5 Tips for Shooting Beautiful Magic Hour Footage

5 Tips for Shooting Beautiful Magic Hour Footage

Golden hour is the time around sunrise and sunset when the sun is closest to the horizon, creating soft, even light. Coupled with blue hour — the time just before sunrise and just after sunset — you’ve got what’s known as “magic hour.” And as beautiful as magic hour is, it’s just as temporary. That’s why these tips offer insight on the camera settings and techniques you need to capitalize on the most captivating time(s) of the day.

1. Know When Golden Hour Occurs

The easy thing to understand about golden hour is when it happens. With this information, you can just head out on your shoot around sunrise or sunset and probably get some great footage or photos. However, the difficult thing to understand is that golden hour isn’t always a true “hour” — and there are many factors you need to be aware of to harness as much golden light as you can.

Video: Car Ferry Beautiful Cinematic Sunset Lake Boat 5K Stock Video Footage by fuzzfocus.

Depending on the time of year, your altitude, and your latitude, your golden hour’s duration can vary wildly. In Alaska, it can be up to an hour and a half in the summer, but it can also be nonexistent in the winter. There are several resources available, like golden-hour.com, photopills, and goldenhour.one.

Most of these apps give you the exact duration for any location, elevation, and date, and can even send you reminders when it’s the perfect time to shoot. Since these moments are fleeting, knowing precisely when you need to roll can be the difference between success and failure.

2. Scout Your Location Beforehand

The only way to know what your location looks like during golden hour is to actually witness it beforehand. Go out and scout both sunrise and sunset light to see what looks best. Keep an eye on the sun’s path in the sky and look for any shadows it creates as it rises and sets. Take your camera and look at your settings. That way, you won’t waste any time having to figure out your exposure when you should be shooting.

Video: Ws Pan Silhouette Of Photographer Walking, Carrying Tripod In Desert At Sunset by rubberball.

If you’re not able to reach your destination before your shoot, you can check Google Earth or other 3D tools that actually show you the sun’s trajectory and lighting during a given time of day or year. The more prepared you are ahead of time with knowledge of the sun’s path and strength, the better results you’re likely to come away with.

3. Stick Around for Blue Hour

Blue hour is the time just before the sun rises or just after the sun sets, when there is still enough even, soft light to give you footage that looks great. During blue hour, the sky has a deeper blue and more saturated colors, which can lead to a more dramatic and melancholy feel. This can be great if you’re going for that look, but it can be tough to match the color of other shots in post.

The lack of sun means that you won’t have as much of that direct golden hue, which can also result in a cooler image. Blue hour is also going to be much darker, since there isn’t any sun, so boost your exposure as much as you can before adding noise and/or grain to your camera.

It can be difficult to match golden hour and blue hour shots, so work separately within each time period as much as possible. And, as it is with golden hour, blue hour is fleeting (possibly even more so), so you need to work fast.

4. Keep an Eye on Your Settings

As the sun rises and sets, the color temperature is going to change dramatically. In order to keep it consistent, you’re going to have to constantly monitor your settings. Pull up your camera’s histogram (if you’ve got one) and read the data to see exactly what’s going on with your image, then tweak as necessary.

Video: Close On Lcd Back Of Camera Adjustments by hhuntington2.

When you’re adjusting the color temperature of your image in-camera, auto white balance will usually do just fine. However, since there is so much warm light coming from the sun, you may lose some of the skin tones on your subjects (if you have them), because the camera will be adding cooler blue color to compensate.

Daylight, shade, or cloudy presets can also give you positive results, depending on your light, so experiment with those. The key is to not lose your blues. Manual white balance works as well, but you’ll need to keep a watchful eye and make adjustments with the light. As far as your ISO, know what your camera’s native ISO is, because once you go above that, your image can lose quality and add camera noise or grain.

Lastly, opening or closing your aperture to keep adequate exposure can drastically change your depth of field, so if you have a specific look you want to keep, don’t adjust it too much. Work with other exposure settings instead.

Video: Gorgeous Sunrise Over Tropical Sea. Timelapse Of Moving Clouds On Dramatic Sky by BananaRepublic.


5. Get Creative With the Sun

The majority of your shots are going to be one of two things: pointing the camera toward the sun, or pointing the camera away from the sun and toward your subject, using the golden light as your light source. Experiment with other angles by using the sun in more creative ways, like as a rim light right behind your subject, creating a halo effect.

