Movie Location Scouting: The Good, The Bad and the Really Ugly

On the day I arrived to evaluate locations for a video I was producing, everything went wrong. It rained. Our rental car died an unnatural death. There was no food to be found.

Colleagues and I travelled many hours to reach the location, yet all we accomplished was wasting time and money. If you think these happenstances represent the entire list of “things that can go wrong,” grab a pint and read this article first.

Advance warning: This isn’t a doom and gloom menu, but rather a realistic look at a career that requires the patience of Mother Theresa and a BAFTA-winning sense of humour.

Movie Location Scouting, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

But, it’s not in my Job Description

The Good:

Earning the respect of the crews with whom you interact with while scouting film locations may require you to do things that don’t appear on the job description. This is where your excellent sense of humour comes in handy, because if you smilingly say “Of course” to every bit of scouting work that comes your way, you’ll earn allies fast and defenders even faster. Few opportunities to make a reputation are as heady as the willingness to do what it takes to contribute to the completion of a film.

The Bad:

Your film teacher says he trolled the highlands seeking a pristine location perfect for an updated Loch Ness film. But he probably didn’t add that some film companies treat location scouts as location managers. These are two separate jobs, yet the line is crossed frequently, turning an already harried location scout into the on-set manager, too. If you don’t mind double the headaches and responsibility, you may wish to put this on your “good” list.

It’s Not Enough to Love Exotic Locations

The Good:

If you’re crazy about travel, your wanderlust qualifies you eminently for a job opening as a location scout. Depending upon the company or producer employing you as a staffer or consultant, you could land in Bora Bora, drink Polynesian cocktails during your down time and return with kudos from a performance well done, thanks to your sterling ability to secure the cooperation, clearances and bookings necessary to host a film crew for an indeterminate amount of time.

The Bad:

You’re crazy about travel, but if the thought of dysentery, malaria, days without showering and rampant foot fungus seems intolerable, find another career. On the other hand, you’re impervious to potential health scares but what awaits at the location you are scouting could make dysentery a pleasurable alternative: you finally arrive and meet up with your contacts only to learn that you’re going to be held up for more money by local authorities, the permits and licenses required to give the film crew permission to shoot are non-existent or impossible or ”a favorite” the gorgeous beach tourist authorities promised is awash in trash and rotting fish.

Making Friends and Influencing People

As a professional location scouter, you look forward to meeting like-minded contemporaries ready and willing to lend you a hand and perhaps even up the ante on your social life once filming begins. There’s nothing like hooking up with men and women who share your passion for cinema and building a career in the film industry. You could make lifelong friends. You might fall in love. The connections you make on a single location could cement forever your reputation as a solid professional, leading to so many future jobs, you can name your scouting fee rates.

The Bad:

You’re stuck in an area of the world that is inhospitable and unforgiving. Soon after settling in, figuring out the ropes and prospecting for additional sites in the area, you discover that your work colleagues are inhospitable, competitive, suspicious and unforgiving, but because you’re required to stay in close proximity until every last location is scouted and filming winds down, you can’t escape. A close-knit movie crew comprised of headstrong creatives can provoke jealousy, particularly if you’re doing an outstanding job.

A Fabulous Education, To Be Sure

It matters not how many theatre, film and broadcast production classes you take, you’ll start to master your craft on the day you accept your first location-finding assignment. What you do from the day you depart with a digital camera, laptop/e-book and notepads each aid ready to capture all of the data producers need to proclaim the location ideal–you will be measured and evaluated, so if you get pleasure from showing folks how skilled and clever you are, this is your chance to shine.

The Bad:

Let’s say that someone takes a dislike to you for any number of ridiculous reasons and you’re not seasoned enough to handle it well. This is when that Mother Theresa persona plus the skills your mum taught about how to get along with disagreeable people are going to come in handy. Competition in the location scouting industry is fierce and not always fair, so be prepared to use unorthodox methods to win over people and you should escape unscathed.

Show You the Money

Do your job with the skill of a master, save the production company a fortune in overtime costs, prove yourself to be a genius at finding additional locations if the first one proves inhospitable and you earn kudos for becoming the units most valuable resource. This wave can be ridden throughout a production, paying off big time in the form of a bonus in addition to your salary or consulting fee.

The Bad:

Your scouting trips and associated expenses far exceed budget and while it’s not your fault (the random monsoon, everyone gets food poisoning or critical equipment remains with customs on a dock miles away), your name could be written all over the debacle because higher-ups need a scapegoat. Budget control can make or break a film particularly if it does poorly at the box office–so look for signs that you’re being set up for the fall.

And don’t spend that hoped-for bonus quite yet.


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