Do you love travel, photography and watching films? Ever thought of becoming a location manager for film and television? Having worked on feature films such and television shows such as Dr Who, Mr Turner and X Men, Emma Woodcock, a Waltham Forest resident and film studio owner, talks us through the highs and lows of this exciting job.
Describe the journey you took to become a location manager?
I fell into Location Managing, by chance I guess. I was in my final year studying for a BA(Hons) in Fine Arts, and I wanted to be a photographer. It was my house mate who suggested that the role of a Location Manager would suit me. Travelling around the world, finding and photographing locations, and setting up the logistics of the shoot really appealed to me and this wasn’t unlike the tasks I completed at University.
I got my first position helping set up a locations agency, labelling up all the photographs and filing them all into books, (this was pre-digital) they also had a group of Location Managers working for them, who I started tailing. This was a great start as it gave me such a fantastic knowledge of locations, and how to go about sourcing them, (old school style – maps, books, speaking to people, yellow pages, tourist information centres) before managing my own jobs.
What does the job entail? It doesn’t sound like a normal 9-5!
Location managing carries a huge amount of responsibility, and it is a lot more varied than most of the crew realise or appreciate. It varies slightly from photographic jobs, commercials and managing films, but the basis is that you have a brief which you discuss in detail with the director, production designer or producer to discover what they want, i.e. a house (do they want Edwardian, Victoria, 30s, 60s, 90s, contemporary, urban, traditional, ultra-modern). You then go out and photograph a selection of locations that you feel might fit the brief.
The house might be perfect but if there is no parking, traffic / aircraft noise then it won’t work. You would then recce the short-listed locations with the crew ahead of filming. Next comes planning the logistics, you may have to get permission from local council, highways, police, neighbours, all of which need to be kept on side. Planning everything needs to be water tight, check routes for weight / height restrictions, parking suspensions, location contracts, maps, directions, rooms for crew, props, hire space to park catering, check local events going on in the area, building work, parties etc. In certain locations you will need to order in floor protection, heaters, generators, tower lights, water bowsers, marquees, grass protecting. Then you will be managing the shoot on the day, your team may consist of just you on some jobs, or a team of up to 60+ crew on major features with multiple locations.
What are your views on the British film industry?
The film industry in UK is booming at the moment, which is fantastic news, however it is important not to get complacent. Most of the major feature films coming over are backed by the US $, so I worry that too much emphasis is being placed on attracting the big budget feature films with UK tax breaks and not enough support is given for the less flamboyant budgets of British Drama. Having said that the UK has the most skilled film crews in the world, so this is a big pull for film makers. It is becoming more and more expensive to film in London unless you have big budgets, and space to accommodate large film units is diminishing as empty spaces get built on.
Could we make better use of out landmarks in films?
I think everyone knows the obvious London landmarks now, although many European and International crews still come over to feature these in establishing shots. Just last week I shot part of a feature film with a French/Belgian Production crew who came over wishing to feature most of the famous landmarks in London, including stunts around Trafalgar Square during rush hour. Most of my work is London based and the landscape changes a lot, no-one wanted to shoot in East London 10 years ago, but now the centre has shifted and Hackney is one of the most popular filming boroughs.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
Highlights of my job are the places and people I met. It keeps me grounded. One day I could be sitting sharing tea with an undertaker telling me about his life, and the next day I could be travelling along in a Jeep with a ranger in woodland, or going on a stroll with a Lord in the grounds of his property. I have been fortunate that my job has taken me across most of the UK, and I have worked with some of the world’s most inspiring directors, actors and crew.
Memorable jobs include anything from working up on the West Coast of Scotland with a bunch of fisherman, and an American crew, who asked which language the fisherman were speaking to taking a rib boat out off the coast of Kent to photograph abandoned Forts – Red Sands in the Thames Estuary. When working on longer projects you can as a crew bond very quickly, and they become like an extended family. I also like the unexpected places you find, when you think you already know a city- a recent job was finding caves and catacombs around London!
How did you end up living in Waltham Forest?
I have lived in Waltham Forest for past 7-years, I found it after filming around the area for a Ken Loach film back in 2007. It was a more affordable place at the time to buy my first home. I loved how it is surrounded by nature, the marshes in the East and Epping forest in the West. Having the ‘urban wilderness’ on the doorstep is so important. The transport here is great too, a short cycle ride and you can be in Hackney, or hop on the Overground and you could be on Hampstead Heath in 20-mins. It is possible to walk down to Stratford and you can also be in Paris in 2-hours via Eurostar. I grew up in Essex and I like how everyone is really friendly, chatty and straight up around here, it reminds me of people back home.
What frustrates you about location managing?
Deadlines, Late decisions, Change of Brief, Long hours, Egos, Parking, Lack of Time, Lack of Sleep, Lack of Funds, and London Traffic!
If you could be anything else for the day what would you choose?
I like the idea of being a forensic detective. I love problem solving and putting things together. I love my job though, so I am happy as a location manager. I work freelance so I take time off to enjoy other activities and personal projects to ensure that I have a very good work / life balance.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
For people wishing to get into location managing, learn how to take really good shots so that you can fully understand the location. You need to shoot a location from 360 degree angles rather than just take the best shot. I will shoot around 20-40 photographs of a location to present to the client. Get out there, go for weekend trips, day trips to new towns, villages – having a wide geographical knowledge of the country is fundamental. Brush up on your architecture as you will need to be able to tell the different between Georgian, Edwardian, Victorian, Art Deco. Also learn how to read a map. They can tell you so much about when buildings were built by the shape of the road to understanding contours when looking for rural locations.
Get to know your London Boroughs – you are unlikely to find an urban warehouse in Harrow, and you are not going to find a country cottage in Hackney either. Make contacts, shoots often call upon someone that can help out last minute. Call Location Managers if you want work, then call again a few weeks later, turn up at shoots, film events, sadly just pinging off a CV in an email will just get buried amongst the other emails and forgotten.
What have I never told someone before?
I would like to marry Tarzan.
To find out more about Emma, visit her website here