Production experience: Filming on location and earning the trust of strangers

Production experience: Filming on location and earning the trust of strangers

from: Adrian Knight, TheLocationGuide.com

On those days when I’m feeling a little discouraged, or I seem to be endlessly searching for a location which just doesn’t manifest itself, I have to remind myself how lucky I am to do this job.

As Location Managers, we get to meet all kinds of fascinating people from every walk of life. We also get to travel, work independently, manage our own schedules (to a certain extent), take pictures, and drive, drive, drive. One has to like driving in order to take up location management as a career!

Many people I’ve met over the years have pointed out that ours is the coolest job in the world. While I agree that it’s pretty cool, I still think that being an astronaut or a travel writer would be arguably more fun, but the chances of that happening at this stage of my life are minimal at best! On the coolness front, however, the simple fact that I am writing this while zipping through the countryside on a train is reason enough to be excited!

On my way to a distant location in order to prepare the groundwork for a high-profile TV series, I get to do some research on the train and take a moment to write. When the producers arrive in a few days, I’ll have had the time to get everything organised, from vehicle rentals to hotel bookings, as well as restaurant suggestions and of course location options for the show.

Even though – as is often the case – I was hired sight-unseen, based on my CV, recommendations and the pertinence of my experience, I am still entrusted with such a fundamental piece of the production puzzle as ‘Where do we shoot?’ My employers have only spoken with me a few times over the phone and we’ve exchanged a number of emails. How cool is that? I’ve been able to work from home in the early prep stages and now I get to venture out into the wilderness with little more than my script, a camera, my compass and a mobile phone.

As fellow Location Managers, Scouts and Fixers will likely attest, what really makes this job fantastic are the people we meet. I think of Mrs Ivry, a vibrant and colourful octogenarian Holocaust survivor who welcomed us into her home and told us stories that would break your heart and yet she carries on with the energy and vitality of an adolescent! Although we didn’t end up filming at her place for logistical reasons, my encounter with this inspiring woman will stay with me for life.

Another recent encounter was the most surprising and unusual one in a while. In one of those inevitable rushes to find a key location that had been eluding us for all kinds of reasons (historical and architectural pertinence for a period production, film-friendly neighbourhood within a cost-effective distance from other locations and so on), we ended up squeezing in a visit during a Director’s survey, as our scout had unearthed a gem while the rest of us were on the road.

All of us have interesting stories from our encounters with people and that’s because we are the lucky few in this business who have a chance to straddle between the real world and the make-believe world of cinema and television.

It was a Tuesday afternoon and we descended upon a family’s home with our Director, DoP, Designer, Producer and Production Manager, sight-unseen and with very little warning. I was sure the family – a lovely retired couple who’ve been in the same home for decades – would be intimidated by this impromptu ‘invasion’ of high-strung creative types discussing the re-painting of this, the removal of that, the replacement of that chandelier and so on. Lo and behold, by Friday of that same week we had a signed Location Agreement, a plan for the removal and replacement of all the wallpaper and carpets, light fixtures and appliances.

That same afternoon, the couple were leaving for a five-week holiday and would be missing the prep, shoot and wrap of our production! Furthermore, they gave me their alarm codes, car and house keys, and full trust, even though we had only met 72 hours beforehand! When they returned they were absolutely delighted to find a completely redecorated home which looked as though it had been transformed by magic! This was definitely a highlight of my career, and it certainly renewed my faith in humanity, the kindness of strangers and the magic of cinema!

All of us have interesting stories from our encounters with people and that’s because we are the lucky few in this business who have a chance to straddle between the real world and the make-believe world of cinema and television. This duality allows us a perspective on the filmmaking process which may evade others who simply show up on set one day, then head off to the next location when the day is done. Our story starts long before most people are even hired and can often extend outward long after most others have gone on to other projects. Indeed our story never ends, as we forge new friendships and make new contacts all the time. It’s those people who make our job so cool!

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