Useful Tips and AI Tools for Location Scouting

October 6th, 2023 Jump to Comment Section
Useful Tips and AI Tools for Location Scouting

As you surely know, humans don’t live in a vacuum. All the curious stories about the things that happen to us, happen somewhere: in an old squeaking elevator while riding up to the 5th floor, on a steep trail during the 2-day hike to the mountain peak, or just in the cozy backyard of the best friend’s house. That’s the thing about stories – they need a place to unfold. So, whether you are an established filmmaker or a rookie just planning your first indie short, you will face the same challenge: finding a perfect location (or multiple ones) for your film. Where to start and what to watch out for? Below, you will find some useful tips and a couple of the latest AI tools for location scouting.

Going on a location scout (or a “recce”) for the first time might strongly remind you of the casting process. At least, writer and director Rubidium Wu sees it that way. In his MZed course “The Indie Film Blueprint” he dedicates the entire module to this stage of film pre-production and shares his personal insight and approach. We will list some of the most essential ones in this article, but feel free to watch the whole course here.

The locations are more or less characters in your film as well.

Rubidium Wu, a quote from his course
tips and tools for location scouting - meet your MZed instructor
Rubidium Wu. Image source: MZed

What types of locations should we consider?

In the industry, when we talk about “filming on location”, it usually means at an existing place (indoors or outdoors) that we found suitable for a particular story. This phrase also stands in contrast to “filming on stage”. The latter refers to soundstages – large soundproof buildings or rooms with high ceilings that can be customized and used for any art of film or TV production. As Rubidium Wu points out, those are extremely expensive. Renting such a specialized space will cost you easily over a thousand dollars a day (just for an empty room), not to mention that you will need at least a week to build your sets and another one to tear them down after the shoot. So, forget this option for now if you are just starting out.

A cheaper and more convenient variant could be the so-called standing sets, which are particularly common in LA.

tips and tools for location scouting - shooting on a standing set
In the hospital room of a standing set. Image source: Rubidium Wu/MZed

Imagine a huge warehouse with some favorite shooting environments built up inside: a police station, a hospital, an apartment building, a restaurant, etc. All of them will have a standardized design, which your art director may adjust – high ceilings that are handy for the lighting department, loading doors, truck access, and lots of parking. Standing sets are also not a cheap treat with a price of around 1,000 USD a day (depending on how many rooms you use). Yet, in Rubidium’s experience, they are definitely worth it because they allow you to shoot multiple scenes in different scenarios without moving your whole team from one location to another. Additional bonus here: as you are breaking down one set, part of your team can prepare the next one so the day flows quicker than usual. So, yes, standing sets can bring the shoot to a new efficiency level.

Nowadays, there are also other approaches, like LED Volume, mobile virtual productions, and even green speed sets. To be honest, though, in the majority of cases, you will be filming at an actual existing location, so let’s focus on scouting them instead.

Tools for location scouting – where to start searching?

If you are an independent filmmaker who is about to shoot their first film, Rubidium Wu recommends starting simple. Look at your own apartment, studio, or office: can you tell your story there? If not, move on to the houses, schools, and offices that you can get for free. Why? Because even five shooting days of location rent might be too heavy for a tight budget.

In case you don’t have access to any of these options (or don’t want to bother your friends and family, which is understandable), try using Peerspace or Gigster. These two portals, suggested by Rubidium, offer invaluable and much cheaper spaces for rent than a typical Hollywood location fee. You can also negotiate the price down if you’re hiring, say, an apartment for several weeks or months. The common rule here is a three-day week and a two-week month (which means: if you hire it for four weeks, you get it for the price of two).

tips and tools for location scouting - where to find a location
During recce on a real location. Image source: Rubidium Wu/MZed

In my personal experience (in Europe, but still): you can also try making a good deal and renting a location via Airbnb (a room, an apartment, or even a castle). Another lesser-obvious variant is show houses, which stand empty to demonstrate interior design solutions.

Don’t forget: the fewer locations you have, the cheaper your film will cost. Also, an important reminder from the Rubidium Wu: even if your team consists only of 10 people, they will be coming and going in and out of a house multiple times a day with heavy equipment. As a result, something will get broken. That’s the reality of filmmaking, so embrace it, and don’t forget a line in your budget for repair costs as well.

Using ChatGPT for location research

You might have heard of a large language model ChatGPT buzzing around the Internet. Its neural network offers a lot of various user cases. For example, we wrote about its ability to support you during the writing and concept creation here. However, it can also turn into one of the helpful tools for location scouting, if you wish. At least, during the brainstorming and researching phases.

My approach here: instead of surfing blindly through Google Maps in the hope of establishing suitable places in unknown areas, I open ChatGPT and type in a concrete request. As this AI can simulate a human-like conversation, a question may be the following: “What places in Salzburg (Austria) are the best locations to observe a beautiful sunset and film a romantic date scene? Give me ten choices.“ Or you can be even more specific. On one occasion I asked ChatGPT where in or around Salzburg it would film a dark fantasy short film about a witch in the woods. As an additional request, it had to list 5 locations that are available to the public, and in the area of a maximum 1-hour drive. Here is what the AI tool came up with:

tips and tools for location scouting - ChatGPT helping by the research
Image source: generated by ChatGPT for CineD

On top of that, ChatGPT even warned me that before filming at any of these locations, I should obtain the necessary permits, follow local regulations, and respect the environment.

