Many producers are turning to technology that saves time by streamlining the scouting process ─ primarily utilizing resources on the Internet. “Preparation is essential to the process of the job,” says Producer Ron Smith. “We are now in the digital age and most photos are shown on a computer, which gives us all a quick and easy way to view a location. It is much different than the days in the past when we looked at folders and folders of photos, [which] was very time consuming and tiring.”
Smith also looks for other things that help with the ease of searching for the perfect location, such as attributes that make a location manager stand out. “I have worked with some of the best in the business,” he says. “What I like in a location manager is his style and if he is up front with the people he is dealing with at a site. I have an open door and want communication all the time.” According to Smith, it is essential that the parties involved are open to filming and understand the problems that can and will occur during the production process, so there are no last-minute surprises. “I have had a few location managers, who have shown the director the site, and he fell in love with it,” Smith continues, “then [he] approached the owners, and they said ‘no.’ When that happens, the director now must have it at whatever it costs. I hate surprises ─ [except] at Christmas and my birthday.”
Location Manager Paul Wilson who, has worked on “CSI” for the past 11 years, has embraced the changes in recent years. “Google Earth has proved invaluable for finding certain neighborhoods, backyards and parking lots,” says Wilson. “Scouting through websites of location services and the California Film Commission makes the job a lot easier.” Wilson remembers the days before this technology was available when he had a pager and had to stop at pay phones to return calls. He recalls that just 10 years ago, all the maps he distributed were hand-drawn.
Time and money continue to be primary concerns when working on most productions. “The director, producer, DP and production designer often have different pictures in mind when describing a location,” explains Wilson. “[And] monetary concerns are often an issue as people seem to demand more and more ─ especially in L.A.” But Wilson welcomes the challenges and remains intrigued with the job through his search for new resolutions. “The challenge in finding something new and interesting is the best part of the job for me,” he adds.
Like Wilson, Key Assistant Location Manager Armando Boquiren also uses Google Earth for scouting, as well as Bing, the Yellow Pages and reliable colleagues. Boquiren, who has worked on the TV shows “The Defenders,” “Hung” and “Justified” says that while on location, it’s best to preplan in order to avoid obstacles that can come up, especially when dealing with large crews. “Ignoring logistics during a scout is the killer of your show’s success during filming,” he explains. “While it may be ‘location, location, location’ on the creative end, the logistics and the effects of bringing such a big crew into a neighborhood can make for a challenging situation for a department like ours. There are so many steps in achieving this prior to company arrival. You’re always thinking about this even if you’ve felt the one location you shot is perfect. You never want to bring an 80-person crew to a place that can only pack 10.”
Boquiren enjoys scouting and describes it as a “job interview” where the goal is to get people to allow him into their world so that he can do his work. “You meet the denizens and try to understand their needs,” he says. “It takes a lot of effort to achieve commerce and sanity within a neighborhood. Scouting is a good way to get a feel of the surrounding areas of its potential and sometimes [its] downfall. For the most part, people are interested in filming. The ones that have been burned by reckless companies are the ones you have to pay a penance for, and you end up spending the time and money to prove to them that you're different from the others.”
Location Manager Brian Haynes agrees that the redundancy of over-filming certain locations while cooperating with jaded neighbors can take its toll on scouting. “If one figures that there are 80 companies filming per day, seven days a week, for the last however many years, there has been a lot of wear and tear on L.A. and several neighborhoods in particular,” says Haynes, who has worked on the TV shows “Hung,” “Hawthorne” and “Private Practice.” “So neighbors who aren't profiting from filming are fairly uncooperative at times.
“My first location job was in 1982 on Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Haynes recalls. “There were no cell phones or personal computers to speak of ─ not to mention laptops or printers. My pager had a tone, which meant to call the office, pick up the messages and camp out at a pay phone with my phone card.” But things were a lot different back then too. “By the same token, filming was easier, smaller and the ‘burnout factor’ for neighborhoods, businesses, etc. was virtually non-existent,” he notes. “Downtown was a ghost town after dark. You could do just about anything ─ short of committing a crime ─ stunts, car chases, explosions, helicopters… I even had several single-engine aircrafts fly from Van Nuys Airport and land on [Compton] Woodley [Airport] for Project X. The film office was city-run in a tiny office on Sunset. Everybody knew everyone. We were a relatively small cadre of location folks doing the bulk of the work.” Another point Haynes makes is that the declining economy has encouraged owners of homes and businesses to allow more shooting on their property. “Doors that were closed to filming have magically opened,” he adds.
Keith Bohanan, who works on the NBC show “Parenthood,” is another location manager who uses Google Earth. “I use Google Earth to review streets [and] to try to hunt down places that have been considered in the past, just for a review before someone actually looks at the place in person or to confirm it is what we are talking about,” he explains. Planning ahead has definitely benefited Bohanan when trying to replicate northern California in the southern part of the state. “[My current] project is uncomplicated due to the areas we have nailed down the first season,” he says. “We usually go back to one of our established locations then add one or two as needed per episode. The show was really thought out from the start, and that planning ahead has paid off. We have a show that runs smooth and are always welcomed back week after week to any of our locations.”
According to Location Manager Stanley Pearse, whose work includes the Louisiana-based films Playing the Field, Straw Dogs and Mardi Gras, cities like Los Angeles can become congested leaving smaller cities and less-exposed states opportunities to provide a more personable experience for scouting. “Shooting in Louisiana is much easier than [in] other states,” says Pearse. “My scouting experience is always fantastic throughout Louisiana. The local and state government agencies are willing to meet to discuss filming opportunities. The people of Louisiana ‘get it’ and welcome the filming industry with open arms. I often say it is not the building or location; it is the people who live or work in it that make my scouting and filming in Louisiana fantastic!
Pearce has felt the industry developments ─ due to the digital era, in particular. “Having worked as a location manager for over 20-plus years, times sure have changed,” he notes. “The old days of shooting on 35mm film, waiting for processing and then posting the pictures on legal-size folders, presenting it to the production designer and waiting on his response [have evolved to] having my own website, downloading pictures directly from my phone/camera/laptop/iPad and emailing them to the filming team to make an on-the-spot decision. It is great and speeds up the prepping process. Other helpful equipment, such as airboats, four wheelers and small off-road vehicles, help in finding the perfect location.”
Many other tools to improve the scouting process have been introduced, such as apps for mobile phones and tablets. According to the folks at Doddle, the company offers Doddle and DoddlePro as fantastic tools for all professionals looking to secure locations for their productions. “A very intuitive user interface allows you to search locations as well as 800 other categories, including location scouts and location managers,” says Rich Kwiat with Doddle. “Location searches can be done across the US, UK, South Africa and soon many other international territories. Searches are available by city, state, postal code or based on closeness from where the user is standing.” Kwiat notes that DoddlePro includes interactive digital call sheets that are available in the iTunes App store, and Doddle is available on Android phones.
As the industry continues to rapidly advance, so do the techniques, technology and a whole new crop of location professionals. As with any phase of production, the key to success in this industry is to accept the constant changes while remaining committed to the job.