Cyber-scouting opens screen doors

Web sites like shootingonlocation.com facilitate scouting

HOLLYWOOD — Anything that saves location managers shoe leather when scouting for filming sites is a precious thing, particularly when so much work may never make it to celluloid. Savvy location managers are learning that online scounting removes some of the guesswork.

“The entire world is at our fingertips,” says Bill Bowling, location manager on such films as “Red Dragon” and “The Insider.” “I can find information fast, get suggestions and follow leads. To be able to quickly explore details of any place on earth is amazing.”

Canadian location manager Robin Mounsey researches images of far-flung destinations, often using others’ personal pics posted online, an approach more helpful than stock shots from film commissions.

That said, film commission Web sites are great for online access to film permits.

“To get the process started is a lot quicker (online),” says Mounsey, whose credits include “Seven Years in Tibet.” “It saves you the legwork if you can look online and get the backup information that’s required.”

Using scarce resources

Film commissions rely on their sites to automate many inquiries, a clever way of utilizing scarce resources. The New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater & Broadcasting recently added location shots and a database of businesses helpful for local filming to its existing online permitting system.

NYC film commissioner Katherine Oliver says the site boosts her office’s ability to serve its “customers,” as well as stretching her non-existent marketing budget.

“We’re trying to effectively use our Web site to showcase our services,” she says, while making life easier for filmmakers.

Arizona’s film commission site was one of the first with e-permitting in early 2001. The site now has weather information and an easily updated database of local information and filming-related businesses.

“Paper guides have a limited shelf life,” says Arizona Dept. of Commerce’s Jami McFerren.

Scottish Screen’s locations operations manager and film commissioner Kevin Cowle deems its site as “critical to marketing Scotland as a filming location.”

With some 50,000 shots of the diverse Scottish landscape and architecture online, scottishscreen.com serves as the entree to producers looking for locations, permitting, crews and even funding.

The Internet collapse killed off some filming services sites, but that void has been filled recently by the November launch of shootingonlocation.com.

The U.K.-based subscription site features interactive maps of climate and geographical data worldwide, and a directory of location and pre-production contacts.

Climate controlled

“We cut across what the film commissions do,” says site co-founder Jonathan Nigel, who got the idea for the Web site while scouting vegetation in the Pyrenees.

“We’re completely impartial, and we’re about climatology mainly.”

Shootingonlocation.com’s search engine ensures that even the most specific requests — say “snow-covered conifers in November” — generate options. The site even estimates the probability that a location will get you what you want.

Location manager Bowling says he’d like even more, including an evaluation of financial incentives and subsidies available worldwide.

“We need more than a picture on a Web site to determine great locations.”

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