A Step-by-Step Guide to Pre-Production for Film and Video

Gear Essentials

Pre-production is essential in the filmmaking process because without proper planning, your production could run over time, the film could go over budget, or you could find yourself in the editing room with missing content. Some even say, “Production is pre-production.” Whether it’s storyboarding, location scouting, or budgeting, each of the steps below plays a crucial role in the success of your project.

 

Concept

This is where you develop your story, its structure, and plot points. Ideas often are drawn from personal experiences or ripped from the headlines. Maybe it’s a story you were told as a child or a product of your own wild imagination. At its most basic level, a concept should be able to be communicated in three sentences — the beginning, the middle, and the end, translating to acts I, II, and III. Your second act should always be the meat of the film, with the first and third generally bookends, setting up and resolving the main plot.

 

Treatment

Your treatment is an extended summary of your film, typically 1-3 pages in length, depending on the scope of the project. It covers the whole story from beginning to end.

 

Outline

Most writers will outline the story using index cards so that they can easily arrange and rearrange scenes. Once completed, give the scenes in your outline letters and numbers to stay organized. These will remain with the scenes all the way through production and post-production, so be consistent and logical about your system. You’ll likely end up adding scenes later on, so set aside unique alpha-numeric combinations for those pickups.

 

Screenplay

When writing the screenplay, keep referencing your outline so that you never lose track of your story structure. Take advantage of great screenwriting software and tools, like Final Draft or Celtx, which will speed up the writing process. Once you’re finished, go back and rewrite it. Similar to the saying about pre-production, “writing is rewriting.” The average script goes through ten drafts before even being shopped, and many more if it’s optioned or bought. Once you think your script is as good as you can make it, share it with someone whose opinion you trust, and start getting notes. It’ll never be perfect, but you have to decide when the time is right to lock it and move on to the next phase.

Screenplay by phildavison1959.

 

Script Breakdown

The script breakdown is the process in which every single item needed for the movie’s shoot is identified. This includes locations, props, effects — absolutely everything. It’s incredibly important to pore over every detail in this process in order to estimate a budget and schedule.

 

Shot List

This is your shot-by-shot breakdown of each scene, with a description of the framing and other details, such as focal length, camera movement, and location.

 

Storyboard

A visual representation of each scene in your film, your storyboards can illustrate character placement, blocking, lighting positions, focal length, and other notes. If you don’t have the budget to hire a storyboard artist, you’ll need to rely on your own skills, or maybe have your production designer pull double duty.

Hand With Writing Storyboard With Clapperboard To Present Process To Make Movie by CausPlanet.

 

Finance

Filmmaking is an expensive business. The producer needs to secure funding to pay for the entire pre-production, production, and post-production process, in addition to marketing and distribution once the film is complete. Getting your film funded can sometimes take years. Therefore, some filmmakers move forward without funding and pay for their film out-of-pocket; then they sell or license the rights to it after it’s complete. The funding can come at any stage in the game.

 

Location Scout

When location scouting for each scene, physically go to the location if possible. Observe things like the ambient light and sound. Bring the shot list to visualize each shot in the scene. If the location is outdoors, think about visiting it at different times of the day to see how the light and sound change. Check the weather. If you have a large crew or a lot of gear, think about access both for your crew members and production vehicles. Bring a camera to snap some photos of your locations — this will be helpful for the production designer when choosing a location. Think about what permits or property releases you might need at each location.

Here is our detailed post about location scouting.

 

Tech Scout

Having locked all locations and produced the shot list, the director, cinematographer, production designer, line producer, and 1st AD go on the tech scout. The purpose of the tech scout is for the director to visit each and every location with the heads of each department and explain precisely what each shot will entail: where the camera will be, details of camera movement, what the actors will be doing, and what the look of the scene will be. Again, bring a camera to snap some photos. The cinematographer can use this opportunity to replicate each shot with a still camera.

