There’s nothing worse than visiting a location prior to shooting, only to miss out on important details. Avoid headaches, and make sure that you’re prepared for the shoot day.
A recce (derived from “reconnaissance”) is the art of visiting a set or location before shooting there. Plan out shots, confirm technical details, and save time for actual shooting. I usually wouldn’t need a recce in a bare studio. However, certain locations really need a prior visit.
These are the steps I tend to take in pre-production. Sometimes I’ll need to involve other people, and this is where I first begin.
Who Needs to Join You
There are times that I need guidance and approval from other parties, or I get brought in to assist on a recce. If you need to confirm that the set dressing will fit, then ask the set designer to join you. If you’re shooting an ASMR video beside a train station, it’s worth inviting the sound op. Often a client or producer will need to sign off on the look, and talk to the location owner.
A week after the recce, somebody will ask how many outlets are in the space – and having a 360-degree photo is a lifesaver. It’s quick and easy. Sometimes it works best with a self-standing monopod. I tend to do one video walkthrough, and then take 360-degree stills around the location. Prior to using 360 cameras, I made use of Google Pixel’s “Photo Sphere”.
This should get paired with a notebook. Take note of the ceiling height, width of the doorways, and rough square footage. It will make your life so much easier later. Want to know if you can boom a C-stand? Will a piece of equipment fit in the elevator? This is getting easier with LiDAR tech in smartphones, but for now, I know I can trust a physical measuring tape more.
I bring a small camera with a super wide lens, plus lenses that might roughly be used on the shoot. This also helps come up with shot ideas in the first place. For example, I was shooting in a location with lots of mirrors this year. I needed to plan the shots in advance so that we wouldn’t set up lighting, audio, and camera – only to realize that the crew is reflected back in a mirror. Having a camera also allows you to quickly test for light flicker at different shutter angles and frame rates.
You’ll want access to weather apps and sunlight position apps. Testing the Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and 5G speeds is also helpful. You may also wind up doing full test shots or a video edit during the recce. When planning out a shot I may ask a producer to stand in for a test shoot, and edit together a sloppy sequence right there and then. This just clears up any questions that might arise in post.
You likely won’t always need a light meter. However, it’s a handy tool for recognizing that f/4 won’t cut it in a low-light environment. If you want to go hog wild, check out Sekonic’s C800 which will give you a color temperature reading too.
What to Look Out For
These are the sorts of things I write down in a notebook. It makes it easier to draft up a document for people that weren’t at the recce. It’s not an exhaustive list, but hopefully, it will give readers the right idea. Of course, feel free to suggest more in the comments.
Check that outlets work, and how many there are available. If you’re using power-hungry lights it would be great to know where the fuse box is.
Insurance and Union Needs
The location may need proof of production insurance, and you’ll also want to double check that your production insurance covers what you’re shooting. Nobody should be open to liability if someone is injured on your set, and you can’t always be sure there won’t be damage to the location. In addition, double check that local unions won’t need to sign off on shooting in their neighborhood.
Believe it or not, locations can have copyright protections too. Not just the Eiffel Tower. For example, you can’t shoot artwork in the background. Save yourself the hassle of blurring out a painting in a house, and just take it down or replace it.
- Steps and obstacles for rolling equipment.
- If the floor is level and smooth.
- Window placement and ambient light.
- Restroom locations.
- Parking availability.
- Nearest hospital location (usually for larger sets).
I hope this article helps readers to up their location scouting game. Feel free to recommend your own process in the comments of course, especially when certain shoots call for extra pre-planning.