So you always thought of yourself as a master negotiator, eh? Your parents saw you as a diplomat with the U.S. Department of State, did they? But somewhere along the way, you got bitten by the film bug. You found yourself wanting to somehow combine your natural negotiating skills with your love of film, didn’t you? So you did some research and learned that the Location Manager’s office is the ideal location … for you.
A location manager is the man or woman who may work closely with the director, the producers, and the production designer, identifying the best locations for a film’s various scenes. This job is essential for those scenes, which must be shot “on location.” The location manager is a liaison between property owners, producers, the production company, the studio, and sometimes advertising agencies. Securing the right to shoot at any given location is a part of the job. Being able to effectively negotiate and having a working knowledge of insurance issues is essential. He or she must know what’s on a location agreement, and should be able to explain its contents to property owners.
Location Managers are usually in charge of a few location scouts, whose job it is to go forth and seek out new territories and new domains. The location manager will then present a list of the most useful locales to his production superiors. Often, finding places that can double for other places is paramount due to shooting costs etc. Creative location managers have found a way to have Southern California play as almost anywhere in the world.
The most useful locations in many instances are determined by logistics. Things such as distance, parking, electricity outlets, ability to tap into an electrical grid, availability of special personnel, and of course … the look, are all factors that must be kept in mind.
Once a location has been agreed upon by the producers and director, it’s the job of the location manager to secure the location and get all necessary contracts and insurance issues signed and resolved. Very often, the location manager must also coordinate with the local police and/or other city officials, letting them know about the shoot, and obtaining any necessary permits, etc.
Tip: If you’re the location manager, go the extra mile; don’t rely on a GPS system. Drive out to the location yourself and take detailed notes of the directions. Sometimes, a location manager may need to be a bit creative and find more than one route to the given location. This is because some production vehicles may be too large to travel the route provided by a GPS System.
If you take this position, be prepared to work very long hours. The location manager is almost always the first person on a set and the last to leave. The bottom line is that the location manager is an individual that should have an intimate knowledge of the geography in any area the production may be shooting. He or she should have a working relationship with local government offices and the police have a working knowledge of safety and health regulations … and should be prepared for frustrating and difficult situations on a regular basis. The individual who maintains a sense of humor, has infinite amounts of patience, and can deal with difficult individuals without losing their cool is an ideal candidate for this type of work.
Getting started, just as in any other area of the film industry, can be a bit tricky. A person doesn’t have to have a degree to obtain this position, but having some training in health and safety issues is a good idea. Most individuals will not start immediately as a location manager, but will have to move up from being a runner (like a production assistant that handles administrative work for producers) to location scout … and then eventually assistant location manager, before becoming a location manager on a major shoot.
Although the hours are long and the job can be difficult, experienced location managers are compensated well and make a very good living. This job can be worked on a freelance, contractual basis. In fact, many times this position is not hired until a film is ready to begin pre-production and is not a position that is held full time by anyone in the production company. When you get hired, make it your priority to go out and find impossible locations. Then make them possible. You’ll make yourself invaluable.