 

Scheduling

After the tech scout, the 1st AD uses the director’s shot list to draw up a schedule for each day of the shoot.

 

Casting

Casting is taken care of by Casting Directors, who are very good at finding actors that match the director’s specifications. Obviously, the director makes the final choices, but the preliminary selection – which is the most time-consuming and tedious part – is done by the casting directors, who are, frankly, worth every penny they charge.

Students At A Casting Call For A Play by WavebreakMedia.

 

Production Design

After the scout, the production designer designs and oversees the production of set pieces, and arranges the procurement of anything that needs to be purchased, such as plants, furniture, and props. The costume designer does the same.

So there you have it. Now that you’ve gotten educated on the pre-production process, it’s time to move on to the actual production — which will go much more smoothly with all this proper work done up front!

Top image: Top View Of Scriptwriter’s Workplace – Laptop And Storyboard With Cup Of Coffee by CausPlanet.

Building Your Photo/Video Kit: 5 Gear Essentials

Gear Essentials

Before you can start creating amazing photos and videos, you need to have the right equipment. Building the right kit is essential for ensuring the quality of the content you’re going to produce, as well as the efficiency with which you produce it. These tips will help you maximize your budget while also making sure you have everything you need to capture your vision.

 

1. Cameras

DSLR cameras remain cheap alternatives to cinema cameras, while still providing fabulous resolution and great ergonomics. Before buying your camera, you should know that almost all of them function in a similar fashion, even when it comes to the menu navigation. The best DSLR cameras are manufactured by commonly known brands like Canon, Panasonic, Sony, and Pentax, and almost all of them are in a similar price range.

When choosing a camera, think of it as both your work buddy and your tool of trade. Ask yourself questions like: Do I need 4k resolution? Do I need slow motion/high frame rate? Do I need a high ISO for filming in low light conditions? Do I plan on taking high resolution photos? After you answer these questions, you should be able to narrow your search down to a few different cameras according to their specifications.

These cameras are currently the leaders in the DSLR world, outperforming many of their competitors in almost every category.

    • Canon EOS R5
    • Sony A7S III
    • Sony Alpha 1
    • Panasonic Lumix S1H
    • Panasonic Lumix GH5 II
    • Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K

They all have great image quality, extreme low-light capabilities and high dynamic range, allowing more control for color grading. Here are some visual references from each one:

 
Canon EOS R5

Video: Motocross Bike Racing Through A Corner by BlackBoxGuild.

 
Sony A7S III

Video: Chinatown Chicago by philcagenfilms.

 
Sony Alpha 1

Video: Violinist Playing In Outdoors 1 by Mrnobaharan.

 
Panasonic Lumix S1H

Video: Beautiful Green Park In Sunlight With Pedestrians by BlackBoxGuild.

 
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K

Video: Camera Pans Slowly Across The Fast Food Dining Table. by Valentyn_Volkov.

If you live close to a camera-rental house, consider renting out a few different cameras to demo before making a final decision.

 

2. Lenses

Close-up and Isolated Shot of Camera Lenses by rohitseth.

Also called “glass” among professionals, lenses are what the camera uses to see the world. Their characteristics and light-transmitting speed are what makes them unique pieces of gear that affect the look of your video. We highly advise that you don’t spend your entire budget on your camera, so that you have enough funds left over to purchase a high-quality lens.
Remember, your lens is just as important as the camera; top-notch cameras will often deliver a bad image if paired with a low-quality lens, so don’t skimp on the glass!

If you plan on shooting in low-light conditions, you’ll need a lens with a low aperture, like f/2.8 or lower. The faster the lens, the more range you have with your exposure and depth-of-field.

Note: f-stop measures how fast light transfers through the glass onto your sensor. The lower the f-stop, the faster the lens is, thus allowing you to film in darker environments.

