Location Management

A location manager represents an entire film production and is generally the first person the outside world meets. His job is to help realize the director's artistic vision by finding practical locations where the company can shoot. If what the director has envisioned isn't available, the location manager often has the formidable task of selling the director on the merits of alternate sites. He has to know what constitutes a suitable location (entailing much more than mere physical appearance) and is able to do so based on his working knowledge of site fees, permits, regulations, restrictions, fire safety, security issues, insurance requirements and whether a specific property can accommodate an entire cast and crew plus extras, vehicles, equipment, a catering tent, etc.

A location manager has to be quite the politician. He must deal with the entire crew, location residents and property owners, their neighbors, film permit officials, film commissioners and representatives of various film, city and government offices. Depending on the circumstances of any one show, that list may include individuals representing railroads, hotels, private businesses, circuses, race tracks, theme and ballparks, schools, etc. His solid relationships, people skills and good reputation may make the difference between getting a last-minute approval on a permit, a date change on a location or the closure of a stretch of highway when needed.

Ever the ambassador, part of his job is to convince dissenting residents and store owners who don't want a film company shooting in their neighborhood to sign a consent release. He also endeavors to win over nervous residents and property owners who have qualms about having a film crew on their premises. Then, should the crew or any of the equipment being used cause damage to the property or the experience not go as well as the property owner had hoped, it takes a true diplomat to make sure everything is restored—the property as well as the relationship. His objective is to satisfy the property owners (knowing he can call on them again for another show) and make sure they don't leave the experience with a negative impression of film companies.

He has to be adept at negotiating, have the resources necessary to temporarily close down roads and major highways when necessary, figure out how to get entire film companies into remote shooting locations and be able to rearrange months of planning and permitting on a moment's notice when the shooting schedule changes.

The location manager spends a good part of the pre-production process in a car on his own or on "scouts" with the director, producer, production designer and first assistant director (and then later on "tech" scouts with various department heads once locations have been selected and secured). He spends more time out and about than in the office, and for some people, that's just the way they like it. And he takes a lot of photos of various locations to present as possible shooting sites. I've known several location managers who, as a result, have evolved into avid still photographers. You have to have a good eye, so you can look at a building, a home, a street, a town, a cityscape, a view and know that it can be shot to look as if it belongs to another place in another time. That same good eye enables you to spot locations that until that time had only resided in the director's head.

I spoke briefly to my friend Ned Shapiro, who's one of the best location managers I know. It's Ned's feeling that not many location managers start off with this position in mind, but land there nonetheless. For those who might like to pursue it as a career, he suggests starting out as a PA and then seeing if the job appeals to you. He said it takes someone with a lot of patience, a sense of humor and a thick skin. What he loves most about what he does is working out of town occasionally. He loves meeting interesting people and learning how the real world works.

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