How to Become a Location Scout
The hardest part about the filmmaking process is gathering all the tools you need to create the world of the story. Finding a location for a gritty action sequence, a psychedelic party scene, or even a romantic first date can be a challenge if you don’t know where to look. Peerspace is a great place to start with thousands of unique spaces available, as well as high-quality photos and descriptions to aid your search. A trained location scout will likely already have Peerspace in their list of resources. Before you figure out how to become a location scout, let’s start with the basics.
What a location scout does
Location scouts can look at a place, whether an apartment, a mall, or a park, and immediately understand what it takes to film there. A variety of factors might thwart a film’s success, so the decision is not so simple. Location scouts have to be aware of those factors and communicate them between the crew and the outside world. Putting it simply, a location scout sources the location a film needs. But behind that shallow description is a deep trench of responsibilities.
Location scouts will receive assignments from a director or production designer, who comes forward with the idea of what they want. Then the location scout takes this idea and puts it on the forefront of their mind — all while aware of what is actually achievable with their budget limitations, distance, and their own resources.
It isn’t enough for them to have an eye for a cinematic setting and to capture it for others to see. No, they must also be able to seek out property owners. Whatever it might be, someone owns it — a plot of land, a sidewalk, a bridge, or grocery store — thus the location scout needs to find out who to negotiate pricing and a time frame with.
This means taking care of legalities as well as cultivating a good relationship with the owner. Location scouts keep the burden off the shoulders of the property owners — otherwise, why would they want to work on a shoot again?
Resources a location scout uses
Location scouts rely on databases they’ve created independently or with a community of location scouts. They use Google, browse through Peerspace, and look into real estate. Plus, they are ready to stop while driving if they spot an interesting place. Even without assignments, location scouts are actively searching for locations. If they see one, they rely on photos, videos, and dutiful note-taking to commemorate a possible new addition to their locations database.
This requires a lot of physical visits to potential shoot sites before the film actually begins production. Scouts are looking to see what kind of access a location allows for a large crew of people to come and inhabit along with truckloads of gear. Location scouts make sure there’s parking, note what streets might need to shut down, and sometimes create a list of hotels and restaurants where the cast and crew can stay and eat.
What a location scout must consider
A location might appear perfect to the naked eye, but upon closer inspection and with an understanding of film production, a scout might note that on-site construction work is audible for miles, which won’t work if the means aren’t available to shut down that construction site for the weeks needed.
Perhaps the lighting is too dim and there is no electricity running to that abandoned building. Or maybe the location owner doesn’t allow the alteration of their property, even though the production designer and the director want to paint the walls a bright red. A location scout considers everything; they act as the eyes and ears of the entire film crew.
How do you become a location scout?
Because they are the eyes and ears for the crew, a good location scout has to have knowledge of lighting and cinematography. Like most jobs in the film industry, there is no blatant education requirement, but many go to film school to learn about production.
A background in management is important, and many have experience as an associate producer or line producer. Because of all the legal matters involved with location scouting, a familiarity with insurance, contracts, and liability issues is a plus. Location scouts rely on a strong network of people that they have cultivated from their time in the industry. This network includes other scouts, filmmakers, film commissions, local government, and locals from different neighborhoods.
Therefore, it is important for a location scout to be communicative and have strong interpersonal skills. Scouts are creative but realistic types who are quick to solve problems that might arise on a set. They are great at multitasking because they have to work long hours and juggle multiple location negotiations at once.
The hierarchy of becoming a location scout
Location scouts begin their careers working from the bottom and climbing to the top. So when asking how to become a location scout, there isn’t one specific way. They start humbly as production assistants on sets, learning from everyone around them and starting their network of connections.
There are also positions as location production assistants, which help prep or wrap locations, so they are often not on an active set. A step above that is a location assistant, who is there before, during, and after a shoot to keep the space clean, keep locals happy, and assist with anything location related. Often only in big productions is this position found, but can require a team of one to three people.
A location manager is also used though usually on bigger productions to oversee the locations department, including the location scout. They are in charge of giving the final say on locations, and they manage the location budget. They are rarely on set, but sometimes they will do physical scouting work.
In essence, location scouts are a vital part of the filmmaking process and their skills are valuable to telling a story. If you’re ready to begin location scouting, check out the spaces available on Peerspace, the largest online marketplace for event venues and production spaces.