can't leave the Los Angeles 30-mile zone, but others can go anywhere in Southern California or even worldwide.

We'll then begin researching the possibilities. We start by going through our personal archives of every place previously seen, and then scheduling new visits. We also do searches on the internet, call the various film commissions and other regional agencies, and track down other useful contacts. Once we have some good leads, we'll get into the car and go to these places. Of course, we'll pick up new clues along the way that will lead to additional places.

There are several traditional techniques that we follow in order to shoot the photographs in such a way as to get proper coverage of a location. At the same time, our methods of presentation of those pictures are constantly changing. Once upon a time, everything was printed and taped into manila folders. Now, we might still do it that way, or we'll print larger 8x10 shots and put them into thin white binders, paste them on to large black foam board, or upload the JPGs to private, password-protected websites.

The Production Designer and Director will look through the pictures and start choosing some favorites that they'll eventually want to take a look at in person. This process will continue as we narrow down all of the locations in the movie. Once they've all been officially chosen, we put our cameras away and start the next stage of the film.

PRE-PRODUCTION and PRODUCTION

Actually getting ready for the eventual filming has begun. Often, many of these tasks are started while still scouting for additional locations, but it is during this time that we truly become Location Managers while we turn our attention more directly to all of the necessary logistical arrangements that are needed to successfully shoot at the places that we found.

Without going into too much heavy detail, this involves coordinating all of the following (and much, much more) between ourselves, our department, other departments on the show, and outside vendors....

  • detailed contracts with location owners
  • additional contracts with affected tenants
  • insurance certificates for everyone
  • permits from cities, counties, states
  • parking for the trucks and trailers
  • parking lots for the crew and extras
  • designing custom maps to the locations
  • coordinating police department assistance
  • street closures and lane closures
  • traffic cones and detour signage
  • neighborhood signatures to allow filming
  • environmental impact reviews and clean-up
  • bathroom facilities and porta-potties
  • portable air conditioners and heaters
  • big-top tents and dumpsters for catering
  • tables and chairs for catering and BG extras
  • smaller pop-up tents for shade / rehearsal space
  • layout board or locomats for floor protection
  • signage for the crew to get to the parking lot
  • temporary removal of city street signs / lighting
  • securing warehouses for wardrobe storage
  • setting up SFX and Stunt rehearsal locations
  • lighting access at neighboring properties
  • addressing concerns of the neighborhood
  • hiring security to watch our production areas
  • protecting the set from paparazzi, if possible
  • answering media inquiries or send to Publicist
  • responding to emergencies that arise on set
  • making sure all goes back to original condition
  • We make as many arrangements as possible in advance, but we are also always present on set during the prep, filming, and strike so that we can make sure that all of this will go smoothly. Whenever things go wrong or somebody has a question, you can bet that the first call over the walkie-talkie will be Locations! Our response, in standard film set lingo, is always Go For Locations, hence the name of that company.

    Thus, in addition to those aforementioned creative and logistical skills, we also need to be able to respond quickly, prioritize, delegate, and definitely hustle to and fro on set, all the while remaining calm and treating everybody with respect. There's a constant balancing act between considering the needs of the show and the needs of the location and its owners, but, with proper managing, everything can be done successfully and with all parties happy.

    FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

    Are you guys in a union? — Those of us who are based in Los Angeles are represented by Hollywood Teamsters Local 399, along with the Transportation Coordinators, Transportation Captains, Drivers, Animal Wranglers and Trainers, Catering Chefs, and Casting Directors. Location Managers in New York City are in the Directors Guild of America. San Francisco is Teamsters Local 2785, Miami is Teamsters Local 542, and Las Vegas is Teamsters Local 631. Location Managers from all around the world can join the Location Managers Guild International.

    But you're freelance? — Yes. We might work for, say, three months for Universal Pictures and then eight months for Sony Pictures, and then, after that, who knows; some jobs are two weeks and some are two years. Since we choose when we want to work or not, it's easy to take extended vacations, and our union status provides continuity in our health and retirement benefits.

    What do you get paid? — The union contract specifies a minimum scale amount for the Assistant, Key Assistant, and Manager levels, but we negotiate higher, depending on experience. We also receive a union-mandated car allowance which provides a rental fee for the use and maintenance of our personal vehicles throughout the duration of the production. Our employers are also expected to pay for all gasoline receipts (or mileage) and lunch receipts, as well as a kit rental that covers the professional equipment that we provide (digital camera, 35mm camera, video camera, laptop computer, tools, traffic cones, bolt cutters).

    How can I become a Location Manager? — First, note that I wrote a different article which describes how to get into the film industry, in general. Much of that applies here too. Work as a P.A. on indies, schmooze, send out résumés, do whatever you can to work as much as possible and make a good impression wherever you go. With every job you get, introduce yourself to the Location Manager and offer to help that person out. At some point down the road, he or she might be able to hire you directly or give your name out to somebody else. The film industry is not just what you know, but also very much who you know. Most jobs are gotten through prior connections and referrals.

    How did you get started? — At age 12, I was working on cable access television programs at my middle school, and at age 13½, I became a background extra on Hollywood feature films, something that I continued through college at U.C. Berkeley. During my sophomore year, I started a website about movie filming locations, purely as a hobby for personal interest. During my senior year, an internship at the Oakland Film Office introduced me more directly to the world of location scouting. My very first scouting job was an Adidas print ad in January 1999, and my first TV commercial was a Macy's Back-to-School shoot. My first indie film on which I worked in the Locations Department was Where's George. The first Hollywood film on which I worked as a day-player was Boys and Girls, the first portion of a film on which I was fully on the staff was Down to You (San Franicsco Unit), and the first film on which I worked from start to finish was Sweet November. All of this was in San Francisco where I started out for the first five years of my career. In March 2004, I moved permanently to Los Angeles (although I'd previously worked there off and on since 2000, beginning with a feature called Almost Salinas). I fulfilled the requirements to transfer from Teamsters 85 to Teamsters 399 and soon worked on projects like Mission: Impossible 3, Transformers, Star Trek, and Iron Man 2.

    Do you like your job? — I love it! The best careers are those that pay you to do what you love to do, and that is something that I am fortunate to have found. Location Scouting involves travel, exploration, and photography, and I get to meet new people and see new places that I never would have had the opportunity for otherwise. It's a little bit Hollywood and it's a little bit real-world. And it's not a nine-to-five job in the same office with the same people for thirty years. Everything about it is a constant new challenge. As my mom likes to say, you know it's a good job if you're still doing it even when you're not on the clock. And that is absolutely true. Everywhere I go, I am never not location scouting!