The Location Guide talks to Jake Guswa, Warner Bros Pictures' Director of Physical Production
Ahead of the AFCI Locations Show, The Location Guide will be dedicating its news section from April 11th to 15th entirely to articles about filming in the West Coast of America. We spoke to Jake Guswa, Director of Physical Production at Warner Bros (WB) to get an inside perspective on the company’s production process.
I graduated from Ithaca College in 1997 with a B.S. in Cinema and Photography and moved to Los Angeles that same year to start working as a freelance Production Assistant on home improvement/style television shows for HGTV and the Discovery Channel. A year later I transitioned to low budget feature films where I became an Assistant Production Office Coordinator and eventually I was able to work my way onto larger budget films. In September 2000, I was hired by WB Pictures as a Management Trainee in Feature Production Administration. I have remained with the company ever since and am currently the Director of Physical Production.
In my current role I assist our productions in location research, securing office and stage space and implementing environmentally conscious ‘Green Production’ practices including material donations to local charities and organisations. While providing a concierge style service to our feature films, I have developed a worldwide network of studio facilities and regional film commissions.
What do you enjoy most about your job at WB?
I most enjoy the strong professional relationships I have developed while working for WB. Whether the relationship is with the Line Producer who needs to find just the right location or stage, the regional Film Commissioner and their team who are able to assist with the search, or with the studio facility or location owner who is able to provide that needed location or stage, these relationships enable me to quickly and effectively provide the necessary resources to our productions.
How is the WB Physical Production department organised and how does it function?
WB shoots on average, 15 to 20 films per year. The Physical Production management of these films is divided amongst seven Feature Executives working under the President of Physical Production. These Executives are assigned individual projects to oversee and are deeply involved with their management to ensure each project is delivered on budget and on schedule. In an effort to enhance communication and leverage our position, as Director of Physical Production I coordinate with all of our productions. For example, at any given time we may have multiple films prepping to shoot in a specific region.
It really becomes a balancing act of trying to find the locations that will best serve the story with a production plan that will allow us to deliver the film at a price that makes sound business sense.
Instead of having multiple Execs place holds on stages for each of their films, they coordinate through me so that we can place a blanket WB hold that can accommodate all of our productions. If one project is wrapping out of a location and another project is just starting there, I can help coordinate the transfer of assets from one project to the next. With this organisational structure, each film has personal oversight while at the same time there is cross collaboration between all our productions.
To get a greenlight to start production requires a number of elements coming together. Based on the script’s subject matter and other various creative elements (Director, Actors, Production Design, etc.), WB Senior Management determines how much they’d be willing to spend to create the film. Physical Production then works with the Creative team, the Director, the Producers, and other WB departments to try and reach that budget number. While working with Production Finance, multiple schedules and budgets are created to explore different filming scenarios and locations.
Along with the script’s setting, regional film incentives help determine where filming will take place. Our Production Planning department is integral in this process as they inform us as to what incentives are offered in each location along with what is required, not only to qualify for the incentive but also to maximise its value. It really becomes a balancing act of trying to find the locations that will best serve the story with a production plan that will allow us to deliver the film at a price that makes sound business sense.
What is more important, the location or the film incentive on offer when choosing the filming destination?
They both play a very important role. An ideal location may prove to be cost prohibitive if it lacks the necessary infrastructure and we need to bring in all our own crew and equipment. In those circumstances a film incentive can help mitigate those costs and allow for the extra expense of filming in that special location. On the other hand, no matter how generous of a film incentive is offered, if we can’t find the locations needed to tell our story then there’s no point trying to film there.
Apart from getting the right location(s) for the production in question, what other factors contribute to the decision of what country or state a movie will be filmed in?
Apart from finding ‘the look’ needed to tell our story, we film in regions with both a strong production infrastructure and where we will get the most for our money. When filming on location, our preference is to hire experienced local crew. Hiring locally means we don’t need to spend money to transport and house that portion of our crew base.
If some stage work is going to be required then we want to look for a region that has purpose-built or converted sound stages available. Ideally, the specialised film equipment necessary for production is also available locally, and of course there’s always the issue of cost. Not only do we need to know what film incentives are offered but we need to compare those incentives against the cost of doing business in that region and any applicable currency exchange.
Who ultimately makes the decision of where a WB movie will be shot?
The production plan, which includes the determination of where filming will take place is created in cooperation with the Creative Executive, the Physical Production Executive, the Producer(s) and Director.
In the past five years, which countries have WB productions filmed in?
WB films globally and there would be way too many films to list for the past 5 years. However, some productions and varied locations of note include 300: Rise of an Empire (Bulgaria and the United Kingdom), Suicide Squad (Toronto, Ontario), American Sniper (California and Morocco) and Mad Max: Fury Road (Australia and Namibia).
Roughly how many WB Pictures productions are shot on location each year?
WB films between fifteen and twenty films per year. With very few exceptions, they pretty much all have some element of location filming.
Do you visit all WB productions shooting around the world and if not, how do you monitor the progress of all the ongoing productions?
Unfortunately I don’t often get to go out and visit our productions filming on location. Once the production plan is set, I’m usually already onto the next project. I am able to monitor the progress and learn if a particular location has been successful through the Production Executive who is overseeing the film.
What are some of your favourite location or production requests?
A couple years ago I was challenged with a script set in a fantastic future world and so I had the opportunity to do a global search for the craziest futuristic architecture I could find. It was a lot of fun to learn about these locations and try to put together a possible scenario that might work for the film. My favorite requests are ones like this where I have the opportunity to try to find that specific location that would be perfect for the film.
What do you do to chill out and relax after a heavy work week at WB?
Well I’m an avid chess player but I’m still struggling to improve my golf game. The nice thing about living in Southern California is the number of great day trips that are available. It is really easy to go to the beach, wine country, the mountains or even the desert. There are a lot of great areas to explore and rediscover.
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