Career as a Film Location Manager
Careers in Film: What it Takes to be a Location Manager
As with most things involved in a filmmaking career, the location process starts with the script. The script will dictate what the location should be—how it looks, how it feels and what kind of shots are necessary. It’s the location manager’s job to know the script and liaise with the film’s director and DP (Cinematographer) who will further dictate and clarify what’s needed in the ideal location for the shoot.
What does a Location Manager do for a Film
As a Film Location Manager, you must enjoy traveling the world and have a keen eye for what will look good or otherwise interesting and evocative on the screen. After discussing the locations needed with the producer and director, you’ll go out and find them—a mansion, an exotic beach, a mountain, the desert—whatever the script calls for. Finding the most appealing or most spot-on locations which are also the most logistically feasible and budget conscious for the production is no easy feat! Once a location is approved, it’s your job to make arrangements for the use of that location including permiting and contract negotiations as well as manage any disputes or inconveniences which may arise during filming.
Locations play a very important part in most films. The location manager plays a vital role in determining which locations are used. There are three basic phases to a location appearing in a movie: finding the location (scouting)—pre-production; securing the location (permits and contracts)—pre-production; and managing the locations during production (logistics, support, restoring location to pre-shoot status)—production. Once a film is in post, the location manager’s job is done, unless, of course, there’s reason for a re-shoot.
THE LOCATION MANAGER’S JOB ROLE: THE SCOUTING PHASE
The location manager, or location scout, armed with the location requirements then sets out to find the ideal location. This is the location scouting phase and involves a lot of research. This research can involve looking at what locations were used previously in similar movies (IMDB is a good source for this). Google Maps and Google Earth make it possible to do a preliminary scouting of nearly any location from your computer. Personal knowledge gained through travel and experience is another valuable resource which the savvy location manager will want to develop and draw upon.
Also bear in mind that consideration must be given to state and local film incentives, size of the cast and crew, days and hours needed for the shoot, budgets, noise levels, power availability, space for reverse angle shots, etc. Working within these constraints, the location manager will scout all of the necessary locations and prepare a list of choices for the director and DP which includes high resolution images of the location at different times of day and from different angles, information pertaining to available film incentives, availability of power, parking, feeding and bathroom requirements for the cast and crew, knowledge of ambient noise levels, and floor plans or maps of the location.
THE LOCATION MANAGER’S JOB ROLE: PERMITS & CONTRACTS
Once a location is chosen, it must be secured. This requires contracts with the property owner (and tenant in cases where the location is rented by someone other than the owner), insurance, film permits, posting of filming notifications in the neighborhood and securing parking, feeding and bathroom services and facilities, negotiating with potential obstacles, providing on-site security and making sure copyright issues of visible protected objects are resolved prior to the shoot. Also, included in this phase is preparing a budget for all the costs associated with the location.
THE LOCATION MANAGER’S JOB ROLE: LOGISTICS & SUPPORT
On the days when the location is being used for filming, the location manager is tasked with keeping the peace with residents, businesses, and local authorities impacted by the location shoot, resolving problems as they come up and ensuring that the location is returned to its original state. For this reason, the location manager is quite often the first to arrive and the last to leave a location.
THE FILM CAREER PATH FOR BECOMING A LOCATION MANAGER
The path to becoming a location manager requires the self-starter gene. There’s no academic course or degree for becoming a location manager. However, there may be plenty of opportunities for the self-starter to intern with an established location manager, especially on shoot days when a location may require dozens of people just to secure parking spaces. Sure that might not sound like much but it’s vital. Helping out with tasks like this is a great way to present yourself, and your abilities, to the location manager.
The skillset for a location manager is part creative, part analytical, part problem-solver, and part negotiator. Above all else, the location manager needs to have great people skills. To the location’s owners and neighbors, the location manager is the face of the movie since it’s the location manager who must negotiate with the owners, tenants, neighbors and authorities to secure a location. It is furthermore, the location manager who must deal with upset neighbors as well as local authorities if there’s a complaint; and it is the location manager who has to ensure that the location and neighborhood is left in the same shape it was in prior to shooting.
For motion pictures, the location manager is often a union position. Depending on the location, unions include the Teamsters Local 399, Local 817 and Local 728 and the DGA. There’s also the Location Managers Guild International, a non-profit organization for location managers which offers “location apprentice” memberships which can be helpful in securing an internship or apprenticeship with an established location manager.