Expert advice on how to be a location scout
What could be more exotic and more glamorous than scouting far-flung locations, trying to find the best places for Brad and Angelina to play out their latest blockbuster? There’s travel, five-star luxury, a healthy pay check and lots of beautiful people!
But with a job description like that, you know it’s going to be a hard industry to crack. You need to prove your expertise in a destination, and master the knack of finding inspirational realities that mirror the director’s vision. You need to be prepared for hard work and odd requests. And you need to be able to beat off the millions of other location-scout hopefuls.
This is the sort of job people fall into by being in the right place at the right time. You could start as a researcher with a UK production house, but that is more likely to lead to the role of producer or director.
Some countries are saturated because they have a dedicated film-servicing industry (eg Morocco and Thailand). They usually employ local staff before foreigners, unless you are extremely well-established in the country.
One way to get a foot in the door is to put yourself forward as an extra every time the opportunity arises and make contacts. Easier might be to settle somewhere such as Afghanistan or Zambia and carve yourself a niche.
Working in tourism or journalism in-country is a good first step, as you’ll get up close and personal with a destination. Ultimately it’s a word-of-mouth industry – once your name is in circulation for a particular country, gigs will follow.
The bread and butter work will be as a fixer for TV documentaries. Fixers look after crews in-country and are responsible for hiring local crew, arranging logistics, translating and generally keeping the show on the road. And, yes, fixing things when they go wrong. Working as a fixer is a good in to becoming a location scout, as working with TV crews you soon pick up the eye for the right spot. However, expect long hours and lower pay.
You need to get out there and find locations for filming. Absorb the script, understand the image and find the reality. Often locations sell themselves, but sometimes you’ll sell the spot to the director with a dash of creative optimism. Logistics play their part: you don’t want locations that are too difficult to access or hours away from a comfortable base.
Once the scouting is over and the shooting begins, the circus comes to town. The hours can be outrageously long, particularly as a location manager: first on set, last to leave, and dealing with a range of requests, from the obvious to the absurd.
Bureaucracy and corruption are a hassle in many countries, as it’s common knowledge that many film companies have elastic budgets. This means inflated prices, unnecessary hurdles and lots of backhanders. Navigating a way through this messy maze is one of the hardest parts of the job and important allies are all.
You get to explore off the beaten track. Sometimes you are on the trail of something fairly obscure, which takes you into territory untravelled.
You also get to hang out with interesting people. Film stars, directors, sound recordists, riggers – most have worked around the world.
Nick Ray has worked as a location scout and manager in Cambodia and the Mekong region beyond, since 2000, including work on Tomb Raider and the BBC’s Around the World in 80 Treasures. But how did he get the job?
“By accident, really! I had just finished a new edition of Lonely Planet’s Cambodia and thought that the country should be covered for the Globe Trekker TV series. I contacted Pilot Productions and sold it to them over lunch. I chose the locations and worked with the crew during their three-week shoot in Cambodia.
Then came an abortive scouting job for the Oliver Stone film Beyond Borders, before he pulled out at the last minute. Just as the Oliver Stone connection was unravelling, Tomb Raider stepped up and decided to shoot at Angkor. That was 2000 and Cambodia has taken off in the years since.”
Top tip: “Don’t be fazed by the big names. Many of the top names are surrounded by sycophants on set and they appreciate a dose of the down-to-earth. Be relaxed, be yourself and introduce them to the unique aspects of the country and culture where they are working. Be the bridge between their world and the new world they are discovering.”
Choose your country carefully - if it has already been shot from every angle, the competition will be stiff.
Choose a destination you are passionate about, this will help you to inspire those you work with.
Learn the language and build a network of contacts around the country.
Invest in a digital camera and build a location library, but stick with a sensible 50mm lens – directors want to see what they get, not what a wide-angle lens can do.
Watch more movies - look out for stunning locations and think about similarly striking spots in your region.
Set up a website - promote your services and spread the word through other location sites on the internet.
Develop a variety of skills - this includes management of people and interpersonal skills as well as patience and politeness – anything can happen during a day on set.
Be flexible and creative - you need to understand the transformation process involved in movie making. Sometimes the location is perfect, but often it will require extensive work as the design team and art department do their thing.
Don’t forget the basics: logistics and cost control are crucial, you must always keep a clear head as those around you will be losing theirs at some time during the shoot.
Expect the unexpected.
mandy.com - a popular online directory for the film and TV industry worldwide. Sign on as a location scout and see what comes your way
Kemps Film and Television database for jobs and information all over the globe
The location guide - the number one online resource for locations, this will give you an idea of what it’s all about
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