Written by on Nov 12, 2014. Posted in Interviews

Interstellar Location Manager Mandi Dillin on US filming hubs and California hopes

Mandi Dillin has worked on many of the biggest movies of recent years, including Inception, The Dark Knight Rises and now Interstellar for Christopher Nolan. She talks to The Location Guide about US production centres and her hopes for California’s film industry.

Dillin originally moved from her native Ohio to California to build a career as an Assistant Director. After coming close to a training position with the Directors Guild of America, she instead found work at the major talent agency CAA, which she considers a vital stepping stone in her film career.

“One wouldn't think that working at a talent agency would be a launch pad for becoming a Location Manager,” she remarks, “but I gained a lot of knowledge and a very thick skin from the year I spent on that desk. Also, a lot of my past production jobs and current job contacts have come from my time in the trenches.”

Her career as a Key Assistant Location Manager began with Marvel’s first Iron Man movie in 2007 and progressed to the Transformers franchise, plus her work for Christopher Nolan. As a Location Manager she took care of the Wyoming leg of filming for Quentin Tarantino’s slavery Western Django Unchained, and then Iron Man 3 in North Carolina.

Aaron Paul’s videogame adaptation Need for Speed (below) filmed partly in northern California and the stunt-filled schedule presented many of Dillin’s biggest challenges.

“The company moved to a new location almost every day and we covered over 50 miles of state and county roads during our 14-day shoot,” she recalls: “We had a small army of precision vehicles that were to drive at high speeds, performing stunts along the way, with helicopters no less!”

Filming took place on three major county roadways, so a combination of town hall meetings and daily radio bulletins helped keep locals informed, along with the services of a traffic control company.

Production hubs Pittsburgh and Wilmington are particular location highlights Dillin picks out from the recent movies she’s worked on. Her experience of shooting Transformers: Dark of the Moon in Chicago was also memorable. “It was hard, it was hot and it was loud,” she says, “but it's an amazingly beautiful city. The variety of architecture is endless and the people who I had the pleasure of working with were very professional and kind.”

The current trend in Los Angeles is for people to relocate, not only to Georgia, but to New Mexico and even North Carolina where the incentive has been reduced.

Mandi Dillin, Location Manager

Pittsburgh stood in for Gotham in Nolan’s third Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises and Dillin is quick to credit the city for its production support.

“The Pittsburgh Film Office helped me navigate the various neighbourhoods and city politics while we prepared for one of the largest film shoots they had ever hosted,” she comments.

Although Dillin is still based in Los Angeles, the majority of US productions chase better filming incentives elsewhere in the country and she describes spending half a decade “living out of a suitcase”.

Many of her industry colleagues have relocated their families to places like Atlanta, where filming work is much more regular, but Dillin has made an effort to spend a year in Los Angeles where she’s been working entirely in television.

“The current trend in Los Angeles is for people to relocate,” she explains, “not only to Georgia, but to New Mexico and even North Carolina where the incentive has been reduced.

“Incentives have been important because they have dictated where a majority of the work has gone. I've had conversations with producers asking if we can make New Mexico look like the mid-Western US because New Mexico offered them a tax incentive. Very few features are filming in Los Angeles.”

The future of California’s production industry prompts cautious optimism for Dillin, given that the state’s filming incentive will get a boost from 2015. She notes that many of her friends and colleagues are still planning to work outside California and also internationally next year: “Perhaps the incentive will encourage smaller budget features to film in California.”

She oversaw the California locations for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, but points out that filmmakers with his level of success have an unusual freedom to choose where they shoot, with minimal studio pressure.

“Christopher Nolan and Michael Bay are exceptions to the rules of modern directors because of the creative control they have,” Dillin explains: “They essentially can decide what films on stage and what films on location. Mr Nolan is especially selective in his locations and for good reason. His films are visually breathtaking.”

Star Trek Into Darkness and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are among the only big-budget shoots to have filmed largely in California in recent years. The state is hoping to attract more productions of this calibre when its filming incentive is boosted next year. Given that Marvel and DC are both planning an onslaught of superhero movies over the next five years, California could get its chance to shine.

To read more about Captain America: The Winter Soldier in California click here.

(Images: DreamWorks II Distribution/Andrew Cooper, SMPSP and The Weinstein Company/Paramount Pictures)

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