You can use the sun to create a lens flare by simply tilting or pivoting your camera at the right angle to the sun (it also helps immensely to remove the lens hood). You can direct the sun’s light with reflectors or bounce cards, or the sun can even be bounced off a body of water and you can highlight reflections of the sun without actually looking at it. It’s like hot ice: the best of both worlds.

Video: Crowd Of People Backlit By Sun by RedBlue.

No matter what you do, shooting during magic hour is incredibly beautiful and rewarding when you do it right, and you’ll learn loads about using natural light in your productions. You’ll also learn how to shoot quickly within a tight window, which never hurts.

Top Image: Photographer by magann .

Working With Green Screens: Tips For Your Production

Working With Green Screen

Green screens are everywhere in filmmaking. They’re arguably the most-used visual effect in storytelling outside of credits or title sequences, and they can open up infinite options for your project. But you’ve got to be able to use them correctly to get the best results and minimize the amount of time and money spent adding VFX to your film.

Video: Nab 2016: Camera Filming Model Green Screen Background Chroma Key 4K Uhd by logoboom

We won’t get into the history* of the green/blue-screen technique or what’s going on within the camera and why it works, but this blue/green technique is called “chroma keying” (using black/white is “luminance keying” or “luma keying”). Essentially, you’re choosing a color for your background (or foreground, screen, or body part) that is completely different from anything and everything else in your frame (usually green), isolating it, then making it transparent.

*Note: If you’re interested in learning the history of green/blue-screen techniques, check out this incredibly fascinating video by FilmmakerIQ.

Screen Time

There are many options for green screens, so research to see what’s best for you and your budget. You may not need a huge screen if you’re shooting a stationary subject, nor should you get a small screen if you’re shooting an action scene with a lot of movement.

If you’re planning on shooting in the same place for every project, it may be best to just buy green-screen paint and paint your background wall, which is what many production houses and movie studios do. If you’ve already got a couple of light stands or c-stands, it may be easiest to buy a piece of green fabric and clamp it between them.

The bottom line is, think about your projects and buy a screen accordingly. (On a personal note, make sure you buy a quality screen, because many times you get what you pay for).

Lighting Is Everything

If the screen is No. 1 on your equipment list, lighting is No. 1a. You MUST have even light (or as close to even as you can get) on your green screen to make the whole thing work. This lighting could either be from natural light or studio lights, but the first rule of chroma keying is making sure the key is the same color throughout, to make your post-production much more streamlined. Here’s a basic breakdown for getting dialed in on lighting the screen:

Check for Imperfections

Make sure there are no wrinkles, scuffs, tears, or stains on your screen, to avoid any shadows that can throw off your keying. Remove them by ironing, steaming, or letting the screen hang vertically for a few hours. (If you’re using paint, just make sure you clean or re-paint any scuffed or chipped areas.)

Position the Lights

Two lights of equal wattage should be positioned 15 degrees from the green screen on each side, pointing toward the screen. This is very important. Each light should be far enough away to light the entire screen to create an even color.

Check for Evenness

As I mentioned earlier, even lighting is crucial. Move your lights around to the best position to get the most even lighting on the screen; it will make your life much easier in post.

Light It Up

Be consistent and stick with one type of light, whether it’s LEDs, fluorescents, or tungstens. LEDs use less power and don’t get nearly as hot, but they are also much more expensive. Fluorescents are cooler in color temperature and actual temperature. Tungstens are cheaper, but use more power and get hotter to the touch.

Check for Zebras

If your camera has zebra bars, use them and slowly adjust the iris to identify hot spots on the screen. When you start to see the zebras, you know you’re overexposed.

Video: Music Video Shoot by observe

Now that you’ve got your screen lit, you need to light your subject. The most important thing to know here is that you have to light your screen and your subject separately. The more separation you can have between them, the better your end result will be. With proper separation, you won’t have to worry about shadows as much, and you’ll minimize the amount of green reflecting or spilling from the screen onto your subject. If you don’t have a ton of space, however, you need to get more creative with your lighting and move the subject’s lights outward, so that the shadows are cast out of frame. Here’s a basic breakdown for lighting your subject:

Video: Guy Calling on Green Screen by cinemates.

