Lloret MacKenna Dunn is a location manager who has worked on a variety of film and television titles, including T2 Trainspotting, Fast & Furious 6, Still Game, and The Lost King. From Argyll but now based in Glasgow, she also serves as the tutor of the location management course for the National Film and Television School (NFTS). Lloret spoke to SNACK about what the role involves, and how novices can enter this area of the entertainment industry.
Firstly, what is a location manager?
A location manager basically finds and manages locations, providing everything a production needs to film smoothly on a location. Whether it is a house in a street, an estate, a hospital, whatever.
What is the process involved in a regular project?
To start, I talk to the director and the production designer about what it is they are looking for: what kind of property they want, what feel it should have. Then I’ll put a mood board together and we’ll discuss the options. There are an awful lot of days of research, a lot of phone calls, extensive use of Google Maps and Streetview, phoning colleagues who may have been filming somewhere recently, and of course I now have an extensive library of my own photographs.
Scouting is a huge part of my job today, and always will be. It’s very important for any scout to understand the production they are scouting for: the size of the cast and crew, how many vehicles, how long they are going to be there, and the nature of what it is they want to film. After that I call the locations and make an appointment to go out and take photographs.
Before any filming starts, we do something called a technical recce, which is when the heads of every department – it could be 30 of us, depending on the size of the project – visit every location together and agree on what we are going to be doing every day.
One of the first questions I ask on any production is ‘When is the tech recce?’ At that point we are saying to the sparks [lighting department] ‘Where do you want to put your lights?’ to the art department: ‘What changes do you want to make here?’, ‘Sound, do you have an issue that we are next to a busy road?’ And the director says ‘This is where I want my shot’, and the first assistant director says ‘In that case we have 450 background artists there.’ Then we have a big production meeting, and everybody goes off and shares their notes with everybody else. Between that date and the filming, a huge amount of liaison goes on.
At what point does the job finish?
After the shoot there is lots of clear up to be done. We have a walk around with the location owner. If anything untoward has happened – say a carpet has been muddied or there is a big gouge out of somebody’s lawn – then the location manager is the go-between between the location and the production, and we put things right. I also have to reconcile my budget, make sure all the contractors receive their purchase orders, and lots of thank yous need done.
How do you deal with pushback from location owners?
It depends, really. Much of it is listening to and understanding what their concerns are. One thing to remember is the location owner is having to make time in their normal working life to accommodate this. Sometimes people simply say ‘I’m so sorry, we simply are not able to accommodate your request.’ You have to be respectful of that, but also offer solutions. That could be saying ‘Could we help by coming at a different time?’ or ‘Would it help if we provided a few extra staff?’ It really does vary from location to location.
What makes a good location?
The number one thing is the person behind that location. Are they willing to allow that amount of disruption onto their property? Do they understand that perhaps – and there is a very high chance – we will ask for more? Also that our budget matches the one expected. It’s important to remember that location is part of the story, it’s a character in any production, so you are wanting something visual that will move the story along.
And what are the characteristics that would make a good location manager?
Gosh. You need to be organised. You need to want to go the extra mile all the time. You need to be a really good listener. You need to be very creative. And you need to be very, very good with people. [laughs] It is very demanding, but very rewarding!
Financially, how many productions do you need to be attached to in order to make location management a viable career?
It is not so much the number of productions, but the length of time you are working. If you are fortunate enough to be on one of the frequent, long-running series, you could work for a long period and that is very rewarding. It is also incredibly challenging because of the number of hours. Your filming hours could be eight in the morning to seven at night, but many departments start much earlier and finish much later. When you work that out, your hourly rate does decrease, as you can imagine.
How did you come to work in location management?
I did a course! Years ago I did a month-long course on experimental filmmaking in Glasgow, and on that course industry professionals talked to us. One of those was a first assistant director, and I asked to shadow him. Eventually I was given a job as a runner, then a third assistant. But I would see this guy there in the morning, and at the end of the day. I asked him what he did, and he, of course, turned out to be the location manager. Through talking to him and coming out to shadow him I knew it was a department I really wanted to be a part of. Been doing it for a long time now.
You now teach a course on location management at the National Film and Television School. What sort of skills are you teaching?
The course is called Certificate in Location Management for Film and Television Production. A very short name. It is a 12-week course online every Saturday, and open to anybody. Most of the students have on set experience, but some have had no experience at all. The course takes you through a typical production: we work from a script, and they start by being given scouting exercises. I take them through how to take a good scout photograph, and how to manage your photographs. Then what happens when a location falls through; they have to think around it, budget it, plan it, figure out. Think of security and traffic management. What a budget looks like, what a schedule looks like, how to apply to the roads department, how to create a planner.
It gives them a wee glimpse into an imaginary production. And then when we finish the online part of the course, the students are placed on two contracted productions each to get work experience for a couple of weeks – it could be longer depending on their own availability. So they go out, roll up their sleeves, and make contacts. We have somebody starting on The Crown down south, and somebody starting on a production called Step Nine next week. Commercials, dramas, feature films: a huge range of productions.
Do job opportunities get sent to the students?
After the course we all keep in contact, and I’ll let them know when people are looking for assistants. Some of the students on last year’s course were very strong and I have had the good fortune of being able to work with one or two of them myself. But the aim is for them to be really proactive with the contacts they make, with the guest lecturers coming in, so they leave knowing they have made contacts, their voice has been heard, and they have had that on set experience.
If someone was planning to get into this area, is there anything else that you would recommend?
There is a plethora of information out there on what is involved in a location department. Do your research, and take some of these courses. The National Film and Television School also runs short courses: you can do a morning course or a day-long course. You can just learn so much from that, and other courses around it: so many professionals are at the school who can give glimpses into their departments.
For more about NFTS’s Location Management course, visit their website.