The Location Department

The Locations Department works closely with Productions and starts work well in advance of principal photography. The Department consists of the Locations Manager, assistant managers, location scouts and marshals. On a small project there may be only one person filling some of those roles, while on large films the team can be international.

Location Scouts seek out, and photograph, interior and exterior locations that fit the needs of the story per the descriptions in the script. Plus any other parameters defined by the creative team. They then report back, and the Location Manager organises one of more scouts (same word, different meaning) for the production keys to visit and view the prospects, or tech recce. Then the Location Manager negotiates the contracts for use of suitable places and locks them down.

There are many considerations in addition to the visual appeal of any location. These include logistical concerns, like travel distance, available parking or space for a Unit Base, places for the trucks and equipment, Tech Base location, along with the ability to permit the place. Along with dealing with the property owner, the Location Manager must also ensure filming permits are in order, and inform the local residents of the shooting plan, as will be defined by the permits. They are also responsible for working out the directions to the Unit Base, Tech Base, Location, any other areas in use, and having signs put up (and taken down) to guide the crew.

Location Managers need a good filmic eye, familiarity with the general needs and procedures of any film production, very strong attention to detail, and great people skills to be able to negotiate. You are essentially the middle man but also the advocate for the needs of the location owner. It is helpful to have knowledge of architectural styles and history. The hours tend be long – someone from the locations department should be available on set at all times, including during wrap. During the shoot that person will be the liaison between the owner and the crew, as well as the trouble shooter when a neighbour decides to obstruct shooting. Regionally based Location Managers will have a very strong local knowledge, and familiarity with their own region, knowing not only where the good shooting locations are, but also where the services and vendors are located. Sometimes there is overlap between the Locations Manager and Production when things like catering or accommodations are also needed.

To become a Location Manager, start as a marshal attached to the Locations Department. This is one of the areas of the industry that does not require a degree. Marshalling is the ideal opportunity to learn about the industry. A good marshal can expect to climb the ladder quite quickly and is ideally suited for those leaving the military. Learn about permits and contracts and if you can, attend all Location scouts and production meetings. Be good with maps and navigating, a core military skill, and learn how to take good location photos. This is a job that you can work your way up to by working repeatedly with a great Location Manager, until you have a big enough network to branch out on your own. It may be that volume units are replacing some locations, but the realism and depth of detail that a real place has, especially for contemporary dramas, means that shooting on location is going to continue to be an integral part of film and television.

Next: Closely linked to the Location Department is the Unit Manager. Another role that is ideally suited to those with a military or logistical background.

Original article: Work in Production - Robyn Coburn

Further Reading: Location Manager, Location Trainee, Location Runner, What is a Location Manager?