To Find the Right Film Location, Give Your Network a Rest
I’m so lucky. I’ve finally got my dream job and am doing what I love — I’m an Art Director. Art direction lets you explore production in its purest creative form — diving into concepts, planning creative, and executing beautifully. Along with an intimate team, you reveal a story that can be powerful, engaging, and moving. This process involves more than yourselves; it takes relationships and experience to navigate through the complicated steps to achieve success. This cycle of bringing a story to life is the essence of visual storytelling, and it’s what we crave most. What does it take to bring the "art" into art direction?
My journey started in graphic design, but knew that video is where I wanted to shine. After a joint program between York University and Sheridan College, my creative and professional life took many different paths and I was fortunate enough to have worked on both client side and agency side. While I climbed the ladder as best I could, there was so much more I wanted to learn — especially with video production. People like storytelling through different facets and areas, and film was the one that's always spoken to me.
When I finally moved into creating digital content, it was working on website design. But the storytelling aspect I craved was still missing. There’s more to storytelling than a name and a logo. Through characters and emotion and conflict, film provides a medium to reach your audience on a level that still photography or graphics cannot match.
As I shared my aspirations for getting into production, my friend Tatjana Green and her partner Matt Barnett started Brought To You By, a production company. She gave me the opportunity to start exploring that world as an Art Director. I now spend half my days amazed that I’m living my dream and the other half working through the hard challenges that come with turning an idea into a reality. One of the most common challenges I face — and most essential to production — is finding the perfect location.
Filmed on Location
In real estate, they say the top three most important factors are location, location, location; in video, it’s just as essential, it helps tell the story. Take for example the observatory scene in the movie La La Land. The movie wouldn’t have had the same impact without those beautiful skies — the pink and purple hues the city has to offer.
In commercials, the location and set need to illustrate the same values of the brand. Consider Quaker Oats: their brand represents traditional family values and you need a space that will convey that. You can’t shoot the commercial in any building, it needs to have the right feel.
But behind the scenes, when you’re looking for those locations, it’s extremely difficult.
Tapping Out My Own Network
When we get the direction on location for a shoot, the scouting falls on me as Art Director. In the past, I’ve had to reach out to my network to try to find a location for a shoot. Let’s say I needed to find a barn. That would mean I’d go to social media and start asking if anyone had one we could use.
If that didn’t work, I’d turn to Airbnb, but that was usually a last resort. Airbnb isn’t meant for finding locations. Almost no one on there has experience renting their place to a film crew, and, more often, they don’t want to.
That’s when I started using Set Scouter to help me find the right place to shoot, and the difference was night and day. It didn’t feel like I was hacking together a solution. I was finally using a service that was entirely dedicated to this type of work.
In my job, my time is very important. Sometimes the gap between getting a project approved to shooting is only a week or two. That means I don’t have time to spare on something like searching for a space. Set Scouter helps me maintain the importance of location, make sure I get it right, all without the effort. The negotiation before with set owners would take days, but because the Set Scouter platform is devoted entirely to film locations, the process is streamlined and I now have that time back.
On top of that, they’ve got great people to help you, which makes a big difference. For a previous project, I was location scouting for a music video and needed an industrial-looking space. I started scrolling through Craigslist and I found one that fit my budget. But when I went to check it out, I realized there was no way we’d be able to use it for the shoot.
In a mad dash, I reached out to Set Scouter and they found a space that was absolutely perfect. Often, you lose that personal touch when working with an online company, but Set Scouter is the perfect balance of automation and human touch.
We’re a small team and everyone needs to wear multiple hats, but thankfully I can wear one less hat knowing I’ll easily be able to find a location with Set Scouter.
The Freedom to Choose
In the brief from the agency, they’ll indicate what type of space they’re looking for. I’ll then take those keywords — like “modern” — and search on Set Scouter.
Within those parameters, that’s where I’m allowed to play. If they tell me they need something modern, is it going to be a sterile medical environment or something more homey? I can go through photos to make sure it’s right, but budget is also a big consideration. Because of the insights on location, setup, and budget that I get from Set Scouter, I can then put together a pitch deck for the client to take them through the pros and cons of each. This gives them the choice to pick what’s right for them, while knowing I’ve also vetted all the options. It’s confidence on both sides.
Now that I’m using Set Scouter, I have the confidence that the location is going to be perfect and it’s going to be easier than ever to choose. I also know that I can offer my clients different options so they can see what’s possible. The last thing I want to do is make my client feel like they’re pigeonholed into a decision.
I can show them exactly what they’re looking for, and because of my background, I can also show them ideas that they might not have thought of. I’m harnessing the diverse experience of my past for the medium I had spent my life chasing.
For example, there was a shoot we did for Maple Leaf where they wanted something masculine. They asked for exposed brick in the background with dark countertops. But when I looked at the final product that needed to be shown — chicken wings — it needed white countertops for it to pop. I was able to show them another option that made for a much better fit for their product and the whole aesthetic they we going for.
The location is my canvas. If I don’t nail it, everything that comes after won’t work. The look, the feel — it all depends on having a solid foundation. But now that I know I can get it right — every single time — I have the freedom to put the "art" in Art Director.