I’ve always liked scouting because it gets everyone together outside of the office. Travel time in the van is spent getting to know each other and perhaps discussing new details or ideas. It’s an informal setting that’s conducive to brainstorming or just every day chit chat. When large groups go out to look at a site there’s a good chance this location is a real contender. In the prior weeks, the location manager, director and the production designer have been editing the hundreds of photo’s taken by scouts. These pictures are rejected for many reasons; the location just doesn’t look right, it’s hard to get to, limited availability, no parking, too many rules, too expensive, etc. So, by the time the vans are loaded for a location scout, pay attention, because this might be one of the places where the project is photographed.
Some projects require numerous exterior locations in the US and around the world. Most location managers are extremely focused individuals, they rarely have enough time to do a completely thorough job of amassing the pictures for presentation. Additional pressure is brought to bear because locations have a direct impact on the schedule, which is probably the most important document produced in prep…
… even for your film!
Let’s say the principle location in your script is a diner…
Lower budget projects depend on finding practical locations. In most cases, building a set is much more expensive than paying a location fee. On a “no budget” student film, you’ll be at the mercy of the owners of a diner who might actually let you shoot there when its closed, for free. The story takes place in the day so you’ll have to find a diner that is closed at least one day of the week, presumably on Sunday. Larger budget projects don’t like working on Sundays so they’ll “buy out” the place for what the diner might earn on any given busy day and then shoot during a normal workweek. This happens all the time, except in Las Vegas, where there isn’t enough money in the world to buy out a casino. Sometimes, bigger films will choose and shoot a great exterior location but will build the interior on stage for any number of reasons. Actor availability, major stunt rigging, gunfights or changing the existing lay out of the location is impractical or not allowed. Unfortunately, on a small project there is no money for these options. So we’re stuck with finding a place that’s closed on Sunday and available. Another option is to re-write for night but that create real story problems. Or, shoot in two different locations – one for the exterior and the other for the interior. The interior may be a coffee shop or a small restaurant that is closed one day of the week and can be re-dressed for your project. Or, maybe you can find an empty main street office that can be decorated to look like a diner.
Obviously, finding an existing diner that you like, that’s closed on Sunday and available to you for free is the dream. By now it is clear that finding a diner location will be a challenge requiring a bit of creative thinking. In filmmaking, “NO” is not an acceptable answer, there is always a solution and you will figure it out. On larger projects, it is the responsibility of the location manager to help solve issues just like this; and it’s why good ones are worth their weight in gold. When you find your diner, shoot a light study - one picture every hour to determine what time of day best represents the look of the diner per the script.
Now add twenty five more locations, spread out over America and three other continents and you’ll begin to understand the importance of the Locations Department.
Location Managers are responsible for:
Per the script, search and find all exterior and interior locations not already available to the producers (such as sets). Negotiate the fees for using the properties and personnel and secure contracts in writing.
Budget the expense of these locations (site fee, police, fire, permits, parking, business losses, etc.), present logistical challenges, availability and any rules that might be an encumbrance to the production.
Secure all necessary permits and insurance certificates that comply with the contract and local jurisdictions.
Once secured , lead all location scouts and inform the crew of any and all restrictions in the contract. “Stay on the sidewalks, don’t feed the wildlife, no trimming of indigenous flora, don’t walk out onto an active taxiway…”
During production, prepare the location for crew arrival (contact neighbors, cover floors etc.), supervise crew movement, site maintenance and contract compliance.
After wrap, return location to original condition, account for damage, theft and rehabilitation expenses.
Find warehouses for the construction of interior sets and for storage of props, wardrobe, equipment etc., if no stages are available.
If working internationally, hire local “experts” to assist with all location operations.
Provide production with the realities of customs requirements for shipping and receiving materiel within the borders of any given foreign country. Work with the locals to “make it happen” in a timely fashion.
Provide production with any pertinent US State Department bulletins regarding, terrorism, disease, government stability and local law enforcement. Locate and augment set security if deemed prudent.
Design an emergency evacuation plan in the event of a natural disaster or national instability.
Provide production with the status and rating of local “in country” medical care. If necessary, provide the whereabouts of additional medical staff.
Creates a variety of different maps to locations, hospitals, airports, etc.
Countless favors and last minute saves that no one will ever know about.