The tech scout is a critical challenge for every shoot. It has the power to make or break a production’s budget, schedule, and even the project itself.
To help you nail your next tech scout, we’ve loaded this post with essential knowledge of the tech scouting process. We’ll tell you what tech scouts are, describe how to work them with your crew, and break down a location scouting template designed specifically for tech scouts.
Let’s get started.
A tech scout is an opportunity for your department heads to analyze each shooting location in detail and as a team. It’s usually one of the last major tasks of pre-production and always represents a crucial step toward making your production plan actionable.
The term “tech scout” is short for “technical scout”. As the name implies, tech scouting is all about technical details. Department heads must plan and troubleshoot each location in depth according to their department-specific priorities. The goal is for everyone to walk away knowing exactly what they’ll be shooting and - more importantly - how they’ll be shooting it.
It’s important to note that tech scouting and location scouting are not the same thing. They are related, yes, but it would be a mistake to use the terms interchangeably. The key difference between tech scouting and location scouting is time.
The goal of an initial location scout is to select shooting locations, while the goal of a tech scout is to figure out how to shoot on locations that have already been selected. By necessity, tech scouting can only happen after the initial location scouting process is completed.
Before we dive into the details of tech scouting, take a second to download our free tech scout checklist.
Now, with our location scouting template for tech scouts in hand, let’s talk about how to nail your next tech.
A successful tech scout is a detailed tech scout. However, the details that matter most differ between departments In some cases the details can even vary between individual crew members.
Below, we’ll break down what tech scouting means for each department as well as other key stakeholders. We’ll talk about basic areas of responsibility and follow along with our technical location scouting template to point out notable questions.
Let’s start with the big picture.
Organizing a tech scout can seem like an impossible task. A dozen separate conversations need to happen between a dozen separate parties, all within a limited timeframe and with enough organization to form a coherent plan.
Fortunately, a little structure goes a long way. Here are three basic steps to follow at each location on your tech scout.
Upon arrival at the location, gather the whole crew together and hold a quick meeting. The goal is to orient everyone to the space and get them to the same starting point.
The content of this meeting should be two-fold. First, you’ll want to review any fundamental information about the location. What scenes are you shooting there? Where exactly are you shooting? Are there any challenges you want to highlight based on the initial scout?
Second, the director should walk everyone through a basic explanation of their vision for the location. How this unfolds is entirely up to the director. It can be a simple description, an elaborate walkthrough, or even just a general approach. Whatever their
preference, the director needs to give their crew enough creative direction to begin forming a concrete plan.
After you’ve completed an initial meeting, the group should break into separate conversations as necessary. This is the part where the crew digs into all the department-specific topics described below.
This segment of the tech scout will likely flow organically from the director’s description of their vision. It tends to be sprawling and open-ended, but it’s important to give each department the space it needs to do its job.
Finally, as plans find their shapes, slowly gather everyone back into a single group. Before you move on, take a moment to confirm that there are no lingering questions among those present. This simple act encourages personal accountability and is an easy way to help avoid unnecessary errors down the road.
You can repeat this basic workflow not only for each location but also for each set. These three steps inject a small dose of structure into an otherwise unwieldy process.
For your project’s director, the tech scout is an opportunity to clarify their vision to the entire team on a scene-by-scene basis. Simply put, the director is there to communicate.
While they will likely have little input on the technical details of the scout, their presence is critical for keeping the rest of the crew on the same page. The director’s vision is the foundation for the entire tech scouting process.
To that end, here are a few basic questions that the director should answer from our technical location scouting template:
The director will spend most of their tech scouting time waiting to answer questions. Other department heads will connect with them sporadically as the tech scout proceeds.
For the 1st assistant director, tech scouting is a little bit like herding cats. Their primary goal is to make sure that all the right conversations are happening between other people on the scout. The fundamental task of a tech scout 1st AD checklist is to make sure that every single department is in sync and has a clear plan by the time the tech ends.
However, 1st assistant directors still have their own areas of interest. A tech scout 1st AD checklist should also analyze a location’s logistics and troubleshoot how those logistics will impact the shooting schedule. To that end, our location scouting template for tech scouts asks 1st AD checklist questions like:
The contents of any 1st AD checklist will overlap considerably with the concerns of the production department, which we’ll discuss in more detail later. The 1st AD and the production department must work as close allies throughout both the tech and the final stages of pre-production.
The cinematographer will spend the majority of their tech scout talking with the director, the gaffer, and the key grip. Their role is to connect the director’s aesthetic vision with an actionable plan for blocking, lighting, and shooting it.
The cinematographer is also the head of the camera department. In the absence of another representative, they should take thorough notes on camera details, like camera placement and lensing.
