Documentary Tech Scouts

Under normal circumstances, it is not uncommon for documentary filmmakers to shoot in unfamiliar or uncontrollable locations. The COVID era is of course far from normal, however, so we must pay much stricter attention to how shooting locations are scouted, prepped, and secured. One of the most important steps in this process is performing a tech scout at the location, ideally at least a day in advance of the actual shooting, so that a safety plan can be developed for how the production day will be run.

Prior to the Tech Scout

As early in the process as possible, begin to gather information about any locations you are considering. This will enable you to anticipate more things in advance of arriving at the location for the tech scout. For example:

  • If possible, visit the location in-person to scope it out, take photos, and make some preliminary notes about how you’ll use the location.
  • If it’s not possible to scope it out yourself, ask the owner or someone with access to the location to send you photos or video walkthroughs.
  • See if you can get hold of a floor plan and measurements, so that you can start mapping out the production zones. Looking up the street view and satellite view on Google Maps can also be helpful too.

At the tech scout

The tech scout should ideally be completed at least one day in advance of shooting at the location, with all crew members present. If that is not possible, you’ll need to get approval in advance from Tony to do a tech scout on the same day as production, and you’ll need to allow for at least one hour to complete the scout.

  • Treat locations as if they are infected and use PPE accordingly. Do not touch items native to the location while scouting unless absolutely necessary.
  • Have as much conversation outdoors as possible.
  • Try to maximize space and air flow when selecting spaces to shoot. Plan to film outdoors as much as possible.
  • Create a plan for maintaining a secure perimeter at the location for a controlled work area, free from outsiders to the production.
  • Create a sanitization plan for the location:
    • What surfaces need disinfecting?
    • Who will be responsible for doing this?
    • When and how frequently will it occur?
  • Map out spaces for:
    • Parking;
    • Staging equipment;
    • Green room (if needed);
    • Shooting spaces;
    • Outdoor mask-free zone – with room for physical distancing;
    • Lunch – with room for physical distancing.
  • Assess and determine:
    • If any spaces will make physical distancing difficult;
    • Access to bathrooms and hand-washing/sanitizing stations;
    • Whether any special considerations need to be made regarding air flow and/or HVAC, especially in Zone A areas.