Advertising photoshoots don’t happen by accident; they come together with careful preparation, planning, and teamwork. When the location is an essential aspect of your shoot, it’s smart to work with a professional location scout to help find that perfect spot.
“Having a location scout can make or break the shoot,” says Andy Faulk, a Tokyo-based travel and hospitality photographer. Andy speaks from experience, knowing that it’s better to be safe than sorry when deciding whether or not to use a professional scout.
I recall a commission a few years back when I was tasked to write and shoot a travel feature on Langkawi, Malaysia. I only had four or five days to sort the research for the text and to shoot the assignment. With such a short time frame and little knowledge of the area, it was foolish of me not to enlist a location scout. Had I done so, the piece would have been much less stressful on me personally and much more powerful professionally.
“Scouting is about having good eyes and looking through a logistical lens rather than a camera lens,” explains Bill Arrowood, a location scout based in Philadelphia. After more than 20 years working as a location scout and location manager, he’s learned that there’s more that goes into scouting than just finding a fitting location.
Usually, it’s logistical challenges that you want to account for. A location can’t just look nice; the crew has to be able to get in there, too.
On commercial shoots with larger crews, this is especially significant. Wonderful Machine Executive Producer Craig Oppenheimer spoke about a few shoots he worked on where the scout was particularly helpful.
For one project, we needed a shot of a couple walking on the sidewalk. But with a crew of 25 people who needed to be involved, we also needed a staging area to set everything up. Our location scout [Mike Lehman of P&L Locations] knew a church around the corner, and we were able to use their recreation room instead of renting out a hotel’s conference room for the day.
Thanks to that scout’s pre-existing relationship with the local church, Craig and company saved some money on the shoot and gave back to the community. Those relationships are invaluable, as Bill also mentioned.
The needs of the community should be weighed as well as the needs of the production. Good scouting leads to long term relationships with locations. I work diligently to make sure relationships with production companies are just as strong as relationships with locations.
Of course, scouts that fit this ideal mold don’t work for free. The average cost of a location scout is around $750 a day — and that doesn’t include expenses like mileage, parking, meals, and tolls. Additionally, there are often fees associated with private locations and sometimes permits if the property is public. Depending on the potential permits required and the type of location, costs can vary significantly. For example, a residential property could range anywhere between $1,500-$5,000/day, and a commercial location could be much more.
In addition to fees and permits, location protection may be needed from time to time. Protection is usually necessary when shooting in someone’s home or at another location that requires additional care while on set. This can come in the form of extra materials, such as floor and wall protection, furniture sliders, or cardboard coverings. There are even companies that specialize in this, such as NY Layout Pros.
On top of all that, there are further aspects that make a great location scout. Once on set, some scouts will transition into the role of location manager. The location manager “briefs the crew on location rules and where they can/cannot go during the shoot,” according to Kent Youngblood, a producer at Movie Mogul. They also help facilitate finding parking and staging locations and making sure things go smoothly on set.
Bill Arrowood summarizes:
Location management and film production work together like a snowglobe. When things go wrong, it’s the location manager’s job to be the glass and hold the world together while the dust settles and everything ends up back where it belongs.
If you’re looking for a location scout now or sometime in the future, check out Wonderful Machine’s Find Crew page.
If you’re a location scout interested in being a part of the page, reach out to us via email.