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On the Road With Location Scouts: Production’s Explorers

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Location scouts from across the globe tell LBB’s Nisna Mahtani about how they find production’s picture-perfect settings and the adventures that come with it

On the Road With Location Scouts: Production’s Explorers


When thinking about epic locations in movies, ads and TV shows, Iceland’s frosty backdrop, Jordan’s ‘Rose City’ of Petra and Hawaii’s Kualoa Ranch all come to mind. Featured in series such as Game of Thrones, and movies like Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park, these locations provide a perfect backdrop to complement fantastic writing, acting and concepts. But being relatively well known, it’s the quieter, more remote locations that are often ideal for filming, and it’s the work of location scouts to find these hidden gems.

Eager to learn more about this aspect of the production process, at LBB, we asked location scouts from Argentina, the US, the UK, Spain, Ukraine, Canada, the Czech Republic and the Middle East about how they found themselves in this kind of role, how they prefer to work and some of the craziest adventures that have come from producing within these locations. 

Location scouts from Gulko Films, Stillking Films, Nouri Films, Radioaktive Films, FUSE Create, NM Productions, Chief Productions, Truenorth and Serviceplan Middle East tell LBB’s Nisna Mahtani all about their adventures.


Juan Bautista Valenzuela

Production & location manager at Gulko Films


How did you get into it? 

Since I was a child I was interested in the audiovisual field, film and photography. After studying image and sound design at the University of Buenos Aires, I started working in production, but focused more on locations and then dedicated myself full time to this, doing it for twenty years in Argentina and now also in Madrid, Spain. 

How do you like to work? 

I love receiving a new script or treatment from a director, where they look for roads, buildings, forests, landscapes, etc to develop a story. I like to travel and discover new places that perhaps I would never have gone to if it weren't for this job.

Is it all online now or does nothing beat hitting the open road? 

Although technology and the network have served us well for our work, it’s only one more tool that allows us to speed up the research time a bit, for example with Google Street view you can always get an idea of ​​an area, road or street, but there will always be the need to go see that place in person since everything is changing day by day.

What are the craziest adventures you’ve had?

I can tell some of the craziest adventures I've had with locations, for example, filming at dawn on a lake next to the Perito Moreno Glacier spending the whole night there, filming with a boat in the Iguazu Falls almost below them, having filled a bridge with sheep in the middle of Patagonia, etc.





Tomas Hasl

Location scout at Stillking Films Prague


How did you get into it?  

Before I became a location scout, I knew very little about the filmmaking process, so I did not even know that such a job existed. Then a friend of mine who used to work for Stillking told me they are looking for a person responsible for locations as she thought I could be a good fit. When I got to know what the position was about I applied for it and was hired. 
 
How do you like to work? 

I have already tried several jobs and so far, this one is the most interesting and exciting one of all. It's not only about sending pictures and knowing locations. For this job, you need to have good communication skills and it also requires a certain amount of creativity. Eventually, when you find the RIGHT location for shooting, it is the greatest satisfaction. 
 
Is it all online now or does nothing beat hitting the open road? 
 
My job is mainly online-based. I work with a big database which is packed with an impressive number of locations. In case the photos from the database don't work, the internet is a great source of information. But of course, sometimes you have to go out and take pictures. I also work constantly on finding new locations, potentially suitable for shooting. The Czech Republic is a small country but it offers a huge variety of wonderful locations. 
 
What are the craziest adventures you’ve had? 

I guess it must be the enquiry for the Rammstein [German band] video! It was during my first month in the film industry when the production company contacted us that Rammstein wanted to shoot a music video and they were in search of a location. And you know Rammstein…it was not just an ordinary music video. It consisted mainly of pornographic scenes. To make it even more bizarre, they wanted to shoot these scenes in a church!





Andrew Nedobora & Dima Shevchenko

Production managers at Radioaktive Films, Ukraine


How did you get into it?

Andrew: I was introduced to the location manager profession in 2007 by a friend who was already working as a location manager. Now, during the war in Ukraine, I’m producing bulletproof vests. Every day we wake up one day closer to our victory.

Dima: Got into the business by accident in 2015. I was working in a taxi, and someone in the business got into my car. I was their assistant and became a location manager myself, and it became my life. During the war I abruptly changed my role and went to work in the Kyiv police department, helping to guard the city. We do what we need to do to defend the free world. 

How do you like to work?

Andrew: Work appears to be very interesting and complicated. Every day there are new challenges, locations and plenty of new acquaintances. You have to be very creative and look at the locations from the director’s or DoP’s perspective. 

