Only You Can Prevent a Location Fire

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Team sports, like cinema, are often home to unsung heroes who toil in obscurity while the higher-profile players make passionate speeches on the awards stage. Location managers/scouts can definitely be counted among these “shadow warriors” that operate under radar while still being extremely vital to the success of any production.

By the time the cast and crew have arrived on a location set, location managers have already made contact with proprietors, checked security, electricity grids, parking spaces, logistics, informed neighbors, and dealt with all the other minutiae that most people take for granted. This work may seem somewhat routine and straightforward, but it is everything but.

Depending on the location you may be dealing with a listed building (historically protected under a heritage act), a lived-in house where the residents remain even during shooting, a high-value property, or even a location with specific conditions like a halfway home, hospital, or university. All of these locations come with their specific challenges, but as far as the crew is concerned there are a set of very basic rules to follow that will minimize any potential issues.

There is nothing worse than burning a location. Burning means ruining the relationship with the owners or operators of a given location by being disrespectful, reckless, or generally inconsiderate of the environment that has been put at your production’s disposal. Burning a location will not only hurt your reputation and create an unpleasant atmosphere in general, you are potentially destroying further opportunities for yourself, and possibly worse, you have stunk up a location for everyone in the business from now on.

Burning a location can happen very easily, even without bad intentions or lack of professionalism. Maybe you forgot to plug back the fridges (that you had unhooked for better sound) at a soup kitchen location and end up spoiling precious food that was meant to feed homeless people. Maybe you forgot to drop sound blankets on the hardwood floor of a posh house or apartment and your grips and gaffers have scrapped the floor because they didn’t feel like taking their boots off every time they come in from the truck. Trouble can spring from anywhere if you don’t take precautions.

These things will happen even if you and your team prepare, so try to cover some of these basics in your pre-prod meetings or pre-shooting general announcements:

1. Respect the location as if it were your beloved grandmother’s house, a church, or a museum. Consider the crew, the shoot, the people who live or operate in the location on a regular day, and if all else fails, remind the crew that individuals can and will be held financially liable for recklessness. Injury or fatality is another potential danger.

2. Think about your fellow filmmakers who might one day have need of that location. You are an ambassador for the art of cinema and you should act accordingly, especially if you live in a small city where word gets around. Think about your reputation as well.

3. Consider the incredible sensitivity of your shooting schedule and what potential distractions can develop if the location is compromised by recklessness and neglect. The last thing you want is a screaming match between your AD, location manager, and proprietor as the crew looks on. Shoots have been shut down completely in this manner.

4. Assign someone, if you can afford it, to set-security to help out here-and-there while keeping an eye on the well-being of the location. They can look out for potentially dangerous obstacles, clear out clutter or garbage, and direct foot traffic in a way to minimize any chance of damaging the space.

5. No matter how tired you are at the end of the shoot, call all hands on deck for a full location check and wrap-up sweep for any remaining garbage, forgotten phone chargers, clothes, etc.. The place should look like you were barely there, if at all. It’s a small gesture but it will pay off in dividends in the long-run.

Happy shooting.

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