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Will This New Online Tool Revolutionize Location Scouting?

By Robert Carrier | Indiewire July 24, 2014 at 1:00PM

Filmmaker Robert Carrier recounts how his experience making his debut feature film, "Scavenger Hunt," led to his founding The Scoutr – an online prop sourcing and location scouting platform that he feels could be the future of filmmaking.
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"Scavenger Hunt"
"Scavenger Hunt"

Filmmaker Robert Carrier recounts below how his experience making his debut feature film, "Scavenger Hunt," led to his founding The Scoutr – an online prop sourcing and location scouting platform that he feels could be the future of filmmaking.

In 2012, I set out to write, produce and direct a feature film. I had found myself in a rut at my full-time job and was seeking a creative outlet that would allow me some degree of artistic expression. To say that the process was a learning experience would be an understatement. The script came easy – I merely put to paper an idea that had already been circulating in my head for years – but the production process did not. In producing my film, I found that the tool I most wanted simply didn't exist.

"In producing my film, I found that the tool I most wanted simply didn't exist."

As any indie (or even big-budget) director can attest to, pre-production is really where a film comes into its own. After completing the script for my film, "Scavenger Hunt," I found that the next hurdle immediately presented itself – how do I make this? I was working on an extremely limited budget, yet the scope of my script was rather ambitious. My film called for on-location photography in Paris and London, and had further scenes set in Sweden, Spain and throughout the Southern California area (all of which would have to be recreated here). Additionally, the story included scenes in mansions and expensive hotel rooms; at a private race track in the middle of the desert; and on a sailboat out at sea. The prop requirements were no less demanding. For the purpose of the story, I wanted my characters to drive vintage cars, sports cars and 4X4s… cars with a bit of character. The cast's random collection of beaters wasn't going to suffice.

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The Scoutr
The Scoutr

Unfortunately, when it came time to source props and scout locations, I found that there wasn't really a centralized tool to aid in this task. I thought, "How is it, in 2012, that there's no tool for this?" The online location scouting websites that did exist simply weren't very good – direct transactions weren't supported, nor was direct communication between the renter (myself) and the rentee. Furthermore, the sites I did come across didn't include any of the props I might need, such as vintage cars or boats. And so, I had to be creative and resourceful.

One of the story's main characters was written to be a bit of a modern-day James Bond – he drove fancy cars, sailed boats, and lived in exotic locations. The problem was, I didn't really have the budget (nor the connections) to create the lifestyle I had written into the story. I would have loved to film at the Gamble House in Pasadena, but such an option just wasn't in the cards for me and my crew. But I thought, what if I could film at the neighbor's house (in this case, figuratively, as the bulk of my production took place in San Diego, not Los Angeles)? And so I set about walking through the neighborhoods I felt would be appropriate for my film and started leaving notes on people's doors. One of those homes wound up on camera.

The story of procuring one of the film's signature automobiles is no less amusing – if I wouldn't have done this myself, I would have thought the whole idea crazy! My script called for a very specific automobile, in this case a late 1960s Toyota Land Cruiser, and yet, up until several days before we were set to film, I really hadn't worked out how I was going to source it. As luck would have it, I happened to run across one at my local SMOG station when bringing my car in for its bi-annual California inspection. I managed to chat up its owner, and miraculously, against all odds, convinced him by the end of our very short conversation to consider lending me his truck for use in the film. That very truck is in the film.

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As lucky as I was to source the homes, boats and cars used in my film, the fact never escaped me that there had to be a better way. Other filmmakers likely won't be as lucky as I was, and anything that can delay the pre-production process, particularly on a low-budget film such as mine, has the real chance of preventing the film from ever getting off of the ground in the first-place. When it comes to making a low-budget film, time really is money. When working with friends and family, all of whom are volunteering their time and effort to the project, it is your responsibility as a director and producer to work quickly, efficiently and effectively.

What came out of my experience making "Scavenger Hunt," besides a great deal of satisfaction and tremendous amount of fun, was an urge to create the tools that I wish I had at my disposal during the production process. And so, I went about creating The Scoutr.

The Scoutr is an online prop sourcing and location scouting tool. Like Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, and TaskRabbit, The Scoutr works by connecting the public with a group of people who can benefit from what they have to offer. With Uber and Lyft, the public provides transportation services; with AirBnB, the service is accommodation. My idea was simple: this same relationship – between the public and users – could be leveraged to help with the creation not only of independent films, but features, shorts, music videos, television shows, commercials and photo shoots as well. I wanted to develop a platform that would enable creatives to source a range of different props and scout the locations they need from one central location, entirely online. That is what The Scoutr does.

With The Scoutr, the public can list homes, private businesses, cars, motorcycles, trucks and boats for rent. Creatives, such as filmmakers and photographers, can then rent these items for use in their art and commercial projects. The transactions occur directly through the website, so cash never needs to change hands, and the renter and rentee are able to communicate beforehand to arrange logistics and determine an appropriate rental period. Perhaps best of all, there's transparency to the entire process – the rentee sets the price and the renter pays it, picking the time that works for him or her. It's pre-production, prop sourcing and location scouting made easy. I wish it existed two years ago!

Launched just this month, The Scoutr is still in Beta testing and has a ways to go before it becomes the online resource we want it to be. But for filmmakers like myself, as well as other Creatives, I believe it has the potential to become the online platform for prop sourcing and location scouting. Why do I believe that? Because I designed it based on what I was looking for when making my own film.

Robert Carrier is the founder of The Scoutr, an online prop sourcing and location scouting tool. His film, "Scavenger Hunt," was produced for less than $5,000.

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit: Production, Filmmaker Toolkit: Technology