The cinematographer should find answers to questions like:
Before wrapping up the tech scout, the cinematographer should make a point of touching base with the art department. A few simple conversations are often an effective way to troubleshoot and discover blind spots between the departments.
For the electric department, tech scouting is a mixture of infrastructure analysis and creative decision-making. The electric department is usually represented on the tech scout by the gaffer, but the best-boy electric or other members of the department may also be in attendance.
The first tech priority for the electric department is to understand the creative vision of the director and director of photography. The gaffer should walk away from each location with at least a general idea of how they will light the scenes taking place there.
The second tech priority for the electric department is to analyze each location’s power infrastructure. Ultimately, the goal is to determine whether each location has an adequate supply of and access to electricity. Here are a few questions they might ask to that end:
Much of the most critical information for the electric department will not likely be captured by a simple checklist. It’s important that the gaffer or other department representative take thorough notes at each location.
In many ways, the grip department’s approach to tech scouting mirrors that of the electric department. It requires a blend of creativity and technical craftsmanship. The grip department is generally represented by the key grip on tech scouts, but they may not be alone. The best boy grip or a rigging grip may also be present, particularly if a location will require complex rigging or dolly work.
The grip department will first collaborate with the electric department and the director of photography to figure out how to light each location. This flows naturally into an analysis of the physical space and how light will need to be controlled within it. Our technical location scouting template highlights grip department questions like:
As with the electric department, detailed notes are crucial for the grips. Accurate measurements and diagrams can make or break the grip department’s ability to operate efficiently within a given location.
Tech scouting is usually a sizable task for the art department. Their job is to literally reinvent each location as a part of a fictional world. They must connect raw imagination to physical reality through a conduit of time, money, and hard work.
The art department is unusual on tech scouts in that it is more often than not represented by multiple crew members. The production designer always attends the tech. They may be joined by an art director, set decorator, or more specialized members of their department.
Broadly speaking, the art department’s concerns orbit around transforming physical space. They should seek answers to questions like:
The art department should also touch base with the grip, electric, and production departments to confirm each location’s basic layout and gameplan. These departments must all share and coordinate common space, but the art department will be particularly affected if there is a lapse in communication. A few simple conversations are often the art department’s best self-defense.
Tech scouting for the sound department is all about troubleshooting. Notably, the sound department is often not directly represented on tech scouts, but their basic concerns can dramatically impact a production’s ability to work efficiently.
If there is no representative of the sound department present on a tech scout, the 1st assistant director, a production department representative, or even the director should take note of any audio concerns. It’s in the entire production’s best interests to ask questions like:
“Holding for sound” is perhaps the most nightmarish phrase regularly uttered on set. If you can’t avoid the frustration altogether, you can at least use your tech scout to prepare for its management. When facing an inevitable audio concern, it’s best to build a little wiggle room into your daily shooting schedule.
A production’s VFX department may or may not be present on a tech scout. If the scenes being shot at a given location require significant VFX work, then a VFX supervisor or VFX coordinator should attend the tech. If not, then there’s no reason for the production to pay an additional crew member’s day rate.
Most of the VFX department’s critical tech scout questions can and should be asked in advance of the scout itself. Our location scouting template for tech scouts takes note of topics like:
The VFX department’s presence on a tech scout can also be useful for communicating with 3D pre-visualization tools. VFX professionals on the tech can help connect the dots between principal photography and post-production.
Production is an intermediary for every other department that attends the tech scout. If the grips want to know if they can load-in through the location’s garage, the production department has to communicate that with the locations department. If the electrics need to rent a generator, production will have to pay for it. If the art department wants to knock out a wall, production will have to argue against it.
Throughout the tech scout, the production department will also work closely with the 1st assistant director to map out each location. The goal is to create a safe, efficient, and legal workspace for cast and crew. Our location scouting template for tech scouts asks production questions like:
More than any other department, production will walk away from the tech scout with homework. Tech scouts often reveal new challenges, opportunities, and costs. The production department takes the lead in managing this new information and integrating it into a final production plan.
Producers may or may not be present on a tech scout. It depends on the characteristics of the production as well as the preference of the producer.
On low-budget productions, producers tend to wear more hats and be more hands-on. They usually attend tech scouts by necessity, acting as key representatives of the production department.
On mid- and high-budget productions, however, the producer’s responsibilities are more distant from the day-to-day labor of production. These producers might attend a tech scout in a creative capacity or as a liaison to more big picture budget concerns. In any case, they attend first and foremost according to their own desire and availability.
The tech scouting process can feel overwhelming, but it can also be exciting. For many filmmakers, the tech scout is when a project begins to feel real. With the help of our tech scout checklist, you can reduce stress and focus on creative opportunities.
While tech scouts and location scouts are separate processes, remember that many of the same principles can be applied to both. Take care to be as thorough as possible, and the rest will fall into place.
At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice. You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.