  • Turn Down the Lights: Turn off your screen lights so they won’t interfere with your subject’s lighting.
  • Position the Subject: Keeping your subjects in the frame, position them as far away from the screen as possible, to give them some separation. This will also ensure the two green-screen lights aren’t hitting the subject. Have your subjects practice to make sure their whole body stays within the green screen.
  • Use Basic Three-Point Lighting: A key light should be positioned about 15 degrees to one side of center and raised 3-4 feet taller than the subject, mimicking sunlight. A weaker “fill” light should be placed on the opposite side of the subject, and backlight will be your third light (positioned behind and to the side of your subject), providing a “rim” light around your subject. This will help further separate your subject from the background.
  • Light It Up, Part 2: This works the same as with the screen. Choose a consistent type of lighting you want on your subject and use it only for your subject.
  • Minimize Spillage: If your actors are standing on part of the green screen, have them stand on a different colored mat to prevent green light from reflecting onto them from below. If you’re still getting green spilling, reposition your lights or move the subject further away from the screen.

Image: DSLR Camera in Photo Studio by Maxxyustas.

Those are the basics for a standard lighting setup, but there are times when you may need to match a certain scene, mood, or lighting arrangement based on your background. Think of how much different sunrise looks from mid-day, or the variance between an office building’s light and a candle-lit church. These are the best ways to light for a mood:

  • Mimic the Natural Light: If the background for the green screen is an outdoor scene, keep in mind the direction of the natural light. For example, if your scene takes place at sunset, make sure the direction of the lights on your subject are positioned at the same angle as the sun. Also keep in mind the color temperature, as it will vary along with the time of day. Indoor scenes are very different from outdoor scenes as well.
  • Use Gels: Match the color tone and temperature of your backplate by covering your lights with gels. If it’s a sunset, use warm gels on your lights to mimic the actual light in the scene. If you’re set in a winter environment or a doctor’s office, use cool gels on your lights, and so on.
  • Refer to the Background: Whatever your background image/video is going to be, make sure you use images of it for reference. Having a visual aid will make it that much easier to light for the background scene at the time of shooting, instead of having to re-shoot for consistency.

Okay, your lighting is set! There are a few more things to consider, specifically for your subject, and then you can start shooting:

  • No Green Clothes: Make sure your talent isn’t wearing anything green, teal, aqua, seafoam green, forest, or any color close to the color of your backdrop. The same goes for anything blue on a blue screen.
  • Put on Some Makeup: Makeup is necessary for green-screen shooting, unless you’re filming a Dawn of the Dead sequel.
  • But No Shimmery Makeup: Avoid using shiny lip gloss, eyeshadow, or blush on your talent. The lights will reflect off of this makeup and mess up your key.
  • Look for Flyaways: Use a shine spray to get rid of fine hairs that are sticking up. This will make it easier for keying.

What to do next?

Basically, if you‘re happy with the result even without further edits, you can go ahead and upload your green screen footage or photo straight to Pond5. You can also process the image with chroma keying tools in your editing software and export your media as alpha channel or alpha matte. Alpha channel is very easy to recognize – it contains its well-known checked background which indicates that it‘s a transparent background. Alpha matte on the other hand contains the original footage and the black and white mask. You can upload both types of alphas. Here are the examples of alpha channel and alpha matte footage:

Alpha Channel Video: Smoke Transition 2 by louderick.

Alpha Matte Video: Time-Lapse Of Opening Blushing Akito Rose In Rgb + Alpha Matte Format by zygistudio.

Top Image: Recording Interview With Politician Using Professional Tv Green Screen Studio by CausPlanet .

Buyer Requests: Thanksgiving, Italy, UGC

  • Buyer Requests

    Buyer Requests

    Buyer Requests is a monthly guide to the most requested content from real clients.
    Get inspired and increase the sales potential of your portfolio.

Most Wanted in September

Summer is bidding us farewell and everyone’s getting ready for autumn. Cozy sweatshirts, colorful leaves, and of course, pumpkin spice lattes are just around the corner! As we approach the well-known end-of-year holidays, customers are looking for Thanksgiving, Italy-related clips, and User Generated Content!



