A location scout, sometimes called a locations scout, locations manager, location manager, or film scout, secures and manages locations for filming outside studios.
What Does a Location Scout Do?
Location scouts find filming locations matching the director’s vision, yet staying within the project’s budget. The sites should be authentic and visually spectacular. Location scouts then coordinate all the logistics for filming at the location.
Common tasks for location scouts include:
- Breaking down the script to determine the kinds of locations required
- Discussing location ideas and budgets with directors and screenwriters
- Researching potential filming locations online and using public records databases
- Getting scouting and filming permissions from property owners and local authorities, including negotiating prices and filming timeframes
- Visiting potential filming locations and assessing their viability, both alone, with location team members, and with the director
- Making notes and sketches, photographing, and videoing potential filming locations to show their aesthetics and logistics
- Arranging permits for filming on location
- Liaising with people who live near the filming location
- Photographing locations during pre-production so crew can return sites to their original condition
- Liaising with local officials on-site logistics, including sealing off locations from traffic and getting police to direct traffic
- Assisting with set direction
- Transporting special props, cast, and crew to filming locations
- Supervising the crew restoring filming locations to their original condition
- Determining extra location costs during production, including local fees, labor, and set disassembly
Location Scout Checklist
Location scouts must consider several things before settling on their locations. These are just some of their common considerations:
- Whether the location suits and advances the story
- Whether the location matches the director’s and, in some cases, the screenwriter’s vision
- Whether the location is available when required
- Necessary filming permits, hire fees, and taxes, and how much they cost
- Whether the location needs work and whether owners will approve
- Whether the location is accessible for cast and crew
- Whether there is parking nearby
- Whether the location will have the right light during shooting
- Whether the location is aesthetically appealing
- Whether the location will be quiet enough during shooting
- Whether the location is large enough for cast, crew, props, and filming equipment
- Whether the location has enough power available
- Whether the location has adequate toilets, water, and other essentials
- Whether the local area has enough restaurants
- How far away the location is from the studio’s headquarters
- Whether local weather will impact shooting
Skills Location Scouts Use
Location scouts use a variety of different skills to perform their responsibilities successfully. The skills studios and directors look for include:
- Strong verbal and written communication, including active listening and note-taking
- Networking skills for securing permits and permissions
- Interpersonal skills to build strong relationships with fellow location scouts, government representatives, film commissions, and community members
- Negotiation skills for securing locations at the best price and under the best terms
- Geographical knowledge for efficient site selection
- Navigational abilities, including map reading and use of GPS technology, for site travel
- Driving skills for visiting locations
- Understanding of photography, including lighting and framing shots
- Understanding of insurance, contracts, and liability issues
- Problem-solving for finding suitable locations that meet project budgets
- Photography, videography, and sketching for capturing locations during scouting trips
- Cultural awareness, including being able to speak in different languages in some cases
- Multitasking for juggling many location negotiations at once
Personality Traits of Successful Location Scouts
Location scouts often share personality traits. Anyone with the following characteristics may be well-suited to a location scout role:
- Creativity and strong aesthetic instincts for imagining the potential of different locations
- Patience for listening to different wants and concerns
- Flexibility for adapting to suit director and screenwriter requirements
- Punctuality to ensure productions meet their shooting schedules
- Physical fitness for hiking to remote locations
- Commitment to continue observing potential locations, even if they are between projects
- Realistic to ensure they make smart decisions for productions rather than letting their feelings for a location get in the way
Education, Training, and Advancement
Most location scouts attend film school to learn more about their industry. Many graduates then take internships to gain practical experience and start networking. Training in photography also helps location scouts understand how filming should work in each location.
Working as a production assistant helps aspiring location scouts learn how film departments work together. Many production assistants then gain more production experience as line producers or associate producers. All this education and training provides a solid base for work in locations.
Many people transition from production into the locations area. They may start working as location production assistants or location assistants before becoming a location scout. Ambitious location scouts may continue their career trajectory and eventually become location managers. These professionals are only used on very large productions.
Most location scouts are freelance workers. Working freelance gives location scouts the freedom to chase the most satisfying work. Employment prospects are good for location scouts, with many roles available for entry-level workers. Demonstrating a good work ethic can help location scouts secure regular work.
How Much Does a Location Scout make?
The average salary for location scouts is $86,100 per year. Typical salaries range from $45,000 to $165,000 for more experienced location scouts working on big-budget projects. Union members also usually earn more than non-union location scouts.
Unions, Groups, and Associations
Location work was not traditionally unionized. However, recently unions were established to help location scouts and their colleagues. For example, Theatrical Teamsters Local 817 cares for location workers and vehicle movers in the New York area. This group helps members get paid, secure health insurance, and grow pension funds. The Directors Guild of America and the Location Managers Guild of America are two more popular national unions.
Facebook groups help location scouts connect with others in their line of work. Online resources aren’t just for connecting though. There are also websites which help location scouts find suitable filming locations. Some of the best known include:
- Easy Locations
What to Expect From the Location Scout Lifestyle
Location scouts lead busy lives which often take them away from home. They do most of their work during the pre-production period. During this time, road and air travel is common.
Location scouts may work long hours during production. They may also travel during this period, but they will spend long periods in one place. They typically have long quiet periods once production ends. These relaxed periods help location scouts get the work-life balance they need. Location scouts working on TV programs usually have less downtime than those working in films.
Secrets of Location Scouts
Many people do not realize all that goes into location scouting. These are just some of the things you might not know about working as a location scout:
- Location scouts have a tight-knit community of people that help one another out when they can.
- Location scouts spend a lot of time waiting for answers from property owners and other decision-makers.
- Location scouts find making period pieces challenging because the world has changed so much and details matter.
- Location scouts do most of their scouting close to home for budgetary reasons.
Getting Started and Gaining Experience as a Location Scout
While location scouts are in demand, starting out in your career can still be challenging. The following tips can help you kickstart your career as a location scout:
- Use your connections to get your foot in the door.
- Visit production sets in your local area and express your interest in location scouting.
- Volunteer for film and TV projects to make connections and show your skills.
- Research jobs online and apply for them, no matter how small the project.
- Add all experience to your resume, no matter how small it seems.
Working as a location scout is the perfect job for anyone who loves travel and the entertainment industry. If you’re interested in becoming a location scout, you can learn more about film and how you can improve your skills by applying to the Nashville Film Institute here.