TLG talks to Marc Guidetti, Luc Besson's trusted Location Manager and French Location Managers Association co-founder
In 1977, when I was 12 years old, I saw the first Star Wars film. I remember leaving the cinema in a state of (pleasant) shock. I just wanted to see the film again and ended up watching it four times in the following weeks. I have always loved to see films at the cinema but I obviously had no idea in 1977 what my future had in store for me. I just knew that I wanted a job that I loved and wanted to be somewhere where they made these kinds of films.
Years later I ended up working with Sir Alec Guinness (below as Obi-Wan Kenobi) on A Foreign Field. He was one of the greatest, coolest and gentlest people I have ever met. We both enjoyed writing letters and corresponded for years. I learnt a lot from him.
A few years later I saw Alien and Blade Runner (still my favourite film) and I knew that no matter what, one day, I would work in this industry. At the age of 21, after a general Baccalaureate and a bit of business school, I told my parents that I wanted to go to Paris to find a job in the film industry. They thought I was insane, but they trusted me and agreed to pay the rent on a cheap Parisian flat.
"I did crazy hours, was paid peanuts, met incredible people telling incredible stories and was always tired, but I loved it."
I moved to Paris in 1986, did many silly jobs, and eventually found a part-time one working at a marketing company. They dealt with marketing for parts of the ad industry so I soon discovered that many commercial directors also made films. I started sending my all-to-brief CV to the companies we represented telling them that I was very keen to work for them and that I would give them all my time and energy.
Two companies called me saying they needed a runner/set PA so I worked on two quite big commercials in quick succession. I did crazy hours, was paid peanuts, met incredible people telling incredible stories and was always tired, but I loved it.
"Before the Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) most French films were shot in the studio. Location managers barely existed."
I did that for two years and, having built up a number of work contacts, soon became a location manager assistant. In 1988 I had to do my, then obligatory, military service but managed to get into the cinematographic service at the Department of Defence which was, at the time, the biggest producer of corporate films in Europe.
1988 also saw the release of The Big Blue by Luc Besson. I saw it seven times in a row and told myself that one day I would work with this director.
From 1991 to 1998 I worked all over France on numerous TV and film projects. My first location manager job was in 1994 although it didn’t become a full-time job until 1998 when I worked on Besson’s The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (pictured below) - his usual location manager had become the production manager.
I worked on the production for nearly a year. We filmed mostly in a remote part of the Czech Republic as we couldn’t find a French location as huge as we needed without airplanes in the sky, electric poles in the ground, villages, people or industry (CGI and special effects were not as good as they are now). We also needed to build (and then wrap) many very big sets with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of extras… I could write a book on Joan of Arc.
Please explain the difference between a location manager based in France and other parts of the world.
Before the Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) most French films were shot in the studio. Location managers barely existed. The Nouvelle Vague saw directors shoot more on location and at some point the role of location manager was created to organise shoots primarily in cities. This was mostly in Paris which isn’t an easy place to film.
A French location manager, or régisseur general, does not search for locations unless the director has something very specific in mind. The régisseur general is part of the production department. A location scout, or repérereurs, is usually an ex-first or second AD and they will work with the AD to find possible locations. The French Association of Location Scouts can help you find the right scout for you.
"If you are on a French shoot and you have a question, ask the location manager."
During the prep period, ADs, location managers, location scouts and production designers all work closely. The location manager advises on what locations to avoid and proposes alternatives. We deal with the logistics and are the bridge between the creative and production departments. We are constantly in touch with location scouts with advice and guidance on what they can expect from local authorities.
We have to think about everything. Where will we park trucks and equipment? Is there another production shooting nearby? How much will it cost? Is it in our budget? What are our catering needs?
Once a location has been chosen, the location manager also deals with the location’s owner. We organise technical recces if possible and deal with the company’s involved in transport. Everything and everyone going in and out of a filming location or set has to be cleared by the location manager or their assistant.
If you are on a French shoot and you have a question, ask the location manager. If any equipment doesn’t work and has to be exchanged, someone in my department will take care of it. So the location manager has to understand how every department works.
What do you love most about being a location manager?
The constant contact with all the crew and the people living or working around the locations. Making sure that the director has everything they need, especially if at the beginning it seems like an impossible task. Organising things so that the production, the crew, the surrounding locals and the authorities are happy… it makes me happy too. Visiting amazing places whether we shoot them or not. Talking with the people in charge of these places who tell me their amazing stories. Taking care of my department’s budget and ideally not exceeding it so that the production, and the production manager, is happy. Finding a solution to a problem that nobody else has thought of. Organising the seemingly impossible. And, of course, marvelling in the finished product knowing that I played a part in making it happen.
Who have been your favourite directors to work with and why?
