Top 10 Tips to Location Scouting & Filming
Everybody that has done a shoot on location knows that it’s a whole different beast compared to filming in the controlled environment of sound stages. You have to battle the weather elements, public pedestrians, every piece of equipment must be packed into trucks that are often a lot further away from the shooting location, and so on. There are many challenges that shooting on location will bring but from my
There are many challenges that shooting on location will bring but from my experience, some of the biggest challenges have been the most fun times on set. I filmed in a remote location in New Zealand for 2 weeks where we had to communicate to a crew of about 200 with no phone reception and internet. They were also staying in multiple different locations within a 2-hour drive. That was tough but I got to experience one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world (while wearing waders
That was tough but I got to experience one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world (while wearing waders every day and it constantly raining). Here are a few tips that will help you prepare for those long days on location.
1 – Plan for Rain
Even if it hasn’t rained in your so-called desert location this century I guarantee as soon as the tailgates of film trucks open, as will the heavens. I’ve spent entire days filming in the rain. It slows things down, it renders some scenes impossible to film and it adds another element when scenes need to be cut together to match.
As opposed to shooting in the studio when the biggest issue can be if the air conditioner is set 5 degrees too cold, rain can be an absolute nuisance to filming on location. Make sure you pack more pop up tents to cover gear, plenty of umbrellas, personal wet weather clothing, and expect shooting efficiency to slow as a result. If you’re just starting out in the film industry and expect to be on location go and buy a very good wet weather jacket.
2 – Plan for Mud
With rain and film crews, comes mud. You’ll experience every type of mud possible as the years go by. These are the days I’m glad I’m not a cable roller. Apart from packing a set of gumboots (wellingtons), there’s some specific equipment that can be extremely helpful in these situations as trolleys can become redundant. Gear stretchers, tarpaulins, or plastic sheets can help carry gear in, place on the muddy ground, and keep gear protected.
3 – Pack Extra Everything
I like to tell my PAs that preparing for filming on location is like preparing for war. Maybe that’s a bit overdramatic but you have to be prepared for all circumstances. No matter which department you are prepping the equipment, supplies, and stationery for I’d advise to always pack a little extra. In my early days, it was extra paper and staples for the call sheets to be printed.
Even though the schedule states that you’ll be on location for 3 days before returning to the studio, this will often be extended if conditions aren’t favorable and filming takes longer than expected. It’s great to create a list that you can take from job to job so you know exactly what you’ll need when hitting the road.
4 – Add bump in and bump out time
There are multiple reasons why production companies spend thousands of dollars hiring studios to create sets and film in. One of them is the extra bump in and bump out the time it takes the crew when on location. Crews end up doing more hours pushing trolleys in and out of locations. Often more manpower is needed to cope with the extra workload.
This requires more catering and so exponentially the costs increase. When planning on-location shoots don’t neglect the extra bump in and out time for crews and the associated costs this will incur. Many departments will need a pre-call just to get equipment to the location or it may eat into your shooting day before you can even think about rolling cameras. Again at the end of the day departments will need extra time to bump out of the location and pack the truck before they are finished. This will affect their turnaround time for the following day so call times may need to be adjusted.
5 – Bring Plenty of Water
Water is life. I’ve seen film crews go without most things for hours but they get very grumpy when there’s no water close by. Make sure there’s enough water for all when on location. Coldwater coolers are good but on location, water bottles are needed so people can take them to where they are working.
If you find yourself in a breakaway camera team hiking to a remote camera location to get that amazing shot the DP wants, don’t forget to throw in a few water bottles. Even though it’s a ‘simple’ shot, I can guarantee you’ll be there for a few hours. I’ve been in this situation many times before and you can keep everyone happy with a few water bottles, some fruit, a granola bar, and plenty of film stories will be shared.
6 – Wear Sunscreen
Director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby) released a song titled ‘Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen’. Apart from the other genius advice the song offers, the main principle of wearing sunscreen should be observed when filming on location. Nobody wants to end up looking like Magda in There’s Something About Mary. Even if it’s not super sunny, you’ll still get burnt when you stand outside for a full 10 hours. Make sure you slap that sunscreen on throughout the day and don’t forget your hat and sunglasses.
7 – Pack a Bag of Extra Stuff
When filming on location I leave a small duffle bag in my car that has spare clothes, underwear, and socks, extra rain jacket, my warm gear including gloves and beanie (even in Summer), and an extra pair of shoes. This is my emergency bag in case I get wet, cold, muddy or whatever on set and need to change. Trust me it happens. A 1
A 1st Assistant Director thought it would be funny once to ask me to go and help a crew member right before he called “action” on an SFX water test. I ended up soaked from head to toe at the start of a full night shoot. Luckily I had spare clothes in my car that I could change into. This bag has also saved the life of many ill-prepared PA’s that thought a sweatshirt would be good enough for a full night shoot or that they could hold an umbrella all day while it was raining.
8 – Help Each Other Out
Filming on location is always tougher than the relaxed environment of a studio. You will inevitably have extremely tough days. As will other crew members and departments. At the right times be the type of person that helps them out. You’ll appreciate the reciprocal on days that you are struggling. This doesn’t mean I go and setup 20k lamps on my own for the electrics department but when they have to lug gear a mile into a remote location and my hands are free I offer to carry something for them.
9 – Stay Safe
Film sets are a very unique working environment whether you are in the studio or on location. It’s important that everyone working on a set feels safe and that certain procedures are followed. When filming on locations, obviously there’s a lot more factors to consider such as lightning and high winds as a storm rolls in, or SFX explosions and stunts, or simply just trip hazards or cliffs. Always look after yourself and your crew and if you feel something is right then spoken up to your head of department.
10 – Enjoy where you are filming and take photos
As much as shooting in these remote locations can be extremely taxing, with longer days, exhausting conditions, and travel to and from the sets, you are often rewarded with access to places that not many people get to go to whilst also being paid for it. I’ve filmed on city rooftops, amazing island beaches, boats at sea, remote mountains and even on top of the Sydney Opera House.
There have been countless moments when I’ve looked to another crew member and expressed how amazing it is we get to visit these places with our job. If you prepare well and are up for the challenge, filming on location can be an awesome adventure. And don’t forget to take a few photos along the way to show your friends when you get back.
Here are a few of mine:
Matt Webb is the author of Setlife: A Guide To Getting A Job in Film (And Keeping It). He is an Assistant Director with credits including The Great Gatsby, Mad Max: Fury Road, Hacksaw Ridge, Pirates of the Carribean and Alien: Covenant.
Setlife: A Guide To Getting A… is a must-have guide designed to prepare you for what happens on a typical day on a film set. Matt Webb’s no-fuss, practical tips are essential reading for anyone chasing a career in the film industry. He definitely knows about set Film Terms. The book is available for $25 from Amazon.
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