TLG talks to Eric Klosterman, President of the LMGI and Senior Permit Coordinator at the California Film Commission
Having worked as a location manager for several decades before adopting the role of President at the LMGI, Eric Klosterman is one of the most respected members of the locations industry. We spoke to Eric to discuss the highlights of his esteemed career and how the industry has changed over the years.
How did you become involved in the film business and what was your career path that took you ‘on location’ across the states?
I grew up in Los Angeles and spent some time working in the camera department at Paramount during a year off from college. When I finished college I came back to L.A. during a writers strike in 1973. I had wanted to get into directing and though I was a finalist for the Directors Training Programme at one point, I never made it into those ranks. Instead I got an interview with David Gerber who was head of Columbia Television at the time (1975). He knew my uncle socially. Nothing came of the interview until about 6 weeks later I got a call to see if I was interested in going to work in locations.
I decided to give it a try and the rest as they say is history. I found that I could do the job and enjoyed being out and about learning about new places and solving problems. I bounced back and forth between features and television at Columbia and Disney then had a run of movies at Paramount in the 1990s and finally spent eight years on ER at Warner Bros. towards the end of my career. I joined the Board of Directors of the LMGI in 2011 and served as Treasurer from 2013-2016 before being elected President.
In 39 years as a location manager, what changes did you see in the industry?
When I first started in locations in 1976 we used polaroid cameras scouting for TV and commercials. We had pagers and used pay phones to call in from the road. The size of the production footprint was much smaller then, usually a camera truck the size of a milk truck, a cinemoblie for grip and electric, a motorhome for makeup, a 26’ trailer for wardrobe, cube van for craft service and a honey wagon for the cast. Permitting was less centralised and required a lot of legwork with going from department to department for approvals.
The one-hour photo phase was a blessing and a curse as quicker developing meant more pictures to paste together. On the road in your hotel room, taping up folders to fedex back to production, you always asked yourself, “why did I take so many photos?”. The digital age brought new challenges – navigating websites and scouting on google earth necessitated a new learning curve. I am pleased that despite the technology boom, productions realise more and more the value of a trained location professional to cut through the noise and bring home the best possible locations to tell the story at hand.
What would you say was your most extraordinary ‘on location’ experience and why?
One of my most extraordinary ‘on location’ experiences happened early in my career (1977) on a TV movie for Disney called The Million Dollar Dixie Deliverance. It was a Civil War story about a wounded black union soldier who is helped to escape by five children from a union family who are being held captive by Confederate soldiers. We had to find a railroad tunnel with track that we could simulate blowing up.
We shot the piece in two areas of Georgia: at Westville, a recreated antebellum town outside Columbus, GA; and near Clayton, GA in the area near where the film Deliverance was shot. In Clayton I met Frank Rickman, a local legend who had worked with Disney on The Great Train Race some 20 years earlier. Frank showed us a multitude of back country locations, the most interesting being a railroad tunnel that crossed under the border between South Carolina and Georgia that was begun in the 1850s but abandoned at the start of the Civil War.
The railroad roadbed still existed coming from the mouth of the tunnel but there was no track and a short way into the tunnel it was flooded. We asked Frank to clear the tunnel as far back as we needed to have our actors emerge and to construct the tracks as well. Amazingly, when we returned about three weeks later to scout again the tracks were laid and the tunnel dried out. In the meantime Frank had also introduced us to a man who worked for him who he said was a great banjo player.
One-night Russ Mayberry (the director), Frank and I went to this man’s cabin in the woods to hear him play. But first he brought out a clear plastic milk carton with his homemade “white lightning” which we all had to sample. It had quite a kick. The banjo playing was so amazing that the production ended up using some of his music in the sound track for the movie. We also shot on the Chattahoochee River and recreated a Civil War battle with re-enactors from as far away as Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. I was only in my second year in the business at that point and it was pretty exciting to stand at the side of an enormous field and watch two armies charge each other with canons and rifles blazing, realising that I had played a part in making it happen. We are blessed with getting to meet some extraordinary people on location - a great part of the job.
