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The On-Location Survey

Although situations vary, an initial survey for a major, multiple-camera field production typically includes at least 10 points or questions. (Again, we are starting off by thinking big. These elements will need to be scaled down for smaller remotes.)

1. A check of available power. What will your total power needs be in terms of watts or amps on the location?

Does the remote van that will house your production equipment take standard 120-volt power, or the less common 220-volts?  Is there enough power on the location? Will long power lines have to be run to bring in adequate power?  Is a portable generator the only solution?

2. If it's a live production, does the location provide for a clear microwave dishsatellite uplink or microwave path?

Productions are not transmitted to viewers directly from the field; instead, they must first be sent to a TV station or a production facility and then to a transmitter or head-end distribution point.

A signal can be sent from the field by:

  • one or more microwave links, such as the one shown here

  • video phone (assuming it's a short and quality isn't a major concern) 

  • a satellite uplink 

  • fiber optic cables

3. Will there be sound problems? Is there a street nearby where noisy motorcycles or trucks can cause audio problems? Depending on changing wind conditions, is it possible that a location may end up being in the flight path of an airport?   If the production is being done inside, will the acoustics present audio problems?

4. What are the existing lighting conditions? Will extra lights have to be set up? And if so, for interior set-ups will the air conditioning be necessary (and able) to handle the resulting heat?

If the shoot is exterior, where will the sun be during the scheduled time of the shoot?  Will deep shadows caused by the position of the sun require reflectors or high-powered fill lights?

5. What changes will be necessary at the location to accommodate the script, talent, and production equipment? Will existing signs have to be removed or covered to preserve authenticity in a dramatic production? This is especially important in period pieces that are set in specific historic eras. period piece

A dramatic production set in the era depicted by this scene, for example, would have to undergo extensive  scrutiny to eliminate items and materials that were not available during this era.  

Could you have a scene with Albert Einstein using a ballpoint pen, or living in a house with stucco walls?

Savvy audiences are quick to pick up on these inconsistencies.

In addition, you may have to make changes at the site to accommodate cameras and equipment.

6. What are the restrictions involved in using the location? Some communities, especially in Southern California, Miami, Chicago, and New York City, have strict guidelines covering production locations, hours, and conditions. Special permits, insurance, and security bonds are required. Even students doing productions for class have run into problems with local officials.

7. Can a contract be drawn up to ensure that you will have the facilities as long as you need them? Without putting things in writing, there can be misunderstandings.

You might want to specify such things as:

  • the days or hours when the facility will be needed
     

  • the compensation, if any, that will be paid to the owner of the property
     

  • any changes that are planned for the property, including the interior or exterior of buildings, (repainting, remodeling, redecorating, etc.)
     

  • the user's responsibility for restoring the location to its original condition, if that's deemed desirable
     

  • insurance and bonds that will be secured and a statement on financial responsibility on any related liabilities

8. Does the location offer adequate toilet facilities for cast and crew? Are they readily available (as would normally be the case in a large athletic facility) or will portable facilities have to be rented?

9. Will adequate security, police, and first aid be available? If equipment is to be left overnight, will security guards have to be hired? Will off-duty police have to be hired to keep onlookers from interfering with the production?

10. Are there nearby restaurants, or will a catering service have to be brought in? Especially in small communities, nearby restaurants may not be able to handle a large crew within the time allotted for lunch or dinner.


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