On Thursday, November 25, the US will celebrate Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is also celebrated in Canada, Liberia, Saint Lucia, and Grenada—each on a different day. Traditionally, Thanksgiving was a time to appreciate the dedication and hard work done for the harvest. Nowadays, people usually take time off work and spend time with family and friends over a large meal held on Thanksgiving Day. Fun fact—did you know that the United States records the highest traffic all year on the day before Thanksgiving?

Shot List Thought Starters

  • Families shopping for Thanksgiving Day.
  • Close-ups of delicious traditional food, such as turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce, and pie (pecan, apple, cherry, cranberry, etc.)
  • Fresh new shots of traffic and traffic jams of people trying to get to their destination.
  • Many Americans use the time off for road trips—try to capture that!
  • Try not to submit typical “stocky” content. Is there a regional difference that makes your Thanksgiving special? Go ahead and submit your work with a proper caption, e.g. “Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner in Alabama”.
  • Family gathering for a large meal (seated at the table, serving food, etc.).
  • Friends celebrating “Friendsgiving” and gathering for a potluck-style dinner.

Suggested Keywords

Thanksgiving, Turkey, Gravy, Meal, Family, Roadtrip, Trip, Friendsgiving

Target Group

All groups, but specifically ad agencies, corporate clients, non-profit organizations, TV production companies, etc.


  • Always keep in mind that authentic-looking content which has been cleared for commercial use is much more popular than overtly “stocky” clips—especially for filmmakers, who often want to mix their own footage with our media.
  • Clips that are cleared for commercial use should never show any logos or 3rd party intellectual property unless the owner signs a property release. Any recognizable person in the clip should sign a model release.
  • We highly recommend considering diverse actors or models of all ages, ethnicities, races, religions, genders, and sexual orientations.
  • Choosing the right metadata is crucial for the search algorithm. Never stuff your metadata with irrelevant keywords.


Ciao, parli italiano? If you’re based in Europe, we have a great opportunity for you! European cities are becoming one of the evergreen requests we get, and this month we’ve seen especially high demand for content related to Italy: Italian fashion, lifestyle, food, people, cities, and architecture! It doesn’t matter if you were on vacation in Rome, took strolls in Venice, went shopping in Milano, or just enjoyed your time with a glass of wine surrounded by mountains at Lago di Garda, our buyers desperately want your commercially-cleared content!

Shot List Thought Starters

  • Italian lifestyle: Happy people hanging out in the streets or at cafes, sitting on chairs in front of their houses, talking to each other, enjoying Italian coffee or wine.
  • Italian food and drinks: Italian food is not only pizza napoletana, Italy is also famous for gelato (ice cream), 400 types of pasta, delicious desserts, and of course minestrone. Italian cuisine is renowned around the world for many reasons!
  • Italian cities and architecture: Italy is well known for its diverse architecture, you can find ancient ruins as well as Renaissance, Gothic, and Neoclassical buildings. In Italy, even the most ordinary houses look different from those in other countries. Try to capture the narrow alleys and streets of Italy during the day and night.
  • Italian fashion: Italy is home to a host of luxurious fashion brands—Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and many more. Our customers would appreciate content of fashionable people and trendsetters from Italy! Just watch out for the distinctive logos of the brands.
  • Aerial views of Italian cities and towns.

Suggested Keywords

Italy, Italian, Italian food, Gelato Ice Cream, Minestrone Soup, Pizza, Tiramisu, City Name

Target Group

All groups, but specifically ad agencies.

User Generated Content

User Generated Content

It’s time to submit your authentic vertical videos, vlogs, and much more! User-Generated Content, also known as UGC, is getting more and more popular. It‘s unique, it‘s authentic, and it gives brands a new but familiar way to approach their customers.

Shot List Thought Starters

  • Commercially-cleared shots of people using the selfie format (think: travel vlogging). You can merge the themes above together and submit clips of selfies from Italy or during Thanksgiving.
  • Remember that User-Generated Content is a format that’s mainly shared on social media by companies large and small. The #1 thing they are looking for is authenticity. There shouldn’t be anything staged in your shots or photos.
  • Silly home videos from birthdays, holidays, and vacations.
  • User-Generated Content can really be anything but it is mainly used for social media so think more of vertical and square formats
  • UGC shots tend to be more casual, focus on people enjoying themselves.
  • Think of TikTok trends, such as girls doing their makeup, dancing, etc.
  • Top view shots of drawing, painting, DIY, cooking, etc.
  • Try to use jumpcut sequences, such as magic tricks cuts. Again, think of Tik Tok trends, and be creative! A good example would be outfit swaps, etc.
  • Think of the typical Youtuber— free to submit a shot of people unboxing a product, giving a review of the products, etc.

