Why it's important to do a recce
A recce, short for reconnaissance, is a term used frequently in the production industry. Quite simply a recce is when you visit a filming location before filming to gather information and work out suitability for filming. Doing a recce is something that end clients often don’t see happening, much like they don’t see the hours we may put into preparing equipment for their job and planning the filming schedule. It’s the sort of thing that differentiates a video production company from a videographer and there are many reasons why we carry out a recce.
First of all, health and safety. It is a lot easier to do an accurate risk assessment if you have physically seen a location. There are going to be a number of people on site for the project and we need to know that our crew is going to be able to set up, film and de-rig the equipment safely. For instance, we always check out emergency exits, locate fire control facilities and first aid services as well as the nearest toilets and drinking water station. In most case, things are straightforward, however, if there are any risks at the location, we need to know so we can plan preventative measures.
Sometimes parking is very restricted so the equipment may need to be offloaded and the vehicle moved off-site which, again, effects set up times. Occasionally, there are valuable items in a room that need to be removed, or as happened recently valuable paintings on walls and antique wall coverings which meant that we were unable to lean or store anything against the sides of the room or use strong light near the paintings. All things that we need to know beforehand to ensure that the shoot goes smoothly.
Secondly, the equipment. Doing a recce before filming helps the production team to know what equipment they will need on the day, plus highlight factors that will affect what they can and can’t bring. Things like the amount of natural lighting, the types of external noises, the size of the room and the amount of storage space all have a huge impact on what a production crew would need to bring with them. Many modern buildings have quite low ceilings with smoke detectors; these need to be considered if using any lighting that gives off heat because smoke detectors can often also be set off by heat emissions.
Thirdly, how accessible a site is and if there are any entry requirements or things that a crew need to know beforehand. For example, we’ve been in locations where there are no lifts so the crew have had to carry all the equipment upstairs which adds time to the set up and may mean taking different equipment along, and we’ve been on sites where for security reasons everyone needs to take photo ID with them to be able to get into the building.
So what happens if you can’t do a recce? Recently, we did some filming in Birmingham for a client but we couldn’t get there before the filming day to do a recce. So one of their employees kindly did a small walkthrough video on his phone showing us the entry points and the room we would be using; then, later on, provided us with all the information we needed, such as measurements of the room and access to power points. So as long as there is someone there who can provide the information that the production team will need before they arrived, then it’s not the end of the world if a recce can’t be done. And of course, sometimes it’s just not possible to recce a location due to budget, time or location restraints.
In conclusion, if it’s possible we always like to do a full reconnaissance for all locations that we will be filming at because it helps the day to run a lot smoother and maximises what we can do on the day. Sometimes, when a piece of video content is urgently required, it may well be that we just have to pick up the kit and go – the news guys do this on a regular basis!
However, the thing to remember is that most news items are shown once and then not again, whereas training and corporate promotional work stays with the client for a long time - so getting things right at the location can make a real difference to the end product. To help ensure we cover all possible risks we use a ‘Reconnaissance Survey’ form which covers key elements to most productions including all the relevant contact names and numbers at the venue, access conditions, power supply, lighting facilities, air conditioning timers, details of any in-house facilities such as a PA system and radio frequencies that are already in use at the venue and drawings or photographs of rooms to be used. This can then become our guide to making a sensible risk assessment for the project and ensure everyone taking part in the project is well-prepared.