Tue 8.12.2014

Ask a Pro: Location Manager Kristin Dewey

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Finding the right locations for your movie can be one of the trickiest aspects of producing a film. So much of your budget depends on what is possible and can be accommodated (capacity, loading gear, electric, windows, noise, parking, etc.) in each location where you shoot. So we consulted location manager Kristin Dewey (In a World…, Celeste & Jesse Forever) to get her tips for filmmakers on working with location managers and location scouts to get the best bang for your low-budget buck.

DON’T: Film without a permit
Taking a chance filming illegally without a permit, or stealing shots, can be tempting and could save you money. It could also cost a lot more if you’re caught. If an accident occurs, production insurance won’t cover you. In many jurisdictions, such as the City and County of Los Angeles, filming without a permit is illegal and filmmakers can be and have been arrested and fined, with equipment confiscated until a hearing. Better to work with your location manager to find relatively inexpensive places to film (and permit) and avoid improvising on the fly—taking you off-permit and setting you up for potential conflicts, compromising safety and who knows what else.

DON’T: Wait until the last minute to choose locations
Waiting until the last minute to decide on film locations puts every department behind from the first day, and they may never catch up. Proper preparation is essential to filming on location. When things are thrown together at the last minute, conflicts, mistakes and accidents can happen, costing a lot more money than you could have anticipated. You could lose good locations while waiting for the perfect one that may not even exist where and when you need it.

At a certain point, decisions must be made and locations must be chosen from those that best suit the story and are available and affordable. Hire an experienced location manager, budget adequate scouting time, set a date by which locations must be locked and stick to it, unless you have the luxury of pushing your schedule (and necessary prep time) until your locations are locked.

DON’T: Scrimp on protecting your locations
Protect your locations by keeping them safe and clean, and by showing respect for the owners and neighbors. Scrimping on protecting your film locations can leave you with heavy loss and damage bills, angry location owners and neighbors who won’t sign off if you need to come back—as well as screwing the next production to come along after you.

Make sure your locations are protected appropriately. In a warehouse or yard, that means layout board under the craft service table, adequate trashcans and a designated smoking area with butt cans and a fire extinguisher. In a home, hotel or office that could incur carpet, floor or furniture damage from equipment, food or drink (even prop food), you’ll need to protect the location with layout board, bubble wrap, corner protectors, etc., keep food and drinks outside, and have a designated person to stay on top of adjusting and re-protecting everything as the camera moves, and all your protection moves for picture. If it’s a union show, this would be an IATSE Craft Service person, if it’s non-union, it could be a P.A., but it needs to be someone who’s solely responsible for cleaning and protecting the film location, and who can handle the inevitable complaints from busy crewmembers, and picking up trash as they drop it, to keep the property owners and neighbors happy.

It’s very important to clean up during filming and have a cleaning crew come in when you leave to pick up trash and clean around trucks, around catering/craft service, and down the street where the crew left cigarette butts and coffee cups. The biggest complaint I hear about ‘the last company’ that filmed at a location was that they were disrespectful and left trash everywhere. You can walk away and not look back, but they live or work there, and they won’t forget when you or someone else needs their signature.

DO: Get creative if you can’t afford a location
You may be able to get expensive or otherwise unavailable locations by some creative wheeling and dealing. Meet with the owner and suss out what might make filming at his property more attractive. An actor with a relationship to the location or the director offering the owner or manager or someone’s significant other a small role in the film has gotten me into a few otherwise unavailable or unaffordable locations. Figure out if there’s anything other than money that you don’t have that might make filming a more attractive proposition to the location owner.

DO: Scale down
One would assume that a low-budget production would by its nature have less equipment to haul to location, fewer or smaller trucks, etc., but that isn’t always the case, unless you insist. If you can keep your production vehicles and crew to a bare minimum when you’re able, you can sometimes make your location and permit fees lower, too—and make impossible locations feasible, getting high production value for much less money.

DO: Respect your crew
In many cases, crews on low-budget films are literally subsidizing the movie by working at far below their usual rate, possibly near minimum wage, and probably putting in a lot of unpaid hours on weekends besides. You could have an entire crew of highly experienced professionals working on your project for a variety of reasons—because they’re your friends, or friends of your friends, because they need the hours if it’s a low-budget union rate or because they just love working and your project sounded good. Or you may have students, people trying to get into the business or folks wanting to move up into a new position who need the credits.

As long as they feel appreciated, your crew will do their jobs well and happily. If they begin to feel that you’re taking them for granted, their hearts won’t be in their work, work will go slower, more accidents will happen, your project will suffer, and so will your reputation.

In any case, treat them well and with great respect. Budget to feed them well. Have decent restrooms. Give them a comfortable place to step out of the elements where necessary and possible—if only pop-up tents and heaters—and don’t work them crazy long hours. Prepare and get your work done on time. Make a point of learning their names and what they do as best you can. Greet them every day and thank them every night for their hard work. Some low-budget projects offer crew members points, in case the film is super successful.

Most importantly, don’t forget them! They way you repay them for working on your low-budget film is by hiring them back (provided they did a good job) when you get a big-budget film.

Required Viewing:
Three of my favorite movies are Lord of the Rings, Saving Private Ryan and Django Unchained. Three great L.A.-centric location movies are To Live and Die in L.A., L.A. Confidential and Crash.

Required Reading:
Location Managers Guild of America (LMGA) Compass

Contact professionals like me:
At the LMGA
Filmmakers can find me at deweylocations@gmail.com or herolocations.com.

Lee Jameson / Film Education Coordinator