Suggested Keywords

UGC, User Generated Content, Authentic, Selfie, Vertical, Square, Home video, Jumpcut

Target Group

All groups, especially Ad agencies, non-profit organizations, TV productions, etc.


  • Submit completed and signed model releases for every recognizable person in the shot.

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Music Briefs: 1980s Heavy Metal, Sunburst Drone and Original Lullabies

Music Briefs - Guitar Player

New month, new music briefs. This month we’re looking for 1980s Heavy Metal, Sunburst Drone and Original Lullabies..

Find the unique code provided in each genre brief, and simply add it to keyword tags when uploading your new project. That way, we’ll know which genre you’ve been focusing on.

Moreover, you have any questions or comments about any of these music briefs, please email Pond5’s Director of Audio Collections, Mike Pace, at mike@pond5.com.


1980s Heavy Metal

We’re looking for well-produced rippin’ and ragin’ 80s style melodic heavy metal. Load up on squeals and divebombs and feel free to throw some high-pitched screams in there as well!

  • SUGGESTED KEYWORDS: Heavy metal, hair metal, pop metal


Sunburst Drone

Shimmering synths bathing the listener in a cascade of light. It’s the sound of the day’s “golden hour.”

  • SUGGESTED KEYWORDS: Sunburst, drone, ambient, light


Original Lullabies

We’d love to hear original lullaby compositions, ideal for soothing anyone to sleep.


  • SUGGESTED KEYWORDS: Lullaby, sleep, rest, nap, children, music box, glockenspiel


Don’t Forget:

  • Take advantage of the 50-keyword limit and add both broad and specific keywords. On the other hand, do not use recognizable band or artist names, please!
  • We also encourage you to submit separate :15 and :30 versions of these tracks for social-media use.
  • Moreover, please note you can apply tags to existing tracks in your portfolio.

Top image: Child Rock Guitar Player And Singer by mandygodbehear.

Check out more Music Briefs here.

Creative Brief: Modern Homesteading

Creative Brief: Modern Homesteading

Creative Brief – Special Keyword Code: HOMESTEADP5BRIEF

This month‘s Creative Brief brings you the theme Modern Homesteading. While it may conjure up images of log cabins and drab clothing, homesteading is becoming more popular than ever in the modern age. There’s never been a better time for people to hunker down and create a home for themselves, in fact. Whether it’s getting fresh eggs from backyard chickens, splitting wood for an indoor stove, or harvesting veggies from the garden, it’s all a part of a self-sufficient, solid homestead, and something that would be great to capture for buyers.


Creative Brief – Shot List Thought Starters:

  • People in modern settings preserving food, chopping wood, planting/growing veggies etc.
  • Lifestyle shots of families and friends homesteading together on a property
  • Overhead shots of homesteaders working in the yard
  • Timelapses of fermenting/preserving food and drinks
  • Moving shots (gimbal, dolly, jib, etc.) of people foraging for food in nature
  • Modern, non-industrial animal husbandry occupations–milking, shearing, butchering, etc.
  • Macro and detail shots of all of the above
  • Homesteaders using modern equipment and technology while in non-industrial settings, including windmills, solar panels, and other renewable sources


Suggested Keywords: omesteading, self sufficiency, subsistence agriculture, foraging, preserving, preservation, permaculture, fermenting, gardening, independence

Typical Users: news & media organizations, ad agencies, lifestyle brands, documentary filmmakers, government organizations


Painter Girl Paint Rural Homestead Wooden Wall With Brush In Red by mr_sunny.


Pro-Tip: Remember to stay safe and healthy when making this content, and bring along plenty of water and sun protection if you plan on being outside. Don’t shoot with more people than what your government or public health agencies recommend. Do your best to cast real-looking talent with real skills to get authentic content. Be conscious of logos and other intellectual property as well.

Casting Considerations: Race, age, and gender diversity, authenticity with talent and imagery. Accept the challenge to remove artificiality from your setup. In other words, keep it REAL. These considerations will play an important role in the success of your shoot.

