LOCATION SCOUTING Definitions, Process, Collaboration, Respect.

Yes, I am old-school alumni with an honorable resume. I am always interested in the next collaborative journey… I am many-miles experienced and willing to share the answers but today — I have questions.

Do you know what a professional Location Scout is ?

Do you know what a professional Location Scout does ?

Here is my DEFINITION of Location Scouting: I provide location OPTIONS to filmmakers and commercial photographers. I am a collaborator

The lengths I travel, the things I see and look for, the service I offer you, and the wisdom I possess — make me one of the best Location Scouts in the business. Please allow me to tell you about Location Scouting — with me.

Grab a coffee or a cocktail.

I scout within industry parameters of practicality, safety, and budget. My bar is high and my lens is wide. I am a multi-hyphenate who is also a Producer. Hence, I scout with a Producer’s mind and produce with a Scout’s eye. I prefer 100% engagement in the name of context and best result. 

Have a seat — relax.  Do you have a drink? Good.Are you interested in working with a professional and willing to engage me fully about your project? If yes — we’re half way there. If I can’t help you – hear it from me versus an uninformed source. Assume nothing. Reach out. I will ask many questions but we’re just talking… If we are a fit — terrific. Let’s go!

On any given project, in an industry whose lifeblood is creativity, the last words I want to promote are basic or standard. Yet there MUST be a PROCESS or plan in place for all involved to be successful. The best (over-used) metaphor is — every structure has a BLUEPRINT. Do you want cookie cutter or an elaborate mansion? It’s cool either way but both projects need a blueprint. It is the PLAN — a.k.a. directions to realize your vision. By the way, I have no interest in locking you (or me) in a box because all of us want the element of creative exploration to remain…

We are collaborating toward the same common results — aren’t we?

There are basic tools available, which at one time were standard on all projects. Scripts, storyboards, treatments, and schedules are versions of blueprints. Sadly, more and more projects are coming down the road with none of these. Why? How? Where’s the plan? Why?  Yes, I said why twice.Now — right about this time, after I have asked other crazy questions — such as Where are we shooting? What time period? Color of the barn? Budget? — I get a heated retort, “Dude, what’s with all the questions?”

Sip your drink. I will too. Okay, before we move forward I do need to ask about a disturbing issue. What is this auto-reaction or uneducated reply or “I’ve been taught”… that a Location department isn’t needed? We are fellow collaborators. Many of us are not getting a call to have a shot at being considered. Yes, I am well aware of lower budgets, new ways, and a perceived DIY movement but since every position is a hybrid of three to five anyway — why not have a Location Professional on your project?  There are projects where a scout is hired (and should become Location Manager) but they are cut before shooting begins… yet on the same job, a 3rd AD or 5th AC or 13th PA is hired or retained.*  Location Scouts and Managers** are key members of a crew — and the process. 

Do you know there are multiple versions of a Location Scout collaborating?

The Location Scout’s scout is most often done by a Location Scout only. This is the first pass. I might be doing a few days of research before I hit the road. Best to have a Location Scout see all available options before wasting production’s or the Director’s time. Street-views on maps are fine to find where it is and see the neighborhood but nothing replaces seeing it in the present day. There are various reasons a location might not be available. During this phase, there could be a team of scouts traversing the earth at the same time in search of locations.***Another vote for sharing the creative vision (script, boards, plan) with me? When I scout, I watch for other things needed on the project. I have found everything from talent to wardrobe to animals. On the movie Nebraska I spotted an option for a bus and it was used in the film.The Director’s Scout is when the Director sees the lay of the land – usually accompanied by a Location Scout. This could be seeing previously scouted “selects” or a fresh drive-around in the name of inspiration. The Production Designer should be on this scout too. This scout happens most often on movies and large commercials. At least it should be happening.The DP Scout is a bonus scout, more often associated with movies. It is an extra layer of collaboration for the Director, DP, and Production Designer. The Location scout and/or Manager is present too. Yes, occasionally we scout from a boat or helicopter or plane or horseback…

The Tech Scout is all department heads and key crew seeing all locked locations. It is the homework phase before the shoot begins… Answers range from where do we park to how much power do we need to where catering sets up, etc. ?? The Location Scout/Manager is most heavily peppered with questions — from everybody. Related factoid: the Location Manager makes this daily schedule – not the ADs.

“But Jamie, technology has disrupted the world — and in certain instances, there is no going back. The next generation does things differently from the way they’ve been done.” Got it. The entire freakin’ production business has changed. Still, any of these ideals are not reasons to dismiss a basic proven process — or worse — outrightly disrespect your colleagues. While we’re here – if you are not hiring anybody for any position because of age, race, or sex — that would be discrimination and that is uncool — and illegal.WARNING. I just set down my drink, stood up, and removed my filter.

IF you are anti-Location Scout(ing) — you have not collaborated with a great Scout. If you are quick to lump me into one of your previously “bad” experiences BEFORE I show you the value I bring — I can’t help you. If you are an alleged filmmaker, production group, film association, guild, school, colleague, or film commission – spreading the word to not hire a Location Scout or Manager (deliberately or accidentally) — STOP.  It is waaay uncool.

