When I was 8 years old, I would wander down the block to my neighborhood park and shoot reel after reel of 8mm film, staging complex battle sequences between platoons of tiny green plastic army men and wind-up robot toys. It was epic! Or at least it seemed epic to a person no taller than a mailbox.
The park location had two significant qualities vital to a young filmmaker: It was close, and my parents let me go there alone. However, at the ripe old age of 10, I began to take notice of equally interesting shooting locations further up the street. With each birthday, the geographic range of my location database expanded. Pretty soon I was racing my bike through neighboring ZIP codes, hoping to find a unique setting in which to set my next robot-invasion flick. I had no idea that there was a name for what I was doing, but now I know better. I was location scouting!
It wasn’t until much later in life when I learned that there are people who make a career out of location scouting. They’re called location scouts. Clever, right?
When working on a film, a location scout gathers the best options. After that, the location manager steps in to handle all the necessary arrangements (contracts, releases, payments, and so on). Granted, I’m simplifying the process, but those are the basics. As a professional director, I have the great fortune of working with many talented location scouts and managers. However, on smaller-budget projects I don’t always have that luxury. Sometimes, I’ll wake up early, grab my iPhone, and scout a few locations myself. If you’re a young or independent filmmaker, I imagine you’re in the same boat.
Let’s take a look at two of the best location-scouting apps available today. Grab your iPhone, hop on your bike, and follow me!
Great news! Every iPhone and iPad comes standard with the most basic location-scouting tool available. It’s called a camera, and it works like this: Find a good location, take a picture of it, and, finally, make grand plans to shoot there. As an added benefit, most of Apple’s mobile devices will add GPS coordinates to the metadata of each photo. Some apps, including Apple’s own iPhoto app, can use this data to present a photo’s original shooting location on an interactive map (FIGURE 4.5).
Figure 4.5. Apple’s iPhoto can show you exactly where you took that awesome location photo.
Using the standard camera app is a great place to start, but if you’re serious about scouting, have a look at Panavision’s Panascout for iPhone.
In addition to snapping photos of your desired location, the app will overlay a heap of useful data including your GPS coordinates, the direction you’re currently facing (important when trying to predict the movement of sunlight and shadows), the current date and time, the estimated time for sunrise and sunset, and an optional framing overlay that can be set to 2.40:1, 1.85:1, 1.78:1 (16x9), 1.33:1 (4x3), or a custom ratio (FIGURE 4.6). All of this data can be incredibly useful when picking your locations and planning shoot times.
Figure 4.6. Panascout automatically adds useful information to all your location photos.
For example, let’s say you’ve just returned home with an iPhone full of location shots. While reviewing everything, you come across a photo of a dilapidated wooden shack in the middle of a field. Because you took the shot with Panascout, the photo includes a variety of information, including compass data. You realize you were facing west when you snapped the image, which means you could return here during golden hour to capture the setting sun’s rays gleaming through holes in the shack. If you didn’t already know, golden hour describes a day’s last hour of sunlight, which typically provides gorgeous skies and soft, dramatic lighting. Looking back at the photo, you see that sunset is expected at 7:43 p.m. Because this photo was taken today, tomorrow’s sunset time shouldn’t be much different. You enter the GPS coordinates into your favorite iPhone navigation app, and you’re ready to go!
Panascout helps you keep things organized by letting you sort your shots into user-created albums and rolls (FIGURE 4.7). You can add text notes to any image, or if you’re feeling especially vocal, you can even record an audio note. When you’re ready to share, you can e-mail a location shot straight out of the app. In addition to the photo, your e-mail will include any text notes you’ve entered, along with the sunrise and sunset times, the time and date the shot was taken, and even a link to the location on Google Maps! If you recorded an audio note, it will also be attached to the e-mail as an .m4a audio file.
Figure 4.7. Use albums and rolls to keep your location shots organized within Panascount.
In addition to stills, Panascout will also record movies, but they won’t include any of the app’s on-screen data. I’m really hoping this changes in future versions.
Panavision offers a free Lite version of the app that you should completely avoid. It lacks all the important features and doesn’t give you any sense of the full app’s value. It’s a bit like offering a lite version of a popsicle in the form of an empty stick. Mmmm...stick.
Map-A-Pic Location Scout
For the longest time, Panascout was the only location-scouting app I kept on my iPhone. A few other contenders put up a good fight, struggling in vain to secure a position on my home screen. But ultimately, their lack of unique and useful features prevented them from infiltrating my workflow.
All that changed the day I met Map-A-Pic Location Scout.
While Panascout puts its emphasis on capturing information-rich images, Map-A-Pic focuses on providing extensive organization tools tucked neatly masked behind an unintimidating user interface.
You begin by tapping the New Location button and then choosing to snap a new photo or grabbing an existing shot from your photo library. After adding the first photo, you can name the location, confirm your location on a mini Google map, and add up to nine additional photos to this location’s record (FIGURE 4.8). Tapping the Save button in the upper right brings you to another screen that displays the same information but adds a street address, the current distance to the location, an area for text notes, the location’s GPS coordinates, and the record’s creation and modification dates.
Figure 4.8. Each location record within Map-A-Pic can store up to ten location photos.
The real power, however, comes from the ability to add any number of user-defined tags to each location record. For instance, after entering a new location at the base of a beautiful waterfall, you might assign tags like waterfall, exterior, nature, romantic, forest, and of course massive garden hose. That last tag was suggested by my business partner, Joseph. He has a unique way of sorting things.
As I mentioned, every location record provides a place to enter notes. I use this field to store important contact information associated with the location, such as the property owner’s phone number and e-mail address. Remember, whenever you shoot on location, you need to gather all the necessary release forms (I cover how to use your iOS device to collect release forms later in this chapter).
When it’s time to find the perfect location, tapping the My Locations tab brings you to a complete list of all your existing location records (FIGURE 4.9). To quickly find what you’re looking for, you can search names, sort by distance or date entered, and, most importantly, filter by tags. When you have hundreds of locations in your collection, tags will save your butt. The app will also let you mark favorites and view all your locations on an interactive map.
Figure 4.9. When you need to recall a location, just scroll through your database. You can also preview your locations on an interactive map.
When you need to share a location with your crew, Map-A-Pic will create an e-mail containing the location’s name, notes, address, photos, and a link to the location in Google Maps. You can also broadcast locations on Twitter and Instagram...because there’s nothing more awesome than hundreds of people unexpectedly showing up to observe your private, unpermitted shoot.