Of course, it’s not the universal remedy, but it may give you an idea of where to start searching for a location. Especially if you ought to film somewhere you’ve never been before. As I happen to live in Salzburg, I was impressed by the suggestions above as they definitely can work for this particular film idea.

ChatGPT is still in the beta phase and available for free use.

Focusing your attention during the visits

Normally, you would visit a chosen location three times. During the first visit, the director and the cinematographer will have a look at it and establish whether it can work for the story at all. Rubidium Wu also suggests paying close attention to the following details:

  • Is there any place to stage? (meaning: to put the bags and the gear, to take breaks and eat, to set up a makeup corner, and for actors to change);
  • How does the natural light hit the rooms and at which time?
  • Does this place have enough parking spots?
  • When the location is higher than the ground floor, how can you move your equipment there? Is the elevator big enough?

If the location meets everyone’s expectations, the second time you visit it will be to block out the scene. The art director should also join this recce alongside the gaffer and in some cases the sound person. The latter, for example, would be interested in how loud it is, what background noises you may hear, and which mic they want to bring on the actual day.

The third scout time will be while you’re filming or dressing the set. In my opinion, though, it also makes sense to check up on your location shortly before shooting. Just to make sure nothing has changed. For example, for my last short, we found an amazing corner in the woods with a mystical tiny pond (or better said, a huge muddy puddle) that I included in the script straightaway. However, when we visited it again a week before the principal photography, the water had drained completely. That was sad, but it also gave us time to find a solution on how we could bring it back on the shooting day.

Luma AI as one of the efficient tools for location scouting

To conclude the conversation on the tools for location scouting, I want to show you Luma AI. This powerful AI-based software allows you to create photorealistic, high-quality 3D models out of simple videos. In the Luma app, you easily capture an object, landscape, or the whole scene and then let the artificial intelligence turn it into a detailed 3D environment.

The most interesting thing about their scans is that they are based on so-called NeRF technology, which stands for “Neural Radiance Fields”. Put simply, it uses deep neural networks to learn the underlying 3D structure of an object by analyzing images or videos taken from different angles. Then the machine predicts the color and appearance of each point in 3D space and can synthesize a high-quality, extremely detailed model.

tips and tools for location scouting - Luma AI for 3D scans of the location
On the left: a screenshot from the test video. On the right: a screenshot from the 3D scan of the location. Image source: Mascha Deikova/CineD

Why do I find Luma AI particularly interesting for scouting? Imagine that you found a perfect location by happy chance, and on your own. You take out your smartphone and make a short video, including all the details of this place. While you’re driving back, eager to share the news with the DP, the app creates a 3D scene out of your video. Now, you can not only show the cinematographer and art director the scene from different angles but also keyframe the possible camera moves directly in Luma software on your phone, rendering a decent previz. Amazing, right?

Although Luma AI requires iPhone 11 or newer to capture the environment, you can upload a video from any source and turn it into a 3D model as well. To get the best results, make your recording with the most natural, consistent, and uniform light possible.

You can try and use Luma AI at no cost, getting 30 free renders pro month in the application.


While hunting for perfect locations, don’t forget to check their proximity to each other. Rubidium Wu recommends either filming in places not far away from each other or always planning one day for each location. Otherwise, you will have to move your crew, breaking your shoot into pieces. That always drains energy and takes hours out of the day.

If you want to hear more useful advice from Rubidium, head over to, and enroll in his course “The Indie Film Blueprint”. There, he gives plenty of tips on how to launch a career in filmmaking without falling for the common traps and pitfalls.

What do you get with MZed Pro?

As an MZed Pro member, you also get access to nearly 300 hours of filmmaking education, plus we’re constantly adding more courses (several in production right now).

For just $30/month (billed annually at $349), here’s a breakdown of everything you’ll receive:

  • 40+ courses, over 600 high-quality lessons spanning over 300 hours of learning.
  • Highly produced courses from educators who have decades of experience and awards, including a Pulitzer Prize and an Academy Award.
  • Exclusive access to ARRI Academy online courses.
  • Unlimited access to stream all the content during the 12 months.
  • Offline download and viewing with the MZed iOS app.
  • The majority of our courses provide an industry-recognized certificate upon completion.
  • Purchasing the courses outright would cost over $7,600.
  • Course topics include cinematography, directing, lighting, cameras, and lenses, producing, indie filmmaking, writing, editing, color grading, audio, and even how to launch a YouTube channel.
  • 7-day money-back guarantee if you decide it’s not for you.

Join MZed Pro now and start watching today!

Full disclosure: MZed is owned by CineD

What are your go-to tips or tools for location scouting? How often do you visit the chosen locations before the actual shoot? Do you have any further pieces of advice from your own experience? Let’s talk in the comments below!

Feature image source: Rubidium Wu/MZed

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