How To Become a Location Scout
Location Scouts secure locations that a Director or Writer imagined in a script. They also deal with all the logistics for that location including permits, and coordinating all logistics for the location both before and after the film or television shoot. They also can act as the liaison for the production with the community at large affected by the shoot.
David Occhino has been working in locations since the days of The Sopranos and really loves the work. He lays out a typical day on the job: “I am usually one of the first people to be at the job. I’m doing a pilot right now for Showtime and as soon as they are ready to go into production they look to hire a Location Manager.”
Occhino says the job always begins with breaking down the script: “Once I break it down, I will have a phone call with the Director, or Writer to hear their ideas for a particular location.”
“When you get the script, you are reading it for yourself, and making a decision on your own on the best place to find certain things. In New York, it’s the city or Brooklyn and Queens. You usually try to lock one of the biggest locations and work from there.”
You definitely have to like knocking on doors to be a Location Scout.
“Getting people on board to want to work with you can be hard, but it’s a fun process,” says Occhino. “You get to be creative. You imagine for yourself what these places will look like, and then will sit down with the Director and get a big monitor and one-by-one go through the locations that we scouted and looked at and get feedback.”
“After that, you will bring them in person and show them the spots. It’s very fun. It’s like getting to go on a field trip every time. You meet a lot of different people. You see a lot of beautiful places. The Locations Department is like the liaison to the real world for the crew.”
The average annual salary for a Location Scout is approximately $86,100. The salary range for Location Scouts runs from $45,000 to $165,000.
“Generally speaking, I’d say the majority of people I know, from the Producers down to the PAs, are all freelance,” says Occhino. “It depends on what your tastes are, but I left a show that was a guarantee of ten months of working to go work on a different gig because of the quality of content, but some people will stay on a show because they know they can count on it working steadily.”
Occhino says if you do work your way up in a certain department, that’s where you will see more money: “The higher you can go, the more you can make. Locations is a union position, so that is great. Everyone in my department is union, generally speaking. If you are good at it, you will likely move up.
“With the union they will help you with getting paid, getting health insurance, and paying into a pension. Up until a couple of years ago, Locations work wasn’t really union, but now someone coming out of college can be paying into a pension after just a few years of working their way up, and that’s a very good thing.”
Family life can be hard when you are working as a Location Scout. Occhino says he is lucky to be married to someone not in the industry as he and his wife balance work with raising a six-year-old:
“As I’ve gotten older, I try to work when you work, and when you are home try to shut it off, but it’s hard. You work hard for an amount of time during a production, but then you might get a little bit of a break, and you should take advantage of that time as family time.”
Occhino put in some serious time to move up the ladder in the world of locations. “I’ve been doing this since 2000. I went to a film school in Florida where my focus was screenwriting. Coming out of school, I did internships and I ultimately got my first job on The Sopranos. It was all about networking and putting yourself out there,” Occhino stresses.
Occhino also says never to be afraid to use your connections: “My friend’s father was a Cop in the town I grew up in, and he intro’d me to the crew of The Sopranos as they were shooting in our neighborhood. I’ve actually been in the Locations Department my whole career. I started at the bottom, and worked my way up.”
Occhino does admit there’s no wrong way to go about it: “If you have a more specific thing you want to do in school that’s great. Everyone I work with has a specific goal they want to achieve — like I also still write scripts. I keep close to that dream by working on set, and I think it’s good for any young person coming up to do that.”
Occhino says now is an excellent time to find entry work in Locations. “We just hired a young guy on this Showtime show, and he had no experience working in locations, but it’s super busy in New York right now, especially the entry-level positions. It’s hard to find folks, but I said to him, ‘It’s your opportunity to shine and show people you work hard.’
“Showing up on time, or being early is the most important thing in Locations. Time is money. Everybody has their hands in making the day go smoothly. Every position is important and if you do your job well, people will notice.”
- “If you have friends or family in the business, or even on the fringe of the business, tell them you are interested and that you will do whatever it takes to get your foot in the door.
- If a production, is filming in your area, go to those sets and express your interest.”
Experience & Skills
Working on set is the place where one should definitely start for a job such as Locations. Occhino encourages starting as a Production Assistant: “Learning the dynamic between different departments really helps.”
“What I love the most about being a Location Scout is being creative. Having an eye for loving movies and loving TV, watching a lot of that you kind of think along the lines of that when you look for certain places.”
Sometimes working on super challenging locations can give Location Scouts legendary status; they may even end up in all kinds of tour guides (as is the case with the Location Scouts for La La Land.) Do a superb job at finding a freeway to shut down for a dance sequence, and you may find yourself written up in Vanity Fair. A great location can truly make all the difference for a memorable scene.
Occhino states that while location scouting is an incredibly fun job, it also requires a supreme amount of patience: “You have to hear out everyone’s concerns. My vision might not be the same as what other people were looking for. Trying to figure out the tastes of each person helps you get to where everyone wants to go.”
Education & Training
Occhino is convinced you no longer need to go to film school if you are thinking about getting into locations. “There are all kinds of ways to go about it. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t go to film school.
“You can learn a lot on the job. If you have a specific area of the business you feel passionate about, you should try to put yourself through schooling for that if you can, but if you are not sure of the right path for you, working on set can help you find that.”
“In New York, the location workers fall under the theatrical teamsters, 817. That covers location workers and the teamsters who move all vehicles. A lot of folks in New York have a Gmail Google group we use, but beyond that, I don’t know a specific platform for organizing. But as a Location Manager, you are in the Director’s Guild of America, another excellent union.”
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“I’d say whatever you are doing or pursuing, make sure it’s something that makes you happy. Have goals, work hard at them, and make sure what you are pursuing makes you happy at the end of the day.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“In general, I would say you have to show up on time with whatever job you want to do. It goes a long way when you are there on time when people need you. You only get one chance to make a first impression.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“You should definitely ask what the hours are like. It has become better as they have cracked down on hours you can shoot, but it still might be 14 hours you could be shooting, so know what you are getting into.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
David Occhino has been working in Locations since the year 2000. He began his career in his hometown, on the much-lauded show The Sopranos. He has since worked in Locations for such productions as Law and Order, The Good Wife, and Girls. Occhino loves showcasing and highlighting his incredible city of New York on-screen.