What was your most extraordinary location scout brief or request and why?
Having spent the bulk of my career in Southern California, getting asked to find places that could double for somewhere else were pretty routine. One extraordinary request was for the movie Fire in the Sky. It was about a guy who claimed he had been abducted by aliens outside Winslow, Arizona. The Director didn’t like the look of the real place so I was sent out to Utah, Colorado and New Mexico to find and photograph small towns that were near mountains with forests and a railroad we could shoot on. After a couple of weeks of sending back photos I was called back only to learn that production had decided to shoot in Oregon where another scout had been sent. Not having a script and only a general description of what was needed made the job that much harder but also pressed you to look for the most interesting shots while giving the production an overview of an area.
Having set up hundreds of locations shoots throughout your career. Which, from memory, was you most challenging and why?
There have been so many challenging location set-ups over the years that it’s hard to single one out. Looking back, they were all challenging in one way or another. Setting up the locations for the movie Love Field was especially challenging because we were trying to recreate a bus trip from Dallas to Washington DC in 1963. We had to clear several miles on several different roads in North Carolina, stripping them of modern artefacts like cars and satellite dishes that could be visible as our hero bus drove down the road and we recorded dialogue inside.
There was also a crash scene on one road that we prepped early and then found out a week before shooting that the road department hadn’t told the utility company about our shoot and they came in and added some new poles right where our scene was to take place. Fortunately, I was able to work with all involved to have the poles removed in time for the shoot. On the same show we dressed the main street of the town of Rocky Mount, N.C. as Dallas in 1963 with many storefronts redressed to the period. We had to create a revolving stream of period cars going past the storefronts so they could reflect in the windows as our heroine, Michele Pfeiffer, watched footage of the JFK assassination on a TV in a shop window.
Complicating matters was the railroad mainline that ran through the middle of the street that necessitated coordination with freight and passenger trains that ran all day and not always on schedule. On the same show we also closed down a dozen blocks of Broad St. in Richmond VA to recreate a presidential motorcade, again dressing it to period and keeping all post 1963 vehicles out of sight. It was quite a feeling of empowerment when I stood in the middle of the street once it was all locked down and realised that I could see all the way back to the Capitol.
What is your most memorable or happiest ‘on location’ story?
While scouting in Sonoma County, California for the movie Scream, the local liaison was driving me around as we looked for a suitable house for the opening sequence where Drew Barrymore gets attacked. The house needed to be secluded and big enough for shooting practical interiors. The liaison was driving me past an old farmhouse that had been used for the movie Cujo which was the wrong kind of house but I looked past it as we drove by down a driveway that went through a vineyard, saw a house and said, “that’s interesting, who lives there?”.
It turned out that she knew the family and we drove down the driveway to discover a contemporary house with lots of windows and a pool in the back and a big oak tree in front. Though this wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, I photographed it and submitted it to Wes Craven and Bruce Miller, the designer, along with a number of others. It turned out to be the one they liked best and we shot there for a week of nights, putting the family up in a hotel.
At the end of the first night I got a call from a woman complaining about the bright lights keeping them awake the night before. I asked her where she lived and it turned out she was over a mile away (you couldn’t see her house from our location) but through the woods at night our big overhead light blazed through her windows. She lived in the middle of nowhere so they didn’t have curtains on their windows. I offered to have our grips put up blackout curtains on her windows for the next few nights but she demanded hotel rooms for herself and her family. I was able to accommodate them and at the end of the shoot she sent me a case of wine from her family’s vineyard. It was actually really good, though I often call it the most expensive case of wine I ever had, considering what we paid her for her inconvenience!
Who was your favourite director to work with and why?
