Training the Location Department
I fell into Location Managing in 1994, suddenly finding by accident a job I that I truly love. Curious and organised by nature, I loved the odd mixture of creative and practical skills. I started by working in commercials, learning by being thrown into the deep end while being given little or no information and juggling several jobs at once, learning by my mistakes. Since the late 1990s, I have increasingly worked in drama and independent UK films and have found the Moon on Earth, Scotland inside of the M25, the Maldives in a Heathrow hotel and Wolverhampton in Central Scotland. I have filmed underground, over-ground, on beaches, mountains, prisons and stately homes.
As a department, we are the vanguard of the production – often making contact with the real world months before the main production turns up. We very much represent the forefront of the British film industry; it is vital that we know what we are doing and create the right impression. The industry is wonderfully busy and we need to nurture the junior members of our team, making sure they are as fully prepared as they can be when it’s their turn to step up.
The 'sparks' think we look after toilets and parking, the AD’s think we conjure up green rooms and keep the shoot free of random members of the public, and the rest of the crew are quite surprised to learn that we are on the production beginning middle and end. In reality, it is a little more complex than that and we become experts in any number of obscure things along the way.
We need to be experts in architecture, geography, research and photography. In addition, we respond to departmental requests and set up all the complex aspects of putting the practical logistics of a shoot together, enabling every other department to do their job. Much of what we do is inventive, invisible and surprising - sometimes even to us!
I have always been passionate about training junior members of the team, from the early days of FT2 trainees and then in 2006 with helping to develop the Assistant Location Managers (ALM) Training course curriculum with Film London and Creative Skillset.
The Production Guild of Great Britain has now taken on this mantle and when funding allows, we still run this in-depth and important course. There are over 70 ALM’s that have been through this course. Many of the trainees from the first couple of courses are now respected location managers – all of them working on top features and drama. I am hugely proud of them and what they have achieved.
The six-month course is designed by crew with proven track records in the location department, set over six or seven weekends and structured so that the trainees can continue to work with assignments in between. Many of the top location managers in the country work with me on the course as guest tutors, mentors and wider support ensuring the trainees finish the course with a enviable list of contacts and benefiting from the amazing knowledge and vast experience offered by these generous Location Managers. One of the really important things I have realised over the years is how close each year the trainees become, relying on each other and providing their own little network which they continue to use and rely on for many years. Unlike my generation who had to rely on the Yellow Pages, making it up as we went along and hoping to get away with it - this generation have a whole host of friends, colleagues and experienced location managers to reply on for support. Sometimes location managing can be isolating but right now it feels very collaborative and supportive.
I have also run numerous two and three day courses with the Production Guild, Film London, regionally and internationally, as well as with Bournemouth Arts University and NFTS, hopefully ensuring that future producers and directors also have some concept of the complex set up before they arrive on set.
Despite the early starts, sometimes miserable weather and endless rubbish to sort out, I am happiest when out and about and still, after more than twenty years I believe that it is (mostly) the best job in the world and I love sharing that with the next generation of location managers.
Harriet Lawrence has worked as a Location Manager for more than two decades on a number of high profile projects including My Cousin Rachel and the upcoming film, Entebbe. She recently became the recipient of the Production Guild Inspiration Award for her services in training the next generation of location professionals.
Harriet will be speaking in detail about the locations department at this year's FOCUS event - the meeting place for international production in December. Click here to register your attendance.
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