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  • Writer's pictureNicklas Karpaty, FSF

Beyond Scenery: Why Location Recces Are the Hidden Heroes of Filmmaking

Updated: May 13

Recce shot by cinematographer Nicklas Karpaty, FSF
On a recce in Northern Sweden

You've poured your heart and soul into a gripping action script set in the isolated beauty of Swedish summer woods. The director envisions adrenaline-pumping chases, breath-holding escapes and moments of quiet reflection amid the towering spruce and pine trees. But before a single frame is shot, there's a crucial step that lays the foundation for this cinematic vision: the location recce.

The Power of Pre-Production: Beyond Pretty Pictures

Location recces are far more than just scouting for scenic backdrops; they're an indispensable part of pre-production that impacts filmmakers at every level. For producers, it's a budgeting optimisation. Visiting potential locations allows for a realistic assessment of accessibility, permits, crew logistics and potential hidden costs (such as generators for remote forest locations!). On a windy cliff with the director, we discuss the scene. A wide shot is the vision and I (the cinematographer) grab my valuable tool, the "Sunseeker" app. The setting sun would create great light but the crew and equipment access point is far away. A wide shot with heavy gear in strong winds? Not ideal.

We brainstorm a revised plan: can we get a similar shot with a separate drone shot for the vastness? This back-and-forth between vision and reality is key. I use Shot Designer to compare the planned shots to the location, ensuring a smooth translation. We discuss alternative angles and accessibility – can we get closer without sacrificing time? Sometimes, a different vantage point is the answer.

Through these discussions, we find the sweet spot – capturing the director's vision within production limitations. This collaboration during the recce lays the groundwork for a smooth shoot.

Story and Setting: A Creative Fusion

The recce isn't just about logistics; it's about finding the perfect location that becomes a character in itself. The vastness of a Norrland forest might mirror the protagonist's isolation, while a forest opening could offer moments of hope. This is where the story evolves! The director, cinematographer (that´s me!) and creative minds collaborate, their imaginations ignited by the potential of the landscape. Scouting different locations allows for comparisons, sparking creative discussions that can elevate the script beyond words.

A Cinematographer's Eye: Seeing Beyond the Script

As a DoP, location recces are a treasure trove of creative possibilities. Lighting conditions, terrain challenges, and natural backdrops inspire shot composition, equipment considerations, and the overall visual language of the film. For example, during a recce for a scene set at dusk, I might discover a clearing bathed in the golden hour light, always appreciated for a given scene.

Some of the tools I use when scouting locations.

The Not-So-Obvious Advantage: Solving Production Headaches

Here's another weapon of location recces: they can be lifesavers for producers and the production. Imagine a scene that requires a complex car chase through a dense forest. A thorough recce can uncover potential obstacles like narrow roads, low-hanging branches, or even protected wildlife areas. By identifying these issues in advance, the team can adjust the script, find alternative locations, or secure necessary permits, avoiding costly production delays down the line.

Beyond Location Scouting: A Multifaceted Tool

The benefits of a recce extend far beyond the initial location selection. Photos and videos captured during the visit become invaluable resources for:

  • Storyboarding: As mentioned, visualising scenes and camera movements becomes more concrete with actual reference points.

  • Production Design: Understanding the environment helps define set construction, prop choices, and costume design.

  • Marketing and Publicity: Striking visuals from the recce can be utilized for promotional materials and generate excitement for the project.

By investing time and resources in exploring potential locations, you're not just finding a backdrop; you're unlocking a world of creative possibilities, logistical efficiency and a shared vision.

Ready to Bring Your Vision to Life?

As a DoP with extensive experience in location recces, I'm here to be your creative partner. Whether you're a seasoned director or producer or a newcomer just starting out, I can help bring your vision to life in the most authentic and compelling way possible. Let's connect and discuss how we can collaborate to transform your script from words on a page to a cinematic masterpiece.

Drop me a message, and let's start creating something truly special together.

DoP Nicklas Karpaty, FSF on recce in Iraq
Cinematographer Nicklas Karpaty, FSF on recce in Iraq

Keywords: film production, pre-production, location scouting, recce, director, cinematography, productiondesign, storyboarding, budget, logistics, narrative, 

mood, Norrland, Sweden, summer woods, action film, creative collaboration, Nicklas Karpaty, FSF

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