Is it all online now or does nothing beat hitting the open road? 

Andrew: Recently we are mainly looking for locations online, but nothing compares to the old-school live scouting when you hit the road and just look around. 

Dima: I’ve always liked looking for new places, new people and new friends. Not spending days in the office but travelling every day to new adventures. Location database really helps in our work, especially for interiors, as they do not change much, but when you are looking for an exterior, it is always an adventure. 

What are the craziest adventures you’ve had? 

Andrew: It is really hard to name the craziest adventure, as every project is an adventure itself, but once we were shooting a car commercial at a seaport in Odessa, and one of the days a huge Philippine ship appeared right in the background of our set. It was loading the grain and had to leave on the next day, not helping out continuity at all. The location and production department weren’t able to negotiate its staying, as ships are on a very strict schedule. But we prayed and prayed, and on the next day, the ship was still there, as a miracle. No one from our side had anything to do with it, but somehow the pump that was loading the grain was broken, and the ship had to stay and wait until it could be loaded. 

Dima: The craziest adventure we had was what seemed like the simplest. To find a stand-alone lamppost. As you can imagine, every lamppost is standalone. But we were looking for the proper one, the one the director dreamed of, and it took over a week.





Pablo Mascotti Vionnet

Location manager at Nouri Films


How did you get into this?

I started working in this profession more or less like everyone else, driving a van and taking actors to the set from a very young age. Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated by the audiovisual world. Not only because of the final product but also because of the process of making movies. At that time, finding a ‘making of’ documentary was quite an odyssey, but when I got my hands on one of them, I devoured it, literally.

My father is an architect, therefore at home, there was always a discussion about architecture, buildings, the art of making them, the planning, concept, etc. This background, added to my passion for photography, resulted in me being scouting long before I knew he was scouting. Walking down the streets, whenever my eye caught up to a building illuminated similarly as in many movies that I had in my head, I took the shot. I was looking at the colours that the windows have at dawn in glass buildings. When the production company I was working for offered me a year's contract for different projects, I didn't hesitate. I think it was the best decision I've ever made in my life.

How do you like to work?

Personally, I think that the best thing we can have is good planning and preparation. Taking into account that a shooting plan is a living being that changes and you have to adapt to it constantly, planning as much as possible reduces the margin of error. But one of the most important things is that the production company you work with has your back and understands the business, and trusts your judgement and your decisions. Production companies like Nouri Films belong to this type of company. They are behind the team in difficult times but leave freedom of action since they are sure that they work with true professionals in the sector.

Is it all online now or does nothing beat hitting the open road? 

There is definitely nothing better than hitting the road. Talking to people, asking, investigating, and finding places that are not on the internet. Of course, the work has changed a lot over the last 10 years. Now we can start the investigation at home, and use the tools we have at our disposal to buy some time, every time more scarce, by the way. But in the end, when you're taking photos you see things that fit the projects you're working on, that are impossible to find online. That is where the expertise and the ‘eye’ of the location scout show.

Each project is different, and even if you visit the same location on different occasions, you will each time observe it with a different optic depending on the project you are currently in. You will look for the specific frames for the scenes that you have to shoot. Whenever I return to a location I see new details and angles, due to changes in light, the seasons of the year… It is never the same location.


What are the craziest adventures you’ve had?

Each project is a small adventure in itself. Or a great adventure in many cases. From blocking the main artery in a big city to shooting in the most inaccessible place, there are a series of challenges that must be overcome. I see projects as a mountain that seems impossible to climb and then you see that little by little you overcome the obstacles. Each step is a problem that has to be solved, a specific location that cannot be found and at the moment you wake up with an idea, you are on the road and you see something that catches your attention.





Amanda Fusco 

Integrated producer at FUSE Create


How did you get into it?

I started working with WE charity more on their back-of-house team which included a lot of work in operations, logistics and event production. Through WE, I got into stage production, floor directing and then fell in love with the production side of things. In other jobs after WE, I dabbled in studio production and event production. So with FUSE Create, it was my first opportunity to mesh both those worlds together for client projects. My main role as the
manager of production is to make experiential marketing (XM) campaigns come to life and that requires finding the perfect location for whatever type of event we’re throwing.

How do you like to work?

When executing XM campaigns, there are two things that I need to know in order to do good work:

1. Understanding the clients’ audience demographic and who your target audience is
2. Discovering areas that are high traffic with a lot of people to see the XM work
So depending on the activation, the environment will change. But at the end of the day, I can
make the environment become whatever I need it to be.

Is it all online now or does nothing beat hitting the open road?

