What constitutes a good film location? How does the location that you have chosen affect the rest of the production? In this post, we’re going to talk about the role of the location manager on set and explain why the person who picks where the filming happens is so important to a successful production.
Why Are Practical Locations So Important?
We live in a time where film budgets are being spent in ways that trade connection with an audience for expensive visual effects. Many film production companies would rather do most of their filming in generic locations or sound stages and when things need to get interesting they simply fire up the green screens.
The truth is, filming on location is hard, difficult work. It makes sense that production companies would want to consolidate their filming locations as much as possible to save on logistical effort and time. Classic examples of this phenomenon are the Star Wars prequels were the majority of the films were shot on a soundstage.
While it’s true that modern visual effects allow directors to do incredible things, it’s very easy to overuse them. The problem with the Star Wars prequels was not the technology of the time. Digitally enhanced practical shots from films made 20 years ago at the same time as the prequels still hold up today.
Enhanced scenes from films like the original Jurassic Park hit harder and look better than many scenes from modern films made with the superior technology of today. Digital effects are most impactful when used to enhance real-world on-location shots where the narrative is driving the action.
Do you think that scene would look as convincing if it was done completely on a green-screened soundstage? What about if the SUV was digital?
Luckily, there are some modern directors won’t compromise with filming practically, and the quality of their work speaks for itself. Masters of the craft like Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino openly reject using their budgets on anything not based in real-world, practical film production. The result are films that you can almost reach out and touch. The kicker is that films made in this way look better and are often less expensive than films who dump tens of millions into digital effects.
What is location management?
The location manager is responsible for finding, securing, and managing all the locations that a film will be shooting at. Unlike many other film production jobs, location management is not something that is taught directly at most film schools. On big budget productions, a location manager will be part of a larger locations department which could have dozens of people working in it.
It’s a common misconception that the job of a location manager stops as soon as they find a suitable location, but really their work is just beginning. While finding great film locations is their primary job, the location manager is also responsible for ensuring that the location they found is accessible for the entire duration of the production. They also have to make sure that activities related to production at the location are not violating any agreements they might have entered to secure said location.
What makes a good filming location?
There are a host of different factors that make a location great for filming, but none of them matter very much if it doesn’t fit the script. The screenplay should in most cases be the driving force behind the selection of a location. A good location manager won’t start scouting for a place to film until they have a solid understanding of the character motivations and the technical requirements of the production.
Location is so important to film production that the process is sometimes referred to as “casting a location” which gives the impression that location selection is just as important to a production as casting actors. If done correctly, the location almost becomes another character in the plot.
What’s the best way to find a film location?
Location managers will each develop their own unique way of doing the job. Like we said earlier, there is no set book of rules that location managers need to follow. The job requires a high level of creativity combined with an array of management and organizational skills. There are many technologies that make location scouting possible remotely, but at the end of the day, final scouting must almost always be done in person.
Traditional Location Scouting Methods
A few non-technical examples of ways that location scouts might start searching for locations in an area:
Contacting local realtors: Nobody knows more about what an area has to offer in terms space than realtors. Location managers will get in-touch with local realtors and let them know what kind of space they want. More often than not, the realtor will be able to point a location manager in the right direction.
Researching past locations: Each city will have a long list of places and locations that have been used by films in the past that can be uncovered through research. While it’s not a good idea to copy what previous films have done, certain locations can work for multiple films in original ways.
Driving and searching on foot: Sometimes location scouting is as simple as driving around and looking at what an area has to offer. While this method can be time-consuming if not well organized, it also has the potential to yield some really unique finds.
What is a location manager responsible for?
Each member of the film crew has different needs. If a location does not have the proper facilities for the crew, like bathrooms for example, it’s the location department’s job to figure out how to provide the crew with those facilities. Making sure that there is enough parking, equipment storage, internet access, natural light, and electricity are all the responsibility of the location department.
If there are any production critical services that cannot be found on location, then they have to be brought in. Every time something like a generator needs to be used on a location, the location manager needs to account for that and make sure that the production can stay on budget while using that location.
The location manager also needs to make sure that the production team is prepared for any extreme weather conditions that might exist at the location they have chosen. This might mean providing propane heaters if they are filming in cold climates or fans and umbrellas if they are filming in hot climates.
Working on a production that values the work of the location department is rewarding to say the least. Casting a film location that matches a story’s mood and characters takes time, but a good fit is always worth the search.
Location managers have a pretty unique and important job on a film, and without someone filling that role, it would be difficult to have a successful production. Whether it’s you, or someone else, doing the location management on your production, it’s important to respect this position. Film production would be a lot harder with the research and effort put in by driven location managers.
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