Location, location, location.
If you’re putting together a live action video, where you choose to shoot can make or break the look and feel of your film. The right location frames the entire aesthetic of the piece, and often plays a major role in propelling your video narrative.
Choosing the right video location requires a blend of creativity, research — and proper planning. Shooting a video has a handful of working parts (lighting, sound, accommodations, etc.) that need to be accounted for. And even if you think you’ve got the right place, there’s always unexpected challenges that can turn your fairytale production into a logistical nightmare.
IdeaRocket video director Don Forschmidt offered some of his tips on what to consider when choosing the right film location, whether you’re working with an agent, or scouting on your own:
Consider your story and develop a plan
Before you set out to find the right video location, consider the story you are trying to tell.
“What role does video location play? Who is the audience you’re trying to capture? What is the overall tone you’re trying to achieve?” Forschmidt said.
Work with your team to develop a dedicated storyboard that plots your narrative frame by frame. Where does your story take place? Will your video be filmed during the day, or at night? How many people will be in the film, and what do you need from the crew?
Having an understanding of the types of shots you’re looking for will help your team find a space that can accommodate your needs, and put your story into context.
How big is your budget?
Once you’ve got a good idea of how you want your final product to look, it’s time to consider your budget. To keep costs down, it’s ideal to have free (at no cost) access to the place you film throughout the entirety of your shoot. This is easier said than done, especially if you’re looking to shoot outside your own office.
Hiring a location scout or agent, and renting a space (like a home, event space, or restaurant, for example) can add thousands to your budget. However, Forschmidt says these investments may be necessary in certain cases, especially if you’re trying to achieve a certain look or feel for your video. Make sure your team determines how much money you’re willing to spend beforehand, so you don’t waste time (and resources) scouting for places that aren’t a good financial fit.
You also need to determine whether your crew needs special permissions or permits to shoot in different areas, or during different times of day. If you’re planning to take over a street in a local neighborhood, for example, police assistance may be needed to help redirect traffic. If you’re planning on making a lot of noise at night, you need to ensure you’re following local ordinances.
“It’s good to check with local municipalities when researching a location,” Forschmidt said. “If it’s a very small crew, it might not be an issue, but when you start adding cars and equipment, and you have large footprint, it can be an issue. Also, if you are in a neighborhood, and have a permit, it’s a good practice to let local homeowners know about the shoot and possible disruptions. This can be a simple as a flyer handed out to households on the block.”
Insurance waivers and/or certificates of coverage may also be necessary to make sure your production remains compliant.
Survey the area
After you have your legal ducks in a row, and a storyboard in place, it’s time to get scouting! When surveying different spaces, Forschmidt says it’s ideal to visit the area at the time of day you plan to shoot. This way, you get a real-time view of what the location looks like when you plan to be there, and can scope out potential obstacles that could get in your way.
“You might visit on a weekend, but traffic and construction might only be during the week,” Forschmidt said.
If you can’t visit a location during the time of day you plan to film, Forschmidt suggests asking locals in the neighborhood about the location. Is there ongoing construction? Parking issues? Foot traffic? Unexpected noise?
When scouting for a location, consider your light sources. What natural light is available, and where will you need equipment to fill in the blanks? If you’re shooting outdoors, how does the light change during different times of the day? When shooting indoors, which ways do the windows face, and how does that impact how the room looks at certain angles?
The right lighting can help achieve a certain tone of aesthetic for your video. Refer to your storyboard for guidance, and scout to help achieve the look you desire.
Unexpected noise can be a nuisance for filmmakers. When surveying a location, make sure the space is as quiet as possible.
“Close the door and just listen,” Forschmidt said. “How much air conditioning sound is there? Is it controllable? Any construction going in or near location? Sometimes, construction many floors above a location can reverberate throughout an entire building and spoil sound.”
Forschmidt also suggests surveying areas for signs of roadwork or construction. You should also check to see when outdoor maintenance is done to avoid any surprises.
“When are they doing lawn work? Invariably, just as you are about to roll camera, the leaf blowers come out,” Forschmidt said.
Once you’ve found an ideal location, you need to make sure you have enough room to accommodate your equipment, cast, and crew. Is the area easily accessible? Is there enough parking? Will there be enough space for hair and makeup personnel to set up? Can you feasibly place equipment in the right spots to get the shots you need?
“The location might be perfect, but when you add a lot of crew people and actors, it might be too small, so additional space is needed,” Forschmidt said. “Sometimes, you have to bring along your own space in the form of a location Winnebego for makeup and staging of personnel.”
Making sure you have the access you need is essential, especially for larger projects filmed in spaces that require special permits or permissions. To avoid hassle, do your research beforehand, so you can remain compliant and get the access you need.
Location scouting is an important part of any live video project. With the right planning and research, your team can pinpoint the perfect place to bring your story to life.
Learn more about IdeaRocket’s approach to live action video here.