The choice of location can make or break a film shoot. Would Lost in Translation have been as visually intoxicating without the stunning locations in Tokyo where it was filmed, such as the Park Hyatt hotel in Shinjuku, the pedestrian crossings of Shibuya and the hip clubs of Daikanyama?
Would Napoleon Dynamite have been as quirky and amusing without the stark plains of Idaho as a backdrop? The answer is no. If both of these films had been shot in a studio just outside of Swindon, their visual impact would have been diminished to say the least.
The job of selecting the right location for each scene is that of the location manager. Working on film, television and music video productions, these guys have a whole lot of work to do, such as:
- Reading scripts and analysing storyboards
- Liaising with the director and director of photography
- Conducting research into possible locations, before visiting target locations to see how well they fit in with the director’s creative vision
- Taking photos of each location and reporting back to the direct in order to discuss which ones are suitable for which scenes.
Pretty cool, huh?
A location manager’s job, however, isn’t over once all the locations have been selected. They are responsible for negotiating with the proprietors of the land and the buildings where the proposed filming will take place. This involves asking about logistical issues, such as parking, obtaining permission to access the site, and drawing up contracts to make sure there are no legal issues later on.
Once everything is arranged, location managers are in charge of making all other necessary preparations before shooting can start, such as booking hotels, hiring trailers, arranging on-site catering, procuring new equipment where necessary, making sure everything complies with health and safety regulations, and organising travel to and from the site for the cast and crew.
When shooting starts, location managers don’t just retire to their trailer for a nap – rather, they are usually on their feet all day, managing the site, dealing with problems as they crop up and overseeing the work of runners and other junior staff.
When shooting has finished, the location manager is responsible for making sure everyone and everything leaves the site in a safe and efficient manner. At all times, location managers need to be mindful of budget limitations and time constraints.
Salary & benefits
The majority of location managers work on a freelance basis, so wages are completely dependent on one’s ability to find regular work. However, on average, location managers tend to earn between £22,000 and £36,000 per annum.
Expect early morning starts, late finishes and the occasional weekend too.
Travelling around the country, or across the globe, is a regular fixture for location managers. A lot of your professional life will also be spent in the great outdoors. Come rain or shine, you will need to be out there working your socks off. Sun tan lotion and raincoats are a must!
Although a degree is not strictly necessary for entry into this line of work, completing an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject, such as media studies, film studies or photography may boost your chances of securing an entry-level position.
Gaining relevant work experience is essential. Many people get their break as a location manager after working in another role in the industry, such as a runner, location assistant or assistant photographer.
Training & progression
Structured training programmes for location managers are extremely rare. Consequently, you will need to seek out relevant training courses on your own. A handful of organisations offer workshops and training sessions for location managers, including the Guild of Location Managers, the Production Guild of Great Britain and the National Film and Television School.
There is no defined career path for location managers. Consequently, most people explore freelance opportunities or eventually move into other areas of the industry, such as directing, production or production design.