Film Location Scouting 101

So you’ve found your next potential film location on Wrapal. Now what? 

Today, we’re going to give you a brief tutorial on how to go about arranging a scout, things to look for at the film location, proper protocol for requests, and important questions to ask the property owner or manager about when you’re on site. We’ll also give away a FREE downloadable checklist that you can print out and take to you on your next location scout. Excited?
First off, start by patting yourself on the back. The fact that you’ve narrowed down your potential film locations into a short list and are ready to go scout them means that half the battle is already won. PS: Did you know you can save your top locations into your favorites folder on Wrapal?

After contacting the property owner on Wrapal, set a time to go scout. There’s no exact science as to whether the filmmaker or the film location proposes a date, but generally speaking we believe the responsibility falls on the filmmaker or Producer since it is their project and they’re taking the initiative. When suggesting a time, be sure to provide a few alternatives to not only be accommodating to the property’s schedule but to also minimize the ‘ping pong’ of back-and-forth scheduling. i.e. ‘How about either Thursday, June 28th at 11 AM or Friday, June 29th at 2 PM?’. Provide options but do not make it too open-ended or it’ll take forever to arrange a viewing. When making the request, we recommend proposing your shoot dates (even if unconfirmed) and suggesting a scouting time as well:

The key with a request is always being upfront. Give the property as many details as possible about your shoot so they can make an accurate assessment of the production. Things to mention include the genre/type of film you’re producing, shoot dates/times, parking/staging area needs/wants, permit/insurance needs and scout date availability. After you’ve scheduled a time to scout, mark a day on your calendar before the scout so you can contact the property owner or manager to remind them of the scout. If possible, try to bring along your:

  • Director
  • Cinematographer/Director of Photography
  • Gaffer/Best Boy Electric
  • Producer/Line Producer/Assistant Director
  • Production Designer/Art Director/Set Dresser

While you don’t want to overwhelm the property owner, having your department heads there will be able to minimize the amount of back and forth and they can ask the questions that pertain to their department on the spot. Also, if your schedule has changed and you cannot make the scout, provide at least 24 hours notice if you have to cancel or reschedule. Do not raincheck at the last minute, or worse – flake on the property entirely. As much as people understand that life sometimes gets in the way or other production woes get prioritized, it will start your relationship off with the property on the wrong foot. Think of it as a date. You always want to be on your best behavior and have a great first impression.

Speaking of impressions, don’t forget to show up on time, or if possible, 5 or so minutes early. As my friends in the military would say: Early is on time and on time is late. When you arrive at the property, alert them of your presence immediately so they can show you around yet be understanding if they run a smidge behind. 

After pleasantries have been exchanged, here’s a general outline of questions you should discuss or ask:

Production Dates/Principal Photography

The number one dealbreaker for a shoot is the shoot date. Ask if the dates you want to shoot at are available. Come prepared with a backup in case your first choice isn’t available. 

Production Schedule

Related to the date, find out if the hours you want to shoot also work for the property. Don’t assume everyone knows that a 12 hour day is standard. Be sure to factor in prep as well as strike times so the property owner isn’t surprised. There’s often a significant time difference between when the shoot wraps (principal photography concludes) and when everyone down to the last Production Assistant and Grip has left the property (taillights).

Production Staging Area on Location

Beyond the area where your scene(s) takes place, be sure to ask the property owner where other things such as wardrobe staging, changing rooms/bathrooms, and holding areas can be situated. Nothing irks a property more than a film crew showing up and requisitioning areas on the day-of that were not requested prior.

Production Sound Needs

Audio is easily one of the most important yet overlooked aspects of a production. Be sure to scope out the property to hear if anything could impede your dialog scenes. Is the property in the flightpath of a major airport? Is there construction going on at an adjacent freeway onramp? 

Film Location Parking

For a lot of our Los Angeles users, parking is a big concern. Many neighborhoods in Los Angeles now have either residential permit-only curbside parking, or paid parking in commercial lots. Be sure to ask the property about parking they can provide or recommend in the area. Do not assume that you can park all over someone’s driveway or a seemingly empty alleyway next to your film location. We include a section about parking on all our listings to give users an idea of each property’s parking situation.

