What Does a Film Location Manager Do?

by Ariel Penn

The very first person a location owner meets is the film location manager. New filming hosts are frequently unaware of what this unique film production position does.

What does a film location manager do? The film location manager is a freelance employee working for a production company and responsible for finding all locations in the script and handling location logistics from rentals to permits.

They are responsible for:

1.     Breaking down the script to identify the various locations.

2.     Researching a number of location options to present to the director and production designer.

3.     Initiating contact with various property owners or managers to tour their location and take photographs to show the director and production designer.

4.     Arranging scouting tours of the best location possibilities for the director and production designer.

5.     Planning a technical scout of a location to discuss logistics with all production department heads.

6.     Negotiating location contracts and serving as a liaison with all property managers/owners regarding rentals.

7. Serving as a liaison between the owner and production on the day of filming as well as the local film office/commission and local agencies.

All of the functions listed above are the responsibility of the location manager. However, the location manager may run a Locations Department where these various functions are shared with other personnel.  This includes a film location scout(s) whose sole responsibility is to break down the script with the location manager and go find matches to the locations in the script.  And on the day of filming, the location manager may assign a location assistant or assistants from their team to be present during the entire film day to serve as a liaison between the crew and the owner.  

Whether a location manager performs all these functions on their own or assign some to their team, they are ultimately in charge of making sure these items get done.  A production can’t accomplish a single item  without viable locations secured for their shoot, so location managers and their team are the unsung heroes of the production.  They are usually the first to arrive and the last to leave a location.  They are there to great the drivers in the morning to show them where to park trucks and equipment.  And they are there ensuring everything is okay with owner after the last production vehicle leaves for the day.  Quite commonly, there is someone from the location team out on location for 15 to 18 hours a day, every day the company is in the field. 

Let’s look at some of the location teams functions in greater detail!

1.     Breaking down the script to identify the various locations.

One of the first things a location manager does after being hired onto a production is a script break down: figuring out what locations are needed vs what will be done on stage.  And they may work with the production manager to determine the length of time needed at each location.  Usually script timings are broken down by an 1/8th of a page with each inch of script being 1/8th starting from the top of the script page.  One page of script is equivalent to one page of screen time. Once the amount of time at each location is determined, the location manager can begin the scouting process themselves or hire a scout to help out.

2.     Researching a number of location options to present to the director and production designer.

A seasoned location manager may have folder of digital photos they’ve taken over the years of various locations in the town that’s their home base.  Others depend on the local film commission or film office or other location services or agents to assist them.  They can use the scouting library resources from these organizations and businesses to find matches for their script.  Or they may do what’s called “cold scouting.”  This means going into the field in a general geographic area and driving up and down streets looking for the various locations.  Or it could mean doing online searches for specific things, looking at pictures on Yelp etc to find leads for follow up.  The location manager may also get the latest details from the local film office or commission about certains neighborhoods… if there’s been too much filming, problems with prior shoots etc.

3.     Initiating contact with various property owners or managers to tour their location and take photographs to show the director and production designer.

After identifying some suitable location options, the location manager contacts the property owner or manager to arrange a scouting appointment.  This initial scout involves just the property owner/manager and a location team member who will photograph the property and ask the owner preliminary questions about availability, logistics and permissible activities at the property.

4.     Arranging scouting tours of the best location possibilities for the director and production designer.

After spending a lot of time scouting and looking at options, the location manager will present photographs of the various options to the director and production designer. They will look through the photos and let Locations know which properties they want to see in person.  A second scout is then arranged with the director, production designer and location manager.  They will take a whole other set of photos of their own and discuss what would be possible to do practically on the location and the type of alterations that would need to occur. This could include painting walls, removing furniture, bringing in set dressing.

5.     Planning a technical scout of a location to discuss logistics with all production department heads.

If the production designer and director select a location to shoot, another scout is planned called a technical scout.  A technical scout is when the location manager brings the head of every major production department to the location for a walk through.  This includes the following departments:    camera, art, lighting, electrical, transportation departments.  They will all need to assess the location for their needs and will let the location manager know of any special requirements they may have. The location manager will then share this with the property owner/manager. The Location Department is responsible for making sure every department is accommodated and that the owner is on board for what these departments need in order to get their work done on location.  

6.     Negotiating location contracts and serving as a liaison with all property managers/owners regarding the rental.

All discussions of contracts and payments, insurance and other location items are handled by the location manager with the property owner/manager.  What the crew can or can’t do on location is negotiated between the location manager and the owner.  The location manager or their assistant is also responsible for doing the pre-inspection of the location prior to the crews arrival.

7.  Serving as a liaison between the owner and the production on the day of filming as well as the local film office/commission and local agencies.

The owner should be directed to bring all location concerns to the location manager or their designee on the day(s) of filming activities.  And the crew should be directed to do the same, especially if they are not versed in proper location protocol.  It’s easier to track all of the production’s  requests and the property owner’s requests if it is filtered through one person. The crew knows they can go to the location team if they have an issue during the shoot. And the owner knows they can do the same.  This prevents tense negotiations between individual crew members and the owner and allows the seemingly more diplomatic location team to handle any problems. The location team also serves as the point of contact with the local jurisdiction which includes the film commission or permitting office, local law enforcement and the fire department.