Location Checklist for Beginners

 

By Steven Gladstone |

Whether you are working on a narrative, webisode, documentary, or commercial, at some point you are going to end up shooting in an unfamiliar location. Being prepared will improve your shoot and the chances that you will be allowed to return. There are many things to consider when shooting on location, and they will vary depending on the kind of location, so consider these few suggestions a starting point. If you’ve got some of your own to add, please share them in the Comments section—we are all in this together, after all. For the purposes of this article, let’s look at a small indoor narrative shoot, although many of the following suggestions will apply to smaller or larger productions.

Scouting

When scouting a location, it is best if you are able to scout during the same time of day that you will be shooting; this way, you can see what the light will be like, as well as determine potential sound issues. It won’t always help, like when that unexpected block party explodes with a surprise rock band, but it’s a good start.

Access

How are you getting to this location with the gear? What about when you get there—is it a first-floor location, or is it on a higher floor? What about elevators? Is there a freight elevator for you and your gear or will you be taking passenger elevators or, even worse, carrying your gear up multiple flights of stairs? If you have to hoof it up more than two or three flights of stairs, perhaps you would be better off finding a different location?

To-do list

• As soon as you arrive, find the following: the fuse box, the refrigerator, the air conditioning and heating systems.

• The fuse box, or circuit-breaker box. Find it, and start running your outlets to find which outlet is connected to which circuit breaker/fuse. Chances are that all the outlets in the same room are on the same circuit. It isn’t a bad idea to carry a few resettable fuses and swap them out with the house’s fuses, just in case you blow a circuit. Just remember to swap the original fuses back when you are done. If you are shooting in a reasonably new building, then the outlets should have three receptacles. A three-prong outlet tester is a nice item to have with you because it will indicate whether the outlet is grounded correctly.

However, if you are shooting in an older building, you should expect to run into two-prong outlets and possibly dodgy wiring. If your location has two-prong outlets, then you will want to have several 3-to-2-prong adapters, and remember to ground them properly. A digital multimeter will also come in handy. You can check out more on multimeters and 3-to-2-prong adapters in the explora article,Essentials for the On-Set Bag. A little stick of painter’s tape with the number of the circuit breaker/fuse and the amperage above the outlet will make a tripped circuit or blown fuse so much faster to locate and fix.

• The refrigerator suddenly turning on mid-shot has caused more problems for filmmakers than any other household appliance. Because at first the take doesn’t have the refrigerator hum and then suddenly it does. This means that if you use any of the take with the hum, you are going to have to record wild sound of the refrigerator to put under all the takes without it, and don’t forget room tone with and without the hum. A big headache. So what to do? Simple—unplug it. A full fridge will usually remain cold for around two hours if you don’t open the door. Just remember to plug it in for a few minutes every few hours in between takes. Some newer refrigerators have settable modes that control the timing of the compressor and defrost cycles, so check for those first before unplugging.

• The air conditioning may be a central system or a window/wall-mounted unit. In any case, shooting with tungsten/HMI lights can make your location warm up pretty quickly. Even when using LED or fluorescent lights, if you are shooting in the summer, it can get pretty hot. So it is best to find out where the AC is located and determine if it is quiet enough that it can stay on while shooting, or if it has to be turned off and on in between takes and setups. Nobody likes perspiring talent.

• The same applies for heating. Noisy fan-forced heat can wreak havoc with your audio, and a steam radiator suddenly venting could ruin that perfect performance.

• Collect menus—yes, menus. If you haven’t brought coolers filled with food, drinks, and ice (remember the refrigerator is off and no opening the door), then when it comes time to feed the cast and crew, it is important to know what the local take-out establishments have to offer.

A note on electrical outlets and grounding

The metal tab or wire that is molded into the 3-to-2-prong adapters is meant to be firmly attached to the center screw between the duplex outlets that holds the cover plate. Remove the screw, insert the adapter into the bottom outlet, insert the screw through the metal grounding tab and tighten down. If you want to use the top outlet, you will need the adapter with a short length of wire and not the tab. Connect the wire to the middle screw of the outlet for grounding. Do not just flip the adapter upside down, not smart. Remember to check for ground when you are done—if no ground then I’d suggest finding a different outlet to use.

Things to bring

• Rosin paper, Kraft paper, painter’s tape, and trash bags. Protect everything; from hardwood floors to carpet, it is a good idea to lay down protection. The last thing you want is to upset the owners of a location in which you need to work for a few days by not taking care of their place. Nor do you want to be hit with a big bill for damages, so an ounce of protection here can go a long way. You can get rosin paper at many home improvement stores; it is pretty thick and great for protecting a wood floor from foot traffic. Kraft paper is different. It is more akin to paper bags, great for covering tables and protecting counters from food debris. Painter’s tape, a relatively low-adhesive tape that is gentler on paint and finishes than masking tape, is very utilitarian in a 2-inch-wide roll. Remember: the goal is to leave the paint on the walls, not take it with you when you leave. The painter’s tape can be useful here. If you don’t have painter’s tape, try sticking regular tape to your pants leg first, to help diminish the stickiness. Bring a whole roll of 30-gallon trash bags. Trust me on this.

• Some consider furniture pads and sound blankets interchangeable, but I’ve had at least one sound recordist make a point that there is a difference between them, and what you get at a home-improvement store is not the same as an actual sound blanket. I don’t know, but what I do know is that sound recordists like to hang sound blankets hither and thither to change the acoustics of a room. I’ve found that, as with small children, sometimes it is better to just give them what they want.

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