Scouting locations online has been the typical norm that lasts two years because of covid, but as things open up, nothing beats seeing a place in person – I try to go as much as humanly possible. FUSE Create is based in Toronto and we normally activate for our clients in Toronto, so it’s pretty easy to scout locations within the GTA. However, if we are doing a multi-city XM campaign, online is our only option as we can’t fly out to every city beforehand.

Another way I really like to work is through collaboration. My network of people is my lifeline. Whether I speak to builders, designers, or other production folk, we help each other with XM challenges, like load-in questions, power outlets available, the flow of the activation, etc. Sometimes I’ve found a hidden gem of a place just because I was speaking to industry people about what’s coming up for FUSE. So having as much conversation as possible and engaging people where I can is how I like to work.

What are the craziest adventures you’ve had?    

Every day is an adventure! Just surviving the XM world alone can be an accomplishment haha. Most recently, our ‘Hilton on the Green’ activation was a big adventure. We had to tow in a 20-foot trailer that had a pop-up hotel on it right onto the golf course. This is where our pop-up hotel room lived for the duration of the Men’s Canadian Open and let’s just say, it was a big project! We built a deck for the hotel right onsite and even had to scare away some coyotes from getting too close. Another big one for me was AIR MILES’ ‘Carousel of Dreams’. It lived in the heart of Toronto at Yonge-Dundas Square where we built a 40-foot carousel that delivered luggage to consumers. We gave out a lot of prizes that day and had thousands of people visit.





James Goldsmith 

Location manager at NM Productions


How did you get into it?

Slowly, over several years assisting productions and photographers all over the world in pretty much every conceivable role. I would get asked to come along to places to make sure it all ran smoothly, and then very quickly people started to ask me where would be good for this brief, or that campaign. It felt like a very natural progression.

What it’s like being the explorers of the production industry?

In a word, ‘Fantastic’ (most of the time). I get to discover new places, as well as revisit past favourites.

How do you like to work?

The best way to work is to be as relaxed, honest and as transparent as possible, from start to finish. This coupled with having access to all of the information I need, as early as possible, so I can navigate a brief as best I can and deliver on exactly what the client is expecting, with no surprises for either party!

Is it all online now or does nothing beat hitting the open road?

Generally speaking, people always want to see incredible places, it’s not often you get asked to go and find a shit-hole, so basically, someone is paying me to go and visit some of the most beautiful places I can find within a region I’ve agreed is reasonable for the crew to travel to and working within.

Online helps a lot, Google maps or equivalents weren't really an option when I first started in the industry. They are an immense help now, but only when used in the right way and understanding where their downfalls are. Online is a historic view of the potential location, and sometimes a fabrication of locations (when it comes to modern buildings that haven’t yet been built). Nothing beats getting out there and looking at places, that way you can discount them as options if you feel the working environment wouldn’t be safe for a crew, or equipment would struggle getting brought in. All these things can be determined at a later date, obviously, but I don’t waste time even considering them because it’s about reducing the risk and offering the best solution possible.

What are the craziest adventures you’ve had?

Ha, my memory isn’t always the best, I’ve had some good ones! Got bogged down in a rainstorm on a mud road near Kenya’s Great Rift Valley trying to push our all-terrain vehicle out of the clay mud, hundreds of miles from anywhere. Hand feeding a 12-hour-old baby guanaco after getting stuck at a farmer's house because an axle broke on our vehicle in Patagonia. Nearly dying from a parasite in Nepal, turning up to set to find it is a murder scene in Eastern Europe complete with corpses. The list goes on and usually comes back to me after a few drinks. There have been some crazy moments that I look back on and wonder what the hell I was thinking. But touch wood so far, everything me and my team have attempted has gone pretty much to plan, we kept everyone safe and the end product has always delivered on brief and beyond.





Jacob Dowdle

Locations manager at Chief Productions


I’m Locations Manager at Chief - a production company based in Media City. Day to day, you can either find me driving around the country in search for the perfect shoot location, on set ensuring everything is running smoothly or in the office reading scripts and working closely with our Producers and Directors to understand a film's vision. 

How did you get into it?

I started my career in production as a runner in 2017. A location manager that was working on some of the jobs I was doing at the time offered me a role as his assistant. Jumping at the opportunity, I worked on a few commercials, a small feature film and the comedy-drama series ‘Brassic’ as his assistant, as well as managing my own small projects along the way. In October 2020 I joined chief in my current role. 
 
How do you like to work?

