Location, location, location...

As we’ve all been painfully aware, it’s been about -1 billion here the last few weeks.  So OF COURSE we’d get the call to pick up a location scout right smack at the beginning of a Prehistoric-style Northern ice age.

For those of you who may not know, a location scout is a survey of local locations that could be used in an upcoming film or television project.  Basically we get a script, we read it, we make a list of locations, and then we hit the road in search of them.  It can be an incredibly arduous process and if you’re unprepared you can waste a ton of time and resources chasing down what you need.  We’ve been locations scouting on and off for about 10 years now – we started back when you’d approach someone about using their business in a movie and people looked at you like you just asked to sleep in their bed.  These days you barely get through your opening sentence and people cut you off with “Yeah yeah, they shot here last year too.”

So although this area is rapidly becoming more familiar with the concept of location scouts knocking on their doors, you still have to tread lightly.   With that said, this is my little “how to scout locations in Sudbury” breakdown:


1.     Prep, prep & more prep.   Seriously.  Better to spend a few days in the office researching, sending out feelers, and staring at maps and planning your attack before even setting foot outside.  Otherwise you will end up criss-crossing the region and wasting piles of time.  Try to work in sections rather than bounce around all over.

2.     Bring a partner.  It’s infinitely easier to hop in and out of the car quickly to grab shots than having to find a parking space etc etc etc.   The word of the day is “speed” and anything that helps you move faster is key.

3.     Ask permission.  Now admittedly, I’ve absolutely done my share of “snap and run” in order to give a producer an idea of a location possibility but ultimately if you want proper coverage and a true sense of what you’re looking at, make the call and get someone to show you around properly.  Not only will your shots be better but it’s also a chance to get insider information from your guide.  For example, it could be the perfect location but if you don’t speak to someone in charge, you’d never know that the property owner wouldn’t allow filming for all the money in the world.  Now you’ve wasted time on a useless location.  See point #1.

4.     Fuel.  For both you and your vehicle.  Seems simple enough but you’d be surprised.  Car-wise – sometimes you get on a roll and before you know it you’ve traversed 100kms of backcountry farm roads on less than ¼ tank of gas.  You do not want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere with no cell service trying to find someone with a jerry can of fuel.  See point #1.   Person-wise – eat and eat often.  You can’t always stop for lunch at the perfect time so if you find yourself near food, take advantage of it.  And pack snacks.  When the scout is happening fast, you must let it happen and stopping to eat isn’t always an option.

5.     Make contacts.  Before you head out on the road your first calls should be to trusted and valued contacts.  People who know everything and everyone.  For me, those people are 1) my city film rep and 2) my Dad.  My city rep knows all the right people to talk to for permissions, tips on friendly and not-so-friendly locations etc.  My Dad has lived here for 70 years and just knows everything and everyone and always has suggestions.  Especially out of the way spots in the bush, lakes etc.  Trying to do this job without people like that is an uphill battle.  But do it long enough and you’ll find them.

6.     Dress appropriately.  Again, seems obvious but you’d be surprised.  Winter or summer you need to be dressed for the elements because guaranteed you will find yourself in the middle of a huge windswept farm field on a day with a -50 C wind-chill (with bare hands because don’t forget you’re working a fancy camera) or standing on the edge of an exposed rock quarry on a day that is +45 C.  These have both happened to me.  Multiple times.  Something else to consider?  Often you are going into people’s homes or businesses so don’t dress like a hobo.  You have to be presentable.  Remember you are trying to get people to trust you enough to hand over their home. 

7.     Extra, extra extra.  Bring extra camera batteries, extra memory cards, extra phone chargers, extra pens, and extra copies of ALL your paperwork.  Being caught at a location with a suddenly dead camera battery and no replacement is amateur hour folks.

8.     Reporting.  This may not be for everyone but it is for me.  If I’m going to scout a private home alone I always like to let someone know the address.  Because you never know.

9.     Build a kit.  Like the aforementioned “extra stuff” you should have a kit of other stuff you will most likely need readily at hand.  Think pads of paper, pens, a wireless device of some kind (phone, tablet etc) so that you can do Internet searches on the go, check maps & weather etc, PILES of business cards.  You don’t want to be missing anything.

10.  The last and most important tip?  BE NICE.  It seems so stupid to point it out but you’d honestly be so surprised.  I live in a neighbourhood that gets used for filming often enough so I’ve had more than a couple scouts knock on my door that just rub me the wrong way.  Also if you are a Sudbury resident, the chances of you knowing the location owner in some way, shape or form is super likely.  This last scout, I walked into a house and on the wall was a wedding photo of a friend I’ve known since university.  It was her father’s house.  If I’d walked in there with a big ol’ pushy film attitude it would’ve been bad for me professionally as well as personally. You will have to live with this people long after the film has come and gone and you don’t want to burn a location with a crappy attitude.  Be polite, make the small talk, don’t rush them and just be a respectable human being.  If you set a time for an appointment, be on time.   If they say to call rather than email, pick up the phone.  Take off your shoes.  Don’t touch their things.  Simple basic stuff but it could make the difference between getting the location and not.  And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, the owner will sometimes offer you a glass of brandy.   True story.