The Art of Location Management
A comprehensive list, compiled by UK organisation Creative Skillset, says a location manager needs to display “initiative, reliability and enthusiasm” and have strong organisational, negotiating, communication and problem-solving skills, but do the experts agree?
Creative Skillset, which provides training support to the UK’s creative industries, says that as a location manager you should be able to “visualise and find potential locations” but also “understand contracts, local authority processes for permits and have a good knowledge of health and safety requirements.”
Leading location managers endorse many of these points. Alex Gladstone, whose recent credits include films such Now You See Me 2, Philomena and Ex Machina, says a big part of his job is being able to convince key decision-makers that he understands what they’re trying to achieve creatively.
“You spend a lot of time travelling to locations with the production designer, and sometimes also with the director and producer,” the location manager says. “There will be a lot of talk about the script and if you don’t understand it, then there’s a sense of ‘why are you even here?’”
Gladstone has a History of Art background, which he believes helps him get to grips with the aesthetic of the projects he works on. At the same time, though, a good location manager needs to balance the creative ambition of the filmmakers with the realities of the working world.
“What I like about this job is that you have one foot in the film world and one foot in the real word. You’re trying to help the filmmakers realise their creative vision, but you are also making practical decisions about what is really going to be possible.”
The ‘real world’ part of the job, says Gladstone, can require patience and persistence: “It can mean long hours driving. If you want a beach, then you might have to look at 10 in order to give the production designer a shortlist of three. If it’s a location that requires special permission then you need to fall back on your pitching abilities.”
He agrees with the Creative Skillset list that you need to be organised: “But I think above all you need to really believe in what you’re doing. I know it sounds corny, but it is a privilege to travel around looking for locations and really rewarding when you get great access.”
Regina Kaczmarek, founder of Frankfurt-based Agentur Kaczmarek, was an art director before setting up her current business. Today, her company handles casting, locations and permitting across a range of media including TV, commercials and photo shoots.
Kaczmarek has worked on a number of high-profile projects including a recent film for Samsung called 360 degree VR – to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Germany’s reunion – and a documentary for the US Olympic Committee about the East German team’s reliance on doping at the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games.
Like Gladstone, Kaczmarek emphasises the value of expert knowledge in being able to identify the right locations – especially in urban environments: “I know a lot about architecture because I was involved in putting on a series of architecture-based events for a number of years. That is an advantage with locations work.”
She also agrees that getting the balance between the film and real world is crucial: “If you find a nice location but have no permit that’s no use to anyone. You have to know how to make things happen, for example when producers want to get permits for drone cameras.”
David Broder has worked as a location manager on projects like Steven Spielberg’s The BFG, The Imitation Game and Woman in Gold. Like many location managers, he started in a related area of the business before moving over: “I worked on shorts and low budget films for a while as an assistant director and then realised location managing was the right fit for me.”
These days, says Broder, “I try to work on high production value UK-based feature film projects, but I have done all budget levels and used to travel a lot more.”
Broder emphasises the importance of the location manager’s aesthetic abilities: “Good photography is the primary skill and having a creative eye”. But he shares Gladstone’s view that good interpersonal skills and creative insight are also key.
“You need the ability to get on with all departments. It’s also important to watch films and analyse them. So many people working in the film industry do not watch enough films.”
Having a thick skin and a persuasive manner can also be an asset when trying to secure access to locations, he says. “Dealing with the real world is tricky sometimes and you are the interface. Many people take a lot of convincing as filmmakers do get a lot of bad press, especially in London.”
In terms of the things that have changed during his time in the business, Broder says: “Digital photography and location agencies have changed the way the job is done now. Street view and Google Earth are invaluable.” But, like with any tools, they are only as good as the person using them.