Advice from an Indie Producer: Locations


Locations are an important part of your prep as a filmmaker. The places you choose can either enhance or potentially harm the production value of your project. The process to find locations can be daunting especially on a full-length feature film, so it’s imperative that you have a plan.

Breaking down the script is the first step in location prep. The location person’s job is to go through the script and create a spreadsheet of the following information:

  • Name of the scripted location for each scene
  • Location address: To ensure it’s a realistic and workable commute.
  • Interior/exterior: Does the scene happen inside and/or outside on the street, a field, a beach?
  • Day/night: Note this because it could restrict shooting if locations are not available at night.
  • Script notes: Are there stunts? Are there SFX? 
  • Permit: Do we need special permission to shoot (e..g, a park, subway, beach). What are the fees?
  • TCD request: In NYC you can request TCD (NYPD Movie/TV Unit) if you need to close streets, do car chases, etc.
  • Holding requirements: Where will the crew set up Wardrobe, HMU, Catering, and so on?

The breakdown serves as a master plan for the location person (this could be you if it’s a smaller project). Most experienced location professionals have an online database of locations that they can access to show the creative team (Producer, Director, DP) before they schedule a scout, which avoids riding around in a van and wasting time and money.

I would advise that before the creative team looks at the pictures of proposed locations that your location person “clears” the space. Here are the criteria for clearing a space:

  • Available for the dates the project shoots
  • Fits within the project’s budget 
  • Film-friendly aka can tolerate film crews in its location

After the creative team decides on locations from the online database, a preliminary scout is scheduled by the Assistant Director (AD). The purpose of the preliminary scout is to see if the locations work for the vision of the project while honoring the budget. Typically the Producer, Director, DP, AD and Line Producer (LP/UPM) will attend.

Once you have locations that will work for the creative team and budget, the AD schedules a tech scout. This scout includes everyone from the preliminary scout in addition to the technical department heads (Gaffer, Key Grip, Sound, Production Designer, etc.). Its purpose is to give everyone a chance to discuss the challenges and expenses for each department that will be incurred at each location, to make sure everyone on the team can deliver the creative vision within the time and budget of the shoot.

After the tech scout, locations can start to be locked. The AD requires the location availability so she or he can coordinate that with the actors’ availability to lock a shooting schedule. There is a delicate balance between the location person, LP, and AD because every step in locking locations has to be in alignment with the budget (LP), schedule (AD) and availability (location person).

Hiring Tip
Choose a location person with experience at your budget level and who knows the area. If you have to hire a less experienced location person with limited knowledge of the permitting area and procedures, make sure your LP/UPM has experience with locations (most indie LPs know how to do this).

Now that we have a place to shoot, check back for a follow-up post about what’s need on set so you can start rolling the camera! 


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