Scouting for Sites & Sets with Paquita Hughes

Nikita Raja

Finding the right set and location for a series or film is no easy feat, just ask #WiM member, Paquita Hughes. Paquita is a Location Manager and Scout with over 100 productions under her belt. She has worked on shows like NCIS: Los Angeles, Stitchers, White Famous and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience on navigating the world of film sets & locations. We sat down with her to learn about her background and what influenced her to this type of work in the industry. Check it out:

As a Location Manager & Scout, can you explain your overall approach and process when scouting for set locations?

It’s a very collaborative and creative approach. I depend on a clear vision from the director and writers (via script) to form an idea of the location to scout then next I depend on the many resources I’ve gathered over the years to start my search. There are several other elements from the script that come into play when selecting locations to scout as well. Such as, the script may call for a Cape Cod Mediterranean style home for a scene based out of the east coast. California offers several types of terrains and environments as well as tons of mixed architecture in this city, that allows me access to really explore cool properties and locations. The budget is also a major factor.

So many departments rely on good location scouts.  What are some of the common duties or requests that you get?  What are some of the most outrageous?

The most common duties that are requested of us are access to as many spaces as possible  for the art department to set up, along with grip and lighting to run cables and rig lights. Access to the roof is almost always requested when doing exterior shots next to buildings.

Then there are the creature comforts for cast and crew, outside the standard support required by unions, such as VIP parking for producers, more heaters when it’s a night shoot, more A/C when it’s hot, and the number one request is… WiFi! Everyone has to have their WiFi!

I once had to find a private space at a mansion location to stash a very expensive and realistic sex doll. It was very interesting to keep that area secured, to say the least.

Tell us about your work on NCIS: Los Angeles:

It was surreal, I’ll start with that. Never in my life would I have imagined working on such a high profile show, especially with LL Cool J! It was a thrilling show that provided me some awesome challenges that I accomplished with a smile. The budget was very comfortable to work with, which allowed me to really penetrate the neighborhoods and secure some great locations to perform incredible stunts and special effects. The crew is one of the best in Hollywood and they are truly a family. There are fans all over LA so it was really a joy to work with a community who were true fans of the show. Asking residents to crash an SUV through their garage was pretty fantastic. I also met tons of great city officials and property owners. I had the opportunity to meet the creator of one of my all time favorite TV shows, Smallville, after bonding with his wife during a lunch break while filming a holiday episode in their home. It was an incredible experience.

That was a “full circle” moment for me in my career. That day marked the tenth year I had decided to go on my journey of following my dreams of working in the film/tv industry.  I began my journey while stationed overseas in Sicily, Italy, serving in the US Navy. I had hit a glass ceiling in my occupation as an Air Traffic Controller being a hard charging African American woman in a caucasian male dominated field and so I plateaued. I was so unhappy even though I had job security, benefits and a steady pay-check. Our command was pressuring us to take college courses to become more competitive for rank promotions. I was bummed about being forced to take college courses toward an aeronautical degree I didn’t want or plan to use just to lose out to a “good ole’ boy” for a promotion. I felt…trapped. I fell into a deep depression. I was introduced to the tv series Smallville by a very close shipmate who noticed my depression. He told me it would “save me”. I laughed because I definitely wasn’t a Superman fan, I’m totally loyal to Batman. I gave it a shot and watched the first season. I became obsessed. It reignited this passion inside me to attempt my childhood dream of pursuing a career in film/tv. I had my first epiphany in life: I didn’t want to go the rest of my life regretting not giving it a shot; and while I was still young and full of life rather than grow old, unhappy in life and die wondering, “What if?”…I decided to apply to film school. I applied to my first school, Academy of Art University, and was accepted into their online program and the rest is HERstory.

How did you end up working in film and T.V.?

I moved to LA from San Diego in 2011 when I separated from the Navy and I had already been taking online courses during my time overseas and was itching to get my hands dirty, so I also attended New York Film Academy and Los Angeles Film School right after. I excelled and was a star student at both schools, which awarded me with opportunities for internships and referrals to industry work. I was also hired as a production assistant for a couple of directors who were fellow military veterans. They hired me for several of their PSA and music video productions.

What kind of apps and software are you using?

As a scout, I use Google maps a lot! Microsoft office is a must and knowing how to use Powerpoint and Excel spreadsheets is a great skill set. I own a Canon 5d Mark III for my photography work and I use Zenfolio.com as my hosting website for my photos.

Walk us through a day of location scouting:

Each scout depends on the location and needs, so I’ll read the script for details of all the elements needed or to take into consideration. If I have a location in my catalog I can think of right away, BOOM! Half the work is done. If not, then I research my resources for options. This is the pre-scout work. I want to line up as many options and set up appointments with each property owner to scout. It’s always good to get updated photos of a location because things change due to new construction, weather damage, natural disasters, etc.

Once I have my appointments set up, I venture out with my camera to scout. I go to each location and note several things that may conflict with production or budget. I also note any permitting concerns with the area that may arise when I call the film office to check on the restrictions for filming. After I get all my photos and information I organize them all into folders and type up scout notes to accompany them. They are then presented to the Director who makes selections for a closer look. After that, I set up a director’s scout where we narrow down the options.

How do you manage conflicts between departments?  

I manage conflict by keeping an open dialogue of communication. I’m also very approachable. I ask a lot of questions and I try to be very detailed in my email and text communications.

What are your tips for managing large egos?

Smile and nod (kill them with kindness and professionalism) and always C.Y.A. (cover your ass).

You’ve been with Women In Media a long time. Tell us how you’ve seen the organization grow.

OMG! I’m so proud of Tema and what the group has grown to be today! I saw the vision and I’ve been a supporter of the progress for years! I remember when the meetings were at my film school after classes and they fed us pizza. I remember when the crew list was just a spreadsheet with names and contact info. I’m excited for the future of the group and I feel we are making all the right steps towards the right direction. I recently hired some women to crew a short film I produced, from the crew list! I love it! The crew list breathed life into my career after I graduated my last film school and I have been climbing ever since. The classes and access to events and conferences is amazing! Keep it coming!

What advice do you have for someone looking to break into the industry and doing similar work?

Do your research! Especially before you try to reach out to anybody for informational meetings or hookups, you must do your research on what you aspire to be and have some sort of plan of action. What’s your “skin in the game”? Ambition, passion, strong work ethic and basic knowledge of that occupation, is your ‘skin in the game’ when you have nothing on your resume. Networking is a must! Learn to do it, and do it well!