These are the four main types of lenses:

  • Prime Wide Angle: Wide-angle lenses have a focal length of 25mm or less. They’re good for establishing shots, editorial filming, and landscapes.
  • Prime Standard: A standard lens has a focal length between 25mm and 75mm. These are good for run-and-gun style shooting, portraits, interviews, and editorial filming.
  • Prime Telephoto/Super Telephoto: A telephoto lens has a focal length between 75mm and 800+. These are good for shooting sports and wildlife.
  • Zoom Lenses: Different from the prime lenses listed above, a zoom lens offers variable focal lengths that can go from wide to standard, or from standard to telephoto. A 24-70mm f/2.8 is a great lens to have in your kit. It’s good for editorial filming, portraits, landscapes, and travel videography.

Note: Just because you have a zoom doesn’t mean you don’t have to move! Zoom lenses can often make beginner videographers lazy. Why would you want to get closer to a subject, when you can just zoom in? Bad idea! It’s important to always move around with the camera, “working” your subject and experimenting with different angles. Getting closer to your subject improves composition, giving you a better-looking image. Only utilize the zoom when you can’t get close enough.

 

3. Tripods

Tripod on the Shore of a Mountain Lake by packerfansusie1.

Tripods are an absolutely essential part of your video kit. They help you film steady shots, as well as achieve smooth camera movements, like tilts, pans, and zooms.

Tripod benefits include:

  • Sharper and clearer images when filming in low-light conditions
  • Fluid camera movements (tilts, pans, and zooms)
  • Holding extra gear, such as sound recorders and light panels
  • Being essential when filming extreme closeups and macro shots
  • Removing unwanted camera shake, making your images look more professional

When choosing your tripod, make sure to consider the weight factor. The tripod’s weight should always be more than the weight of your camera and lens combined, guaranteeing a solid base for your camera.

Additionally, you should consider investing in a tripod with a “quick release” plate, which allows you to quickly remove the camera from the tripod to go handheld. This is helpful when shooting editorial events.

Lastly, invest in a “fluid head” tripod. The head is what attaches the camera to the tripod; a fluid head is designed to smooth out any sudden movements when panning or tilting.

 

4. Storage


SD Card by ammza12.

Choosing the right memory card for your digital camera, camcorder, or drone isn‘t as complicated as it may seem to many at first.

Memory cards can be divided according to several criteria:

  • Card type
  • Card capacity
  • Data write speed
  • Producer

 

Card types and their capacity

By far the most widespread platform is Secure Digital cards, i.e. abbreviated as SD cards. Usually you will find the names SDHC, SDXC and also microSDHC or microSDXC. Let’s explain the individual differences.

  • SD – The format originally came from MMC cards. All cards with a capacity of up to 2 GB were marked with SD.
  • SDHC – This type of cards has allowed manufacturers to use higher capacities, up to 32 GB. Older SD card readers can’t handle these cards, but all devices that now read SDHC cards are able to read back and write to SD cards.
  • SDXC – this label boasts cards with the highest capacity from 64 GB up to 1 TB. However, this standard theoretically allows the production of cards up to 2 TB, but such a card would now cost a fortune. Devices that can read this type of card also support SD and SDHC formats.
  • microSD – mainly used by manufacturers of mobile phones, action cameras, drones, various cameras, etc. As with “large” SD cards, this designation was used for cards with a capacity of up to 2 GB
  • microSDHC – same size as the previous type, only increasing the capacity to a maximum of 32 GB
  • microSDXC – same size as the previous type, only increasing the capacity to 64 GB to 512 GB

 

Data write speed (card speed class)

Cards are usually marked with a number in a circle that indicates the data transfer speed / write speed, up to number 10. Higher speeds are already marked with the UHS-I symbol. Unfortunately, the same class mark doesn’t mean the same speed. For example, you might encounter a class 10 card with a maximum speed of 10 MB/s, and also a class 10 card with a maximum speed of 90 MB/s.

UHS-I – Ultra High Speed, which brings a customer a higher speed guaranteed by the manufacturer. Card speeds range from 10 MB/s to 170 MB/s.