If you are a Producer with zero respect for the craft or a process and would never hire a scout anyway… and you prefer to steal shots, trespass, be unsafe, etc. – you and I will never help each other. In fact, if you are that person — it is likely you are also a dick. Before any great blueprint – the first rule of collaboration is #DontBeADick 

Drinks are near their end. I’ve sat back down. I’ll let you go. If you’ve made it this far with me – thank you. My simple ask is this: use the services of a Location Scout. All we want to do is work on good projects with good people. Relish in the collaboration. Rinse repeat. It’s good karma.   

* Most budgeted projects respect the value of a Location Scout. But not all. On large-budgeted projects, there could be a team of Location Scouts hired.

** The Location Scout often becomes or is the Location Manager. In the case of commercials (at least for me) these roles could also be a Producer.

*** Location Scouts (who work 300 days out of the year) scouting for major motion pictures and national commercials , often travel globally.

For vetting or consideration, please visit my resume.

On IG as NebraskaLocation

Post content and photos COPYRIGHT Jamie Vesay. 

Small Towns

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Yes. There are many of them in Nebraska. Since every vision of any project is subjective, and everybody’s definition of a small town is different, we’ll talk about this according to population, the main street as the primary location, and tips from my experience of scouting and shooting in small town Nebraska.

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Firstly, what locations (in the town) are required to meet your criteria? Movie theater? Bank?Church? Cafe? Or is it the entire main street?  Maybe it’s the entire town. Two big things to think about:  Is your project a period piece and what is the size of the town? For the latter (of scale) the population defines what a small town will look like. It could be called a (small) city or a smaller town or even a village. Here is a LIST of towns with a population of 1,000 to 6,000 people.

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In some smaller towns or villages, the current version of main street could be an eclectic  mix of storefronts, aluminum sheds, or garages. There are vacant spaces and empty lots that could either work for or against you.  Here is a list of smaller towns and villages less than 1,000 people. Murdock (above photo) is under 300.

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If you will be shooting most of your scenes on “Main Street”, consider a small town where the main drag is NOT the HIGHWAY. Your set will be safer, you’ll have less headaches, and there is little chance of angering residents and passers-by waiting because you stopped or diverted traffic. Of course, it isn’t impossible to shoot on a busy road like the one above (or busier) but for reasons of creative comfort and the ability to work more freely, I would recommend another choice. Most main streets off the busy highway tend to look better anyway.

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Some small towns have more than one main street look. It could be where the county courthouse sits in the middle of a square (like in Seward above) or the “old” main street is a few blocks off the “new” main street. A key word used in location scouting is options. Seward has many. Beyond the square, old and new looks, and a busy highway through town – they also have brick streets.

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Brick streets are cool but they aren’t always practical – either as a preferred design or simply wheeling wardrobe racks or camera carts over them (if they’re in bad shape). If you like brick, make sure the entire street is brick. See the photo below and the blend of brick and concrete.

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If you’re looking at surfaces of streets, watch for art or design elements. It could be a giant painted Shamrock (like in O’Neill) or a large compass in the middle of an intersection (Ashland).

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Your small town should have basic amenities for the crew, especially if you’ll be there for an extended period of time. Food, coffee, hardware, and a pharmacy are all location assets. Newer brands of ample clean lodging might be in town. If you’re making a movie and staying a while, consider renting space in a private home. There is indeed such thing as small town hospitality.

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An annual festival (that often includes a parade) is the ultimate small town USA experience. Maybe your project has an event scripted in the story – or this is what your project is about. Certainly if it isn’t, and you want the run of the place, choose another time. Check small town website calendars and make sure you don’t conflict with events like these. It will be crowded and streets will be blocked or – the town may not want you to film at that time (if it isn’t related). But if you want a vast supply of people, props, vehicles, animals, colors, textures, flags, food, etc. – an event like this could be a great collaboration.

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Speaking of location conflicts, make sure your beloved small town isn’t under construction. In 2011, the above shot was one of those issues and I didn’t know about until I scouted – in person. This is another reason why I tell the new filmmaker, “Do not scout (and lock) locations via the internet!” If you do scout a town and LIKE it – but don’t see any construction, ask about any plans. Construction or a public works project might be scheduled. And an important note about art direction and production design impacted by upgrades and remodels to small towns: From leveling a historic building to installing new curbs and sidewalks or railings and light posts, it all might suddenly look too nice and /or they might have eliminated your period piece look.

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Most DPs and Gaffers will prefer a location that exposes north or a place that does not expose hard and directly to the sun. Or maybe y’all prefer that sort of thing these days. My inner DP would simply like to remind you about the direction of a street (north to south vs. east to west) in relation to the time of day and year you will be shooting.

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Finally, I encourage you to reach out to the town leaders and ask them to collaborate with you. We shot in the small town of Plainview for the movie Nebraska. Words can not express the incredible amount of cooperation, engagement, flexibility, and welcoming warmth expressed and received by this small town and the citizens. They became our collaborators and contributors.

Scout the many small towns of Nebraska. Hire an experienced professional like me. Drive around the State and see all of them. Talk to the residents, because they will certainly say hello. Share your vision, collaborate with the town, be safe, and have fun.

Words and photos Copyright Jamie Vesay.