I love the variety of my job. I am here, there and everywhere. For me, nothing beats hitting the open road, knocking on doors and visiting locations and their owners in real life. There are a lot of location library websites out there but I prefer to speak to people in person. I believe building good relationships is the number one skill in locations. It helps with the practical arrangements such as negotiating rates, submitting permits, alerting neighbours and working to extremely tight deadlines too.

 Is it all online now or does nothing beat hitting the open road?

When a new brief comes in, I first look to my personal location library. Over the years, I’ve been collecting details of landscapes and interiors from beaches to townhouses and everything in between. But if I don’t have anything that’s just right, I’ll start the search fresh - often scouting streets and posting letters through people's doors. The right location can bring the vision to life. It's transportative and crucial to evoking certain feelings, so it’s no small feat!

What are the craziest adventures you’ve had?

I’ve been lucky enough to travel around the world with my job and I’ve had some crazy adventures along the way. The strangest brief I've had was to find a farm with amazing views, that would be suitable to herd a flock of sheep in a circle around a well-known music artist. Fortunately, I found the farm but sadly the sheep wouldn’t cooperate. That’s the trouble with working with animals!





Thor Kjartansson 

Partner and location manager at Truenorth


How did you get into it? 

It started because of my experience of exploring the highlands and glaciers with my local search and rescue team. I have been an active member of the SAR for 30 years and my background comes from there. I was also operating a snowmobile and super jeep tours up on the glaciers and did service on many TV and Commercial projects before I got into the film industry myself. This goes way back but I started guiding small crews in the year 1991 and then I joined the Truenorth family in 2005 doing ‘Flags of our Fathers’ with Clint Eastwood.

How do you like to work? 

It’s always something new. You have different scripts, different times of the year, and different crew sizes and setups that are all different logistic-wise. So you can do similar locations in totally different ways depending on whether it's winter, spring, summer or fall. It’s the different obstacles and challenges for each project that makes it such an exciting job.

Is it all online now or does nothing beat hitting the open road? 

It’s partly online today but on-location scouting is always needed. The exciting part is scouting on location and the pre-scouts are the best. Then you get more time and opportunity to explore it all before the final location is picked.
 
What are the craziest adventures you’ve had? 

Scouting for ‘Fast & Furious 8’ was a big adventure because of the location which was a frozen lake. Working on a frozen lake due to safety is a challenge and doing major SFX work was a crazy adventure. Another crazy adventure was when shooting ‘Midnight Sky’ with George Clooney. The location was high up a glacier and for some of the scenes, we needed to shoot for real a snow blizzard with no visibility. That was a major safety set-up, having the crew in such conditions where the visibility was within two metres most of the time. That was probably one of the craziest filming conditions I have experienced.





Yanny Sanchez

Agency producer at Serviceplan Group Middle East

 
How did you get into it? 

There isn’t an existing training program for someone who wants to become a location scout. I, as a producer, have had to double up as location scout for shoots with limited budgets but when asked this question, most have the same ‘one thing leads to another’ sort of answer. It might be that they joined the industry as PAs and later fell into the role. Others might have started in different roles, say producers or fixers that ease into this role due to mere fascination. Certainly, an understanding of film and production processes is key.

How do you like to work? 

Location scouts are some of the first resources brought into a project. A good start comes about with a well broken-down script and a clear vision from the director. Clarity on details is all they need. For some scripts you might only need one single location, for others, you might need more than ten. Scouts are researchers but also magicians. Besides exploring new areas or browsing through their already scouted locations, they need to come up with ideas to secure the perfect location and at the same time deal with the sine qua non, time, and budget constraints that most jobs come with.

Is it all online now or does nothing beat hitting the open road? 

Well, the scouting process starts online, by seeing pictures and videos of all locations available and suitable for the script. The director makes their shortlist followed by a visit to the selected spots. It feels like going on a field trip - quite fun when visiting new places, not so much after you’ve seen the location fifteen times. Post-covid, we have certainly seen new trends and technologies arise, virtual production being one of them with its ability to provide you with as many locations as needed in one single set. Seen quite recently in the region, it may very well be on its way to influencing practices across the industry. However, for the time being, location crews will keep on hitting the open road in the search for the
perfect location.

What are the craziest adventures you’ve had? 

Not the craziest but the most memorable was a job that required a desert location where we could get in with a 33-foot trailer truck. We ended up cruising across the Al Ain desert with a Bedouin leading the search. Due to access limitations, we had to shoot the whole film with a Blackmagic from the trunk of a sedan. Thanks to a good idea, a super talented director/DOP, and a terrific post team the outcome is without question the nicest film I have shot to date.




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LBB Editorial, Fri, 15 Jul 2022 16:50:00 GMT