Film Crew Grip & Electric Needs

If possible, try to bring your Director of Photography along for the scout so he or she can check out the power needs of the location. Are you plugging lights into house power? If so, what amperage is their amp box and can it support your needs? Even if you’re on LED only light panels or KinoFlos instead of huge 20K HMIs, be sure to clarify with the property your electric intentions ahead of time and don’t assume your lights will always work. And if you do decide to bring your own generator, find out where it can be placed so it’s out of the way and isn’t a noise or fire hazard. We have a section on power on each Wrapal listing so you know how many amps are at your disposal.
Film Art Department Needs

Very few locations are picture-ready form the onset. Many times, they have to be dressed by the art department. Be sure to ask if you can move their furniture around, take down their pictures and/or modify the visual look of the space in any way. If you need time for the Art Department to pre-prep and dress the scene, be sure to request that ahead of time. Always handle someone else’s belongings with care as you never know how much value (both monetary and sentimental) may be attached to certain objects!

Production Insurance

Speaking of precious objects, don’t forget to ask the property if insurance is required. Generally speaking, most locations require a $1,000,000 dollar general liability (GL) policy and $100,000 in third party property damage. If you don’t have insurance, we provide one on the site through our Preferred Partners ATHOS Insurance, which you can add on to any booking. 

Ease of Film Permitting

Legally speaking, film permits are required for every film shoot. This is especially true in places like Los Angeles or New York City. Yes, even private property though many homeowners often turn a blind eye. Thankfully, one can apply for a permit easily through Film LA. If you’re not familiar on how to apply for a permit through and are daunted by the prospect, we recommend using Film Permits Unlimited who have been in the business for decades and are undisputedly phenomenal at what they do.

Law Enforcement of Film Permits

Ask about police presence in the neighborhood. How strictly filming is regulated? We’ve had film shoots shut down or disrupted even though the filmmakers had a permit. Whether or not you have a permit, we recommend calling your local police department ahead of time. Especially if you have exterior scenes and especially if you have scenes that contain prop weapons or fight scenes. Call the local neighborhood station (NOT 911), ask the dispatcher to patch you through to the Watch Commander and explain the context of the shoot. That way, when an officer on patrol calls it in, dispatch will inform him or her what is going on, thus negating the need for said officer to interrupt your shoot for a permit check. The LAPD website has a comprehensive list of all the police stations in the City of Los Angeles.

Filming Location Restrictions

Find out if the property has any particular restrictions. These can be idiosyncrasies like a roommate who comes home in the middle of the day from night shift and wants to sleep, or a neighbor that hates filming because their son was once rejected from a casting call. No location is perfect: Ask the property to disclose any and all possible pitfalls ahead of time so you’re not surprised on the day.

Other Film Crew Needs

Every film shoot is different and every production has different needs than the other. If you have any other requests or questions, ask them ahead of time. Our property owners on Wrapal have been asked things from what kind of pets they have (some actors were allergic to cats), what the wireless internet password was (cell phone data service was bad) and even if showers were available (an actress in a horror film had to rinse off a ton of fake blood).

Photography

Though we pride ourselves on high-quality photos on Wrapal, your Director or Cinematographer might want to take their own photos with a DSLR or iPhone. As a courtesy, be sure to ask the property owner if that’s acceptable to them before documenting every square inch of their privacy. They likely won’t mind, but it’s polite to ask regardless.

Set Up Your Location Scout

Do you need another tech scout or time to rehearse or prep the location before filming? Be sure to disclose this ahead of time and don’t assume the property will always be available up until principal photography. Same with pick up shots. If you have a very ambitious shot list that calls for a lot of setups and it may come down to the wire, it wouldn’t hurt to ask the property what it might cost to return another day after filming concludes. It’s better to ask ahead of time how much that quick exterior shot or a simple B-Roll close up may cost ahead of time rather than retroactively. 

Production Contracts & Location Releases

He said/she said is so last century. Ask the property to sign a location release/contract that allows you to not only feature the location in your production, but also sets out the terms of your agreement in writing. We provide a free digital contract both parties can e-sign on Wrapal in the booking module.

Film Shoot Cancellations

No one likes to cancel, but if you do have to, be sure to find out what the property’s cancellation policies are so you’re in the know. Should something unforeseen happen, knowing that ahead of time will mean less complications later. Each property’s cancellation policy is located here on their listing.

Above all, remember that you’re a guest in someone else’s place of work or place of residence, and treat it with the utmost respect. As they say, a location is a character in and of itself, so be sure to treat it as you would a star in your film. However – Should issues arise, be sure to book through Wrapal so we can help mediate any potential issues, interface with the property for you and more importantly – add convenience and make location management one less thing you have to worry about for your next project so you can focus on what you do best.

But wait – There’s more! Check out our print-friendly, easy-to-use film location scouting 101 guide below. Not only is it free, but the printout also summarizes all the tips and techniques mentioned here concisely so you’re covered on your next scout. Ready to go scouting? Check out more than 1,500 locations on our site in both Los Angeles and New York.

That’s a Wrapal

*Cover image by Till Krech used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. All other images by Wrapal.

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