Locations, Locations, Locations

by | Jul 16, 2015 | Strictly Business Blog

I first met R. Richard Hobbs through ASMP nearly 20 years ago. At that time, he was already an experienced location scout/manager with a roster of available properties at his fingertips. Rich took some time out of his busy schedule scouting locations for films, TV shows and photo shoots to share his expert advice on managing locations successfully. ~Judy Herrmann, Editor.

What do photographers need to understand about working with location scouts?

The most successful relationships are built on good communication. The more information, ideas and direction the photographer can get from the client, the faster we can determine whether such a location exists and track down the source.

It’s important to understand going in that we can’t guarantee you’ll get exactly what you’re looking for. So there’s a certain amount of money you and your client have to be willing to invest to discover whether what you want is even possible.

I’ve been doing this for 25 years so I have a pretty sizable location library and a huge network of scouts all over the world. If it’s in the NY metropolitan area and anybody knows about it or can find it, that would be me but at the same time, there’s a certain leap of faith involved. You have to feel comfortable that you’re calling the best person for the job and that they’ll put forward their best effort.

If the client isn’t good at describing what they want or is so finicky that they’re going to obsess over some minor detail, it’s possible they won’t ever be happy. The more flexibility you have, the better chance of finding a location that will work without spending a ton on research.

What are the most important pieces of information to communicate to a scout?

It’s smart to start with the budget. If you give me an idea of what you have to spend, I can tell you what you can get at that level. People often have these grand ideas of what the location should be but if the budget doesn’t match their goals, we need to adjust one or the other before we start the search.

Prioritize your goals for the location. Be very clear about what’s a requirement and what’s on your wish list. If you say, “I want to match this,” then I will try to match it. If you send me a half dozen pictures, I’ll want to know which elements are important to you so I can try to find spaces that have those elements. Keep in mind, too, that things like furniture can be moved so if there’s a great house but it has an ugly couch, that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.

Sending a mood board is great as long as it truly reflects what you’re looking for. The combination of a mood board and verbal description is best. Reference shots are also great.

If your job involves multiple locations where proximity is important – for example, you have 2 shots in 2 different locations on the same day and don’t want to travel far between the locations – let your location scout know that upfront!

What about permits?

Always get your location scout involved early, so you have time to get permits turned around. A lot of times it’s the town clerk office and if it’s someone who’s on the verge of retirement, you may be talking about a very slow process.

Some very affluent towns that don’t want to have anything to do with filming will make it harder on you. Some towns may even make you wait until they have a town meeting to discuss your shoot!

In towns that aren’t trying to keep filmmakers out, it will usually take 3 to 10 business days. Most towns can turn a permit around in 7 days. Some towns require a permit whether you’re shooting on public or private property and some only if it’s public property. You need to allow time for your location scout to get this information as well as to get the permits themselves.

Film permits are more often an item of consideration in larger metropolitan areas. New York City recently implemented a location fee of $300. It’s the same fee whether you’re doing a single shot or an entire movie. As you go outside the city, especially 30 miles out from Columbus Circle – which is the film zone where the union still controls the territory – permit costs can range from $0 (if there’s no filming ordinance, there are no permits or fees) to $5000 per day (usually affluent towns that really don’t want filming to take place).   The average is around $500 per day.

Not getting permits is really risky – all it takes is one neighbor who’s unhappy or who doesn’t like the people whose location you’re using to get you shut down and cause the property owner to get fined.

If you’re not sure whether permits are required, a lot of towns now have their code online athttp://www.generalcode.com/codification/ecode/library. If you can’t find it online, call the local police department or town clerk to find out their permit requirements.

Even if the town doesn’t have a film ordinance, it’s smart to send a Certificate of Insurance to the police department and town clerk along with a note letting them know what you’re doing. Otherwise, you risk having the police show up in the middle of your shoot wanting to know what’s going on.

What about once you’ve booked the location?

Here’s my list of the most important things that should be done upfront:

  • I will never go on a location without a Certificate of Insurance. Make sure your liability insurance will allow you to name the property owner as a third party additional insured on your policy.
  • Depending on circumstances, I may require that the production provide a deposit of $500 upfront so if there’s minor damage, the property owner isn’t waiting 3 months for the claim to be processed.
  • I strongly recommend that the creative team do a tech scout of the location (or of the 3 or 4 most likely locations) before making a choice so the photographer can really see it. Physically being there, so you can see things like what kind of load the electrical can bear or where the outlets are so you know how many extension cords to bring, can make or break your shoot.
  • There will be somebody who’s in charge of the space and it’s important to build a personal relationship between the people in charge of the shoot and the location owner or administrator. If the person representing the property has never done a shoot before or does it infrequently, feels like their job is on the line should anything go wrong, or if the shoot is in their home, they’ll want to know who’s coming in. It’s not the same as going into a rental studio. It’s very important that the photographer or at the very least, the producer who’s going to be there the day of the shoot, meet with the person in charge of the location before the shoot. Depending on the circumstances, it may make sense for client to be there, too.
  • Plan to present a check for the location fee before the shoot and bring an agreement that the property owner has to sign. ASMP has a property release you can use atasmp.org/releases. A lot of times the ad agency or end client will have their own release they want signed. It’s very important to get those signed to alleviate any chance of misunderstanding. Getting the agreement signed and payment completed before the day of shoot, gives you time to resolve any issues or answer any questions before your crew is there waiting.

Any other tips?

I don’t do a lot of producing anymore but one thing I’ve learned is that a producer or photographer putting together a bid for a job should offer several levels of production values. It really helps to give the ad agency or client a good idea of the relationship between cost and value – if we do it at this level, this is what you get or if we do it at this other level, you can get so much more…

For over 20 years, R. Richard Hobbs has provided professional location and production services for film, photography, TV, video, CGI/HDRi and events. He maintains a file of over 3,000 available properties in the greater New York metropolitan area and his website,http://nyc.locationscout.us, includes informative FAQs and information for property owners, photographers and location scouts.