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Many people's conception of a location scout / location manager is of somebody jet-setting around the world looking for desert islands or jungle waterfalls. This can be true! There are jobs that come along which add exotic immigration stamps to your passport. For example, much advertising is "aspirational" (think of the old Bounty ads), and the location can often be as important as the storyline in selling the product.

Location Works over the years has handled film or photographic shoots in the following countries:

Europe: France, Italy, Switzerland, Czech Republic (Prague, Marienbad, Karlsbad), Slovak Republic, Spain, Gibraltar, Russia (Moscow & St Petersburg), UK, Ireland, Holland, Greece. Scandinavia: Denmark, Norway (including Arctic Circle), Sweden (including Arctic Circle). Iceland. North America: North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, New York, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, California, Alaska. Caribbean: Antigua, Bahamas, St Kits, Nevis, Trinidad & Tobago, Bermuda. Africa: Chad, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, South Africa. North Africa: Morocco, Libya (including Sahara), Egypt (Cairo, Sinai Desert), Maderia, Canary Islands. Middle East: Israel (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Negev Desert, Eilat, Red Sea). India, Sri Lanka. Far East: Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan (Tokyo, Mount Fuji), Singapore, Bali, Australia, New Zealand. South America: Brazil (Manaus, Amazonas, Brasilia, Fortaleza, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo), Chile, Venezuela.

So yes, it's true, we do get around!

90% of the work we do is inside the M25 (i.e. within 30 miles of London; this would generally be true of other major centres of production - 90% of filming out of Hollywood is within 30 miles of central Los Angeles). This is a matter of economics: the majority of filming, television and advertising companies are in London, and a film crew has accurately been described as a "mobile factory". You may have a generator (mobile power station), canteen (catering truck & dining bus), toilets (so called "honey-wagons"), wardrobe & make-up (including motor-homes for the stars), and a reasonable sized workforce (construction crew, lighting technicians, etc. etc.). This can be fifty vehicles and a hundred crew. This tends to limit the distance that can be travelled.

Not that you're supposed to know this: time and again we get asked to find a "Spanish villa" in West London! and by the time it's on your screen it may well look like the whole thing was done on the Costa del Sol.

so what happens?

  • identify the type of location.

    In the case of film shoots, either a script or storyboard arrives at our office. This is broken down into locations and a schedule.

    In the case of stills advertising, a layout may arrive from the photographer or advertising agency. Let's take a stills shoot as our example: following is the kind of layout we might receive.

    Layouts can be better than this - and an awful lot worse.

    In this instance, it's a car (an Audi) on a snow-covered road. The advert is going to sell Audi cars on the basis of their superior road handling in adverse conditions. Although you can't really tell from the layout, the art director has in mind a lonely country road, perhaps in the Highlands of Scotland.

    Now here's a peculiarity of the advertising business: this shot was intended for autumn/winter advertising, and so had to be photographed in mid-summer. This happens quite a lot: the December issue of a magazine will have been printed in November, the advertising & editorial organised in October, so the picture of Mum, Dad and the kids around the Christmas tree will have been photographed in August or September.

  • research possible locations.

    Obviously there are locations that are easy to find, and others that are difficult. Finding the location is only one part of the problem....

    Snow in mid-summer. Mm... "Snow plus road" is a difficult combination in the northern hemisphere in summer. In the southern hemisphere, of course, it's winter, and there will be snow in New Zealand's southern highlands. In this instance it was felt that we didn't have the budget to go to real snow, so we would use special effects within the U.K.

    Next we must consider where to look. Although the most dramatic mountain roads are to be found in abundance in Scotland, it was felt that the key to this scene was not so much the landscape as the severity of the weather, and little of the location would actually end up being recognisable in the shot. North Wales was chosen as an area to research.

    Over the years, Location Works has built up a considerable library of locations, and it's usually the first port of call when we start looking for a location. Because we do a fair amount of automobile advertising, we've a large section on country roads. The mountains of Snowdonia were considered the best bet.

  • do a "recce"

    No matter how large and comprehensive our library gets, there is no substitute for a location manager visiting the site and working out the logistics. We might have a picture in the library of the very spot, but each project is different, and the photographer's or director's requirements must be matched to the right location. So one of our location managers hopped in his car and did a four day survey of North Wales.

    It's not just that the location must look good and conform to the brief, it must also make practical sense. It's pointless looking for the right place on a busy main road, since we will want to stop traffic during the photography. There must be somewhere sensible to put the camera, and it must be far enough back to get the right perspective on the scene. If, behind the camera, the land slopes away suddenly, we might need to build a scaffolding tower to get the camera into the right position. There's the parking of our own vehicles and the equipment of the special effects team also to be taken into consideration.

    Bearing all the above in mind, the location manager aims to find and photograph several possible locations. They don't just climb in their car and drive! They'll have Ordnance Survey maps, and will have spent some time identifying the right places to look. Notes will be taken about orientation, and the photographs taken by the location manager will show the locality comprehensively (the last thing you want is the reflection of an electricity pylon in the bodywork of the car!).

    So with any luck our location manager will return from his recce with a few hundred digital photographs to put into a presentation. These will be shown to the photographer/director/film company/agency and a decision taken about which looks best.

  • get permissions

    Of course on top of everything else, the location manager will have got the names and phone numbers of the local council, local police, found a good hotel and spoken to the farmer who owns the field at each of the locations. Now that one has been chosen, it's simply a matter of phoning up the right people and telling them we're coming. Would that it were that simple! Each and every one of them will require a call or an email detailing who we are, what we are going to be doing, and exactly, exactly when and where.

  • do the shoot

    So we get to the location
           at dawn on the first day
    and get the car there
           by a covered transporter to keep it clean
    we get the camera in position
           on a scaffolding tower
    close off the road
           causing grief to the locals
    we spray foam over the background
           to look like snow
    put tons of salt in the foreground
           to look like snow
    throw paper in front of the lens
           to look like snow
    shoot it time and again
           so at least one of the shots looks right
    and go home a week later

  • that's it.

    Easy huh? In the interests of self-promotion and easy reading, the above account hasn't given much emphasis to the multitudinous and perverse ways things have of going WRONG!

    But that story can wait until another day.

    Click here to see the finished result...

© Kell Gatherer 1998 - 2024
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