Location Diversity: Homes, apartments, backyards, community gardens, small farms, neighborhoods, condos (if possible)

Close Up: Adorable Baby Chickens On Backyard Following Mother’s Steps by Airstock.

Before You Shoot:

  • Firstly, please check existing content in the Pond5 marketplace
  • Secondly, think about a visual approach that will result in new and fresh footage
  • Lastly, remember that each shot must communicate a clear message

Submission Checklist:

  • Remember to tag your clips with the keyword code: HOMESTEADP5BRIEF
  • Also, don‘t forget to submit all completed property and model releases
  • No logos or brands may be visible in any of the clips
  • Don’t forget to add any applicable conceptual keywords to the clips

Top image: Mature Woman Gardener Pushing Wheelbarrow At Homestead by JackF.

Scout It Out: A Guide to Location Scouting for Film and Video

Working With Green Screen

The craft and logistics of location scouting change depending on the kind of project you’re working on, the size of your budget and crew, and the area of the world you’re looking to film. There are, however, some basic, universal steps that every location scout has to go through to find and deliver that diamond in the rough.

Before you get started, an important thing to keep in mind is that you’re not just looking for a place where you can take a cool photo. You’re scouting for a place to film a specific scene or series of. A beautiful mountain peak that requires a 30-minute hike to reach is likely not a logistically sound choice to bring 50-100 people and thousands of pounds of grip and electric gear.

By the same token, a high-class law firm is probably not the best place to stage a scene where a car drives through a wall. You have to have permission to film on the property — which means that finding and building a relationship with the owner/ management of the location is just as important as spotting a cool-looking place.

John Michael McDonagh’s film War on Everyone had us scouting for weeks to find a location that would allow a car to crash through the front door. We eventually settled on a recently-closed bar with a glass facade that could be taken out and replaced with set walls for the stunt.

Step 1: Research

Your first step in every scout starts with research. Depending on what you’re looking for, you may use different websites, programs, and methods. If you’re familiar with the city or area in which you’re searching, use whatever contacts and personal knowledge you already have.

Many states have a film-office website with listings of film-friendly locations. This isn’t a bad place to start, and the local state, county, and city film commissioners can be great assets for leads to film-friendly properties, especially government-owned properties. These film offices can also walk you through the film-permitting process of the municipality.

Aerial satellite map programs such as Google Earth and Google Maps can be very helpful in finding everything from sand dunes to cornfields to mansions with a pool. Back in the early days of film, this process sometimes involved expensive and time-consuming helicopter rides. Now it’s pretty much free and takes a few minutes.

Once you’ve found your location, Satellite imaging is also great for finding a nearby place to park trucks, trailers, and crew vehicles.

The gypsum mine on Zia Pueblo in New Mexico has been used for various productions over the years, including John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars.

Houses can be notoriously hard to scout because simply driving by them never tells you exactly what they look like on the inside. Also, people aren’t always home when you stop by, and it may take multiple trips to a house before you actually see the inside and realize it isn’t what you’re looking for.

Local real-estate companies and vacation rental websites such as Airbnb are good places to start before simply knocking on doors. These websites provide pictures to give you a sense of the space (you’ll still want to take your own scout photos), and there’s always contact information to get you started talking to someone about renting the property.

Most businesses and organizations have their contact information online, which is easy enough to find, but when looking for an abandoned warehouse or a patch of desert in the middle of nowhere, it’s not always obvious who you need to talk to. County Assessors Office websites and Cities with Geographical Information Systems (GIS) Maps can help you track down who owns various properties.

Sometimes the only way you can find the phone number of a property is to be there and read it off of the “For Sale” sign in the front yard. Other times, you’ll need to knock on the doors of neighbors who might know them. If you’re still stuck, you might just have to leave a business card with a note at the front door and hope for the best.

The cliffs overlooking the old Jemez Canyon Reservoir are owned and operated by the Pueblo of Santa Ana. In wide-angle shots that showcase vistas, placing someone in the scout photo can help with a sense of scale.

Step 2: Making Contact and Building a Relationship

Depending on what part of the world you’re scouting in, the people will be different, and you may need to find different ways to approach them with the idea of filming in their house or business — but there are a few things that are essentially going to be the same wherever you go.