Wes Craven was perhaps my favourite director to work with. I had the opportunity to work with him on Vampire in Brooklyn and Scream. A third project was cancelled in pre-production. Wes was a true gentleman who knew what he wanted but was open to suggestions from all quarters. He surrounded himself with people who cared about others. He was literate and funny. I was sorry that our schedules didn't align for us to work on more films together.
What was your favourite movie or TV series you worked on and why?
The eight seasons I spent on ER were special. I got to work with a great crew and cast. While most of the action took place on stage and the backlot, when we went on location we usually did it in a big way, staging plane, train and bus crashes, war and refugees in Iraq and Sudan, as well as Chicago in Los Angeles.
What is your favourite state and city to shoot in and why?
I had great experiences shooting in North Carolina, Virginia, New Mexico, Georgia and Utah. My favourite state however is California. I think it is the friendliest and best equipped state for production.
What did you enjoy most about your career as a location manager?
I most enjoyed traveling around the country getting the opportunity to see places I would never otherwise get to see and to meet amazing people from all walks of life that I wouldn't otherwise have met.
What do location professionals need to do to qualify and become members of LMGI themselves?
LMGI membership is open to location professionals around the world. Active members applicants need two current LMGI member sponsors. If they don't know two LMGI members they can apply as an associate member then move up to active member as they get to know LMGI members. The LMGI is dedicated to promoting excellence on location worldwide so we expect our members to adhere to the highest standards of business ethics and professional behaviour.
Apart from your role as President of the LMGI you are also the Senior Permit Coordinator at the California Film Commission. What does your role involve exactly?
I oversee a team of three permit coordinators who process permit applications for state property. I also troubleshoot for productions in need of assistance with filming in all jurisdictions across the state. We try to emphasise the economic benefit of the film industry to local areas and hold productions to the highest standards of conduct to make sure communities welcome the next show that comes to town. We recently assisted a production that wanted to submerge a truck in a wild and scenic river by setting up a meeting with the production and the deputy director of the State Fish and Wildlife department so that he could impress on his local employees the importance of approving the permit.
Are you seeing an increase in foreign productions coming to shoot in California helped along by the current dollar value?
I haven’t really been here long enough to know if there has been an increase. I do notice that we have quite a lot of foreign productions coming here to shoot.
How many location permits did the state of California process in 2017 ?
We issue about 2000 permits each year for filming on State property in California.
Permitting speed is a big issue for location and production professionals worldwide. In today's world of ‘needing everything now’, slow permitting in some countries can badly affect production.
How long does it usually take to process a standard permit in California and what is the process?
A standard permit for our office takes four business days. More complex shoots involving things like road closures or drone filming can require 10-12 business days, but we often turn them around more quickly. We depend on our state partners at State Parks and Caltrans (the state department of transportation) along with other agencies to give us their approval as quickly as possible.
What advice would you share with other film commissions, film offices and regional tourist boards about how they might help productions with ways of speeding up their permitting process?
I think the key is having procedures in place to handle filming requests expeditiously and a network of people that can be tapped into to help solve problems.
What do you do to chill out and relax after a long week of permit coordination and working as president of the LMGI?
I love to read. I usually read at least one new book a week. Sometimes I have two going at once. I also enjoy hiking in the local mountains and going to the theatre. I used to play golf before shoulder and back injuries forced me to stop. I hope to get back to it someday when I retire again.
Where do you like to travel and where did you last take a vacation.
I like to travel all over. My wife and I took our last vacation to Europe, with two stops in London (coming and going) where we saw friends, and stops in Budapest, Venice and Florence, all cities neither one of us had visited before. In the past couple of years I've also been to Spain on a fam trip, and Vancouver, Seattle and New York to visit family and friends.
What was the last movie you saw and loved?
Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird.
What book(s) are currently on your bedside table?
I have Fire and Fury on my Kindle and I’m about half way through. I have Walter Issacson’s Leonardo Da Vinci and Bob Shacchis’ The Woman Who Lost Her Soul on my bedside table.
Many thanks Eric, it’s been really good talking to you.
The pleasure is all mine.
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