Many things have changed since I started working on tv and film productions in New York over 15 years ago. Location agreements and contracts have doubled in length. Liability and safety concerns present themselves more frequently. Even simple permissions such as lowering flags and placing set dressing on stoops can now quickly become difficult tasks.
However, the collaboration between Production Designers and Location Managers has remained constant. At the beginning of each job we still take the same steps together. We mobilize the scouts so they can search as efficiently as possible. We determine the reality of bringing the pages before the camera. We lay the very groundwork for the foundation of the aesthetic.
Sometimes we huddle together with no shelter (pre-production office). And sometimes we spend an inordinate amount of time trapped in a car together, awkward silence included. This is one of the points in pre-production where a location manager is really included in the creative process.
With so many tasks of our trade having transitioned to digital, it seemed for a time that the relationship between designers and managers might lessen. We no longer spend countless film rolls or manually tape pictures to constructed folder for presentation in person. We no longer lug banker’s boxes full of location folders to and from the office for reviews. But despite the simplification of these image transfers and presentations I still interact with the designer more so than any other department head.
Once we move further into pre-production, the relationship is easily tested. With budgetary constraints many times taking priority, labor and resources weighted against the logistics of a shooting location can be off-balance. But in many instances this causes an even closer alliance as we strive to give the production the time and space it needs.
I have had the privilege to work with a truly experienced and talented group of designers in my career so far. Designers who I like scouting with make the work feel more exploratory instead of simple trial and error. A passionate designer can quickly become a tour guide into aspects of the city that are surprisingly foreign to me, despite my experience.
A location manager I worked for once said that in New York more than anywhere else, the location department is an extension of the Art Department. This feels truer every time I begin breaking down the script. Especially since the designer is many times the first person outside of my department that I share it with.
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