UHS-II – even faster class of the UHS cards, this class of card is equipped with extended contacts for communication with the camera. The maximum read and write speed is 300 MB/s.

For example, for video on the Panasonic DMC-GH5, the card is important for maximum output, as the camera supports 4K video streaming up to 400 Mbps, so either an external recording device or a very fast card is required.

When it comes to storage capacity, it’s important to choose a card that has enough space for your whole shoot, plus more. Keep in mind that the higher the resolution/frame rate you record at, the larger the video file sizes will be. A 64GB card can record about an hour of 1080HD video or about 35 minutes of 4k video. It’s wise to purchase a backup card, as well.

Due to high bitrate, memory cards with a capacity of at least 128 or 256 GB are often used for video recording today.

SD cards and CF cards are what the camera uses to store your captured data. Their speed class and capacity are the main factors to look at while building your video kit. Speed class is how fast the card manages to record data. For example, a speed class 2 card won’t be able to continuously record HD video for more than 30 seconds. For 4k recording, we recommend class 10 or ultra-high-speed class 1 and 3.

Here are speed logos representing speed classes from slowest to fastest:

 

5. Lens Filters

Optical Filter by magraphics.

Lens filters are essential for enhancing your desired look or for overcoming extra light/shine obstacles.
There are 3 main types of filters that should be part of a basic video kit:

  • UV Filters: For protecting the front part of the lens from dust, dirt, moisture, and potential scratches. They have almost no effect on the look of the image, but keep your glass safe and sound.
  • Polarizing Filters: These help to dramatically reduce reflections, while enhancing colors and increasing contrast. This kind of filter can be used for any type of videography to cut down on the shine of objects.
  • ND Filters: These help to reduce extreme light entering the lens. They’re ideal for capturing the sunny sky without losing the texture and color of it. Also handy when shooting timelapses.

Besides the key essentials above, here are some additional accessories to include your basic gear kit:

  • An extra battery or two for your camera. They run out pretty quick.
  • Camera and lens cleaning kit. A must-have to keep your gear clean and increase the life cycle of the lens and camera sensor.
  • A case or backpack to carry all your equipment around.
  • If you plan on recording audio, a small shotgun mic will provide much better sound than your on-camera mic.
  • If shooting in darker environments, a small LED light with a shoe mount will come in handy.

There you have it. Now it’s your turn to build and customize your kit for your own projects. Happy filming!

Top image: Camera Gear Device Set On Dark Background by Blackzheep.

7 Ways To Leave Your Filmmaking Comfort Zone And Create Something Different

Filmmaking Out Of Comfort Zone

When you hit a rut in your content creation, as you most likely will do, there’s only one thing you can do: quit. You’re done. Tapped out. Creatively bankrupt. Give it up, because you’re throwing in the towel.

We‘re kidding, of course! The best thing to do is to try something new and get out of your routine. Switching up your editing style, your gear, or even your workspace can be great for hitting the reset button and getting you moving in a new, exciting direction. Here are some tips for getting out of your filmmaking comfort zone.
 

Create/Implement Restrictions

Right out of the gate, one of the best things you can do is to force yourself to work within parameters that you’re not used to having. This means if you’re used to open-ended videos, give yourself a 3 or 5-minute time limit. Bring along just a single memory/storage card on your shoot. Allow yourself to only shoot with natural lighting. Set an earlier publishing deadline than you’re used to. Only use b-roll shots that are 5 seconds or longer.

And you don’t actually have to see them as restrictions. You can just see them as another puzzle in which you need to fit all of your pieces. Whatever the restriction/limitation is, use it to your advantage during your project. You may end up feeling inspired and empowered as opposed to inconvenienced and embattled.
 

Improvise More

“I love you…I know,” “I’m walking here,” and “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” were all famously improvised. Even the iconic match cut from Lawrence of Arabia was called an accident by the editor, Anne V. Coates. Now, you may not be making “The Empire Strikes Back,” but the lesson is just that for all the planning you can do, some things can just happen that you can’t plan for.