First, you need to be confident about the fact that your production will be able to restore the location to its original state after filming is finished, or at the very least pay the owner for any unforeseen damages. If the production you’re scouting for can’t guarantee to buy insurance for the property while you’re filming there, then it’s unfortunately not a production that you want to be representing.

When first approaching a property owner, they can sometimes be uneasy about letting a stranger into their home or the back rooms of their business. Some may wonder if you are a scam artist or thief. Don’t take this personally. If you have already connected with the local film commission, you can refer the owner to that commission to help back up the fact that you really are just interested in filming something on their property. Also, a business card really goes a long way in this situation.

Property owners will have a lot of questions, so it’s good that you try to know the answers before asking to rent their property. They will want to know what the story is about and if it fits with their morals. They will want to know why you picked their property. They will want to know about dates and times. They will want to know about pay. Almost always, they will want to know if there are any big movie stars that will be coming. Sometimes you can only give them a ballpark of possible dates and rental rates (more on that later).

A recent production starts construction of a set at New Mexico’s Spaceport, which is jointly managed by the State of New Mexico and Virgin Galactic.

Step 3: Taking Reference Photos

This is the part of the job most people are familiar with. We‘re not going to go into the craft of photography too much, but always make sure your photos are in focus and have the proper exposure.

When taking scout photos, you can save yourself some time later by shooting them in the order that you’d like to present them. If you’re scouting a house, try to take photos of every room, whether it happens to be in the script or not. Sometimes in a script revision, a kitchen scene is switched to a living room or a back patio. These extra photos will also add to your ever-growing database of scout photos, and while this production might not be interested in the basement, the next one might.

In general, try to take as many photos as you can. You want to take a variety of angles and points of view for both a reference of the size and shape of the space and an idea of how the scene might be filmed. Re-read the script before you go in to take photos and think about how you would shoot it if you were the director. Knowing how to stitch together a panorama photo is also a good skill to have.

The Santa Ana Stone House has been used on many New Mexico productions, including Breaking Bad, and requires hiring a snake wrangler during the warmer months due to an incident where one crew member was bitten by a rattlesnake.

Step 4: Sealing the Deal

Depending on the production you’re working on and the position you have, you might not be involved in this step. Typically, in feature films, television shows, and other commercial productions, the Location Manager negotiates rental rates, and a production lawyer provides a standard Location Agreement that will need to be signed. On short films and student projects, this job usually falls on the producer. But if you find yourself in a situation where you are sealing the deal, then the following information may be helpful.

To be honest, every production has different needs and means — as does each location. So as much as people would like to hear what the standard rental rate for a location is, there, unfortunately, isn’t one. A California beach mansion is going to cost more than a one-bedroom cabin in New Mexico. Filming in a restaurant or bar on their busiest day of the week is going to cost more than on a day that they’re closed.

Usually, the more inconvenience you cause, the higher the price will be. Filming on someone’s front lawn doesn’t put them out as much as filming in their bedroom. When working out a deal with someone, listen closely to what their needs are, and communicate precisely what you’re going to need from them. Negotiating a low price doesn’t help the production if it ties your hands from doing the things you need to do to film the scene, and deceiving the property owner about your true intentions only leaves you open to professional and legal liabilities.

In some instances, sealing the deal doesn’t involve a property owner. For instance, closing down a road to do a driving scene will involve proper permitting from the governing body in charge of the road. Sometimes this is the city, sometimes the county, and sometimes it’s the Department of Transportation. Permitting road closures can be a complex process that involves traffic-control plans, barricading, police escorts, and public consent. Every permitting situation is different and each governing body involved has a different process that you must follow. The best general advice is to allow yourself as much time as possible to dig through whatever red tape you might encounter.

This photo was taken during a tech scout at a scrap yard in Albuquerque, NM. The scrap yard has been utilized by a number of productions including Breaking Bad.

As you continue to scout, you’ll find what works best for you and your area. You’ll pick up your own tips and tricks along the way, but making friends with other location scouts will end up teaching you a lot. In the meantime, good luck and happy hunting!

All photos courtesy of Matt Toplikar. Matt started location scouting in New Mexico in 2012. Before that, he was a location assistant for three years. He has worked on movies and television shows including Breaking Bad, In Plain Sight, and Captain Fantastic, and graduated with a B.G.S in Film Studies from the University of Kansas.

Top image: Remnants of Star Wars movie set standing in the Tunisian Desert by Perszing1982