The following material is an excerpt from the No Film School How to Make Money as a Cinematographer course.
So, you’re the Director of Photography on a project. You got all your gear, and you show up on set to shoot. You’d think that would be your first day, but in actuality, the work begins way before that.
In order to get your pages shot for the day, a creative team must come to set prepared. Not only will the crew need to be prepped with a shot list and storyboard, but an overhead diagram. All of these things are supported by a tech scout of your location, be it a sound stage or something on location.
So, what is a tech scout, why is it important, and why do you need to do it?
Let's get into it.
The Tech Scout Checklist
A tech scout is a crucial moment for production that happens before principal photography begins. It includes a technical walkthrough of your location with the department heads of your project. This can include the director, DP, the unit production manager, and even the production designer. Honestly, anyone who is involved in getting a location prepped really needs to be there.
But tech scouts are most crucial for cinematographers because this is the moment where a lot of the prep finally coalesces. All the camera tests, lighting packages, and storyboards finally find their home—a set.
Communication is key on a tech scout.Credit: Grusho Anna
Depending on the size of your project, the camera department should ask the following questions:
- Where will you set up video village?
- Where will you stage your gear and park your grip trucks (or grip van or grip car)?
- What are your power needs, and does your location meet them?
- Are there any errant sounds or audio issues you'll have to overcome?
- How does the sun track across the sky?
- How will that affect your lighting?
If your location can't provide the power your production needs, then you may need a generator, which can add extra costs to your production. This means you may need to adjust your setup to meet your budget, or you may need to reevaluate how much money the project actually needs.
If you’re not on a sound stage, then the sun will constantly keep moving. Depending on the month, the time of day you shoot at the location can drastically affect how you light your scene. In this article, director Jono Seneff only had a few days throughout the year to get the shots he wanted.
Finally, if there are any ambient sounds, like a plane, busy road, or construction, then you may, in fact, need a new location.
Bad audio will break your projectCredit: KAL VISUALS
Answering all of these questions will make sure that you arrive on set ready to shoot instead of tackling problems. Imagine showing up to a wonderful location and having to re-block your scene because the sun went in a completely different direction from what you were expecting. Or worse yet, all of your audio is unusable because a plane keeps flying overhead.
After you answer these questions, it's also equally important to block out a rough lighting plan during a tech scout, as well as a coverage plan (or a shot list). If you really want to be prepared, you should even think about blocking for your cast. Sometimes it may seem like a DP shows up to set and does the bare minimum. The reality is that they are extremely prepared for the production.
What Else Do You Need to Learn?
The more you understand about your location before you shoot, the more you can plan out your day, and the easier and more efficient you’ll be on set during production. While you should leave room for spontaneity, don’t let it be your baseline. A good plan will save you time and money.
But is that all you need to learn about tech scouts? Not even close.
How do you even draw a lighting plan? What apps or tools do you need to finish all your prep? How would you know where the sun is weeks from now? Well, the No Film School course, How To Make Money As A Cinematographer, has all these answers and more.
We not only teach you how to climb the ranks as a cinematographer but also how to build your business. We cover things like the right way to purchase gear, how to make passive income with your work, and how to properly calculate your day rate. And that's just the tip of the iceberg!
There are a whopping 75 chapters, 8 hours of video lessons, and 50+ written resources to teach you how to be a better cinematographer. Let's leave 2022 behind and make 2023 the year to succeed.
Learning how to do a proper tech scout is only the beginning. Join us today to learn How To Make Money As A Cinematographer and start leveling up your career to new heights. You know how to be a creative. Now learn how to be a business.