This means that you can allow your actors time to improvise takes. You can write bullet points for your voiceover instead of reading a script to make it feel more loose. The camera can be attached to a gimbal to give a more fluid look to the footage; the same goes for going completely handheld.

In post-production, improvisation can be as simple as experimenting with jump cuts, match cuts, or other atypical transitions instead of standard cuts. Music can also be added or removed to see which makes a better impact. You may never know what will work until you try it, so be open-minded to going with the flow.
 

Improvise Less

If you’re already making videos without much planning, then it could work to really hash out as many details as you can before you start. Writing a script, storyboarding, scheduling, creating a shot list, using motion graphics templates, and picking out the music and sound effects tracks can all be done before a single frame of footage gets shot.

Much in the way that adding restrictions can spark some new creative fire, planning for certain compositions, shooting locations, and VFX can help you to set up some really creative shots. Techniques like deep focus, match/invisible cuts, and forced perspective can all turn out better if they’re thought out ahead of time. The same goes for location scouting–with a basic walkthrough of your shooting location you can pick out unique places to mount your camera, see which angles look best, and even look for objects or openings through which you can shoot.
 

Experiment With Different Gear

We are not advocating for buying a new camera, because the best camera is usually the one you have with you. Also, you may end up spending way too much time trying to learn a new interface or menu that could instead be spent shooting or editing. That said, renting is always a cheaper option than buying, and there are sites like kitsplit, sharegrid, and lensprotogo that make it pretty painless to get everything from cameras and lenses to stabilizers and accessories.

What we mean really is to try something you haven’t used before. If you’re always on a gimbal, try staying locked down on a tripod. If you typically shoot with telephoto lenses, try a prime lens and move closer and/or further away from your subject. You may actually prefer the sound of a lavalier microphone over a shotgun or on-camera mic. Instead of shooting and editing in high speed (50/60 FPS or above, typically) for every shot, try mixing up the frame rates to get different clips that complement each other.

Switching up your gear can help you produce shots or videos you never could before, and it can even literally change the look of your footage, which is a great way to break your habits and routines.
 

Change Your Scene

Altering the location of your shoot is a sure-fire way to make something new. Taking your camera outside and going on a hike or to a park can add some color and scenery to your videos. If you’re always outside, try setting up a very basic studio setup with an on-camera light or 3-point lighting kit inside a garage or empty room.

When it comes to post-production, you’re pretty much limited to where your editing machine is, but you can always try doing some aspects of the edit at a new location. If you’re a shreditor, coffee shops are the obvious choice here, but public libraries can be surprisingly great, not to mention quiet spaces to get some work done. And who knows, a new editing space could free up your brain from all the distractions you may have at your usual editing space.
 

Change What You Can Control

Some of the earlier points may work for you, but if you’re creating videos where it makes sense to have the same tone, look, and style throughout, (like, say, a tutorial series) then you may not be able to change much.

In these cases, you can try your best to experiment with your subjects. If you make nature videos primarily, try exploring an urban setting. If you make cooking tutorials, try another subject that utilizes relatively small spaces and hands, like sewing, weaving, blacksmithing, or building. Nothing about your workflow or video style has to change, yet you can open up whole new topics to cover and keep your videos fresh.
 

Get a Fresh Set Of Eyes On Your Video

If all else fails, you can get some outside perspective from a friend or coworker, or just take a 30-minute break and come back to your project. The outsider could catch a plot hole or they could pick up on any habits that seem repetitive. Taking a short break from your edit can actually work wonders to reset your thought process and see your footage in a new way.

Change can be scary, and doing something new or different can be intimidating. However, shaking things up can not only get you out of a creative rut, it can challenge you to find new ways to tell stories and even establish your storytelling and brand as versatile as you are as a filmmaker.

Top Image: Photographer On Cliff. Nature Takes Photos With Mirror Camera Peak Of Rock. by Standret .

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 .

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