Jean Paul Rappeneau, Luc Besson, Patrice Leconte, Louis Leterrier, Pierre Morel and Xavier Gens. They have all been willing to give me their time, attention and ear whether it is on the phone, by text or revisiting a location.
Please tell us about working with Luc Besson.
I know Luc (pictured above on set of Lucy with Scarlett Johansson) very well so I can quickly understand what he wants, how he wants to shoot and what he really needs. I know how he likes to manage his time and what he wants in the shot. This also means I can be quicker to reorganise things if he’s not entirely happy. It makes the whole process, from prep to wrap, more efficient and therefore reduces costs. It also eases all our stress levels!
What has been the most extraordinary location scout brief or director request you have ever had and why?
Filming Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec (2009) was a challenge. It’s a famous French comic book which is set mainly in Paris in 1912. It was a period when there were a few cars on the cobbled streets as well as horse-drawn carriages and CGI and special effects were not as efficient as they are now. Luc wanted to shoot in multiple locations across the city. Most of them were very difficult to shoot, often never shot before, such as the Musée du Louvre, many other Museums, Ministries and the Palais de l’Elysée. I needed at least 1km of parking space every day as well as hundreds of traffic cones! We were also changing locations every day, sometimes twice a day, and I remember thinking at the end of the film “ok… so what can I do next time in this town that is even more difficult!?!”
Another ‘experience’ was organising the car chase and stunts (pictured above) for Lucy (2014). The chase was located in a few streets and avenues in Paris but Luc wanted to shoot the main part on Rue de Rivoli. It’s a very emblematic street in Paris so there are always a lot of tourists and it gets really crowded during the summer holidays.
Shooting on Rue de Rivoli meant closing it as well as a part of Place de la Concorde. We had to control the road on both river banks as well as the tunnel. We had to get approval from every Rivoli shop, hotel and restaurant affected plus all the institutions impacted by this control – Ministries, Churches, Embassies, public figures etc. I also had to change the hours of the garbage collectors for a few thousand locals in order to have more time to shoot all the scenes. We were only allowed four mornings on Rivoli!
Basically, I just did what the State does every 14th of July, or for each arrival of the Tour de France on the Champs Elysées but without the same means or power… very far from it.
"I love to work and I love to adapt myself to a place and see what I can discover there."
What is your most memorable or happiest location story?
It would have to be something else that happened on Lucy. I spent weeks trying to work out how I would organise the Rivoli shoot that would be acceptable to the authorities. It was a big location with a lot of money and over 600 local contacts involved. However, the thing that made me the happiest was coming up with an idea of how to cone every street and space so it they wouldn’t be seen by the cameras but still gave me maximum control of the location.
What is your favourite production company to work for and why?
That’s an easy one, it’s Luc Besson’s company Europacorp for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned. Europacorp always has the right means for the project – meaning that I can deliver and control what I’m supposed to, which is rare here.
Where do you prefer to work?
France is my home so obviously my favourite place to work. I love to shoot in any region but especially ones I haven’t worked in before. I do love to work in Paris, Bordeaux, Burgundy Normandy, Cannes and Nice.
I have also had great experiences in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Thailand, the UK (particularly in Oxford and Scotland), South Africa, Russia, Morocco, Vietnam, Canada and the USA.
I love to work and I love to adapt myself to a place and see what I can discover there. I like to find out how it works, what’s specific to the region and how they do things. If I have enough time to prepare most things are possible. A big part of my job is finding solutions and ideally working with locals to save time and money.
I speak a few languages which is very useful and is always appreciated. There are obviously big differences between working in a developed country, with an established industry infrastructure, and a poorer country with a barely existing industry. Both have their pros and cons.
You are very active in the industry. Please tell us about the AFR (The French Location Managers & Unit Managers Association) and your role as co-founder.
I set up the AFR in 2006 with Stéphan Guillemet , another location manager. The then head of the French Film Commission pushed us to do it as there were already a few associations in existence but nothing for us. I was president for the first three years but now I am the vice president. I am on the board of the AFR with 11 other members. We have approximately 100 members ranging from set PAs to location managers.
The members share the AFR workload and we have a forum on our website to share industry information. We post and share new rules and regulations, who’s shooting where and when and find new industry contacts. A lot of my time is spent working with the AFR when I’m not working on a project.
When did you last take a vacation?
It was last summer in the Southwest of France between the Pyrénées and the Pays Basque – close to the mountains, the Atlantic Ocean and Spain. For once I finished a job before the summer started! I’m from this region so I was also able to visit my family.
What was the last movie you saw that you loved, and why?
It was the French film One Nation, One King (pictured above). It’s a period piece about the French Revolution which was shot in France with a lot of extras and locations. It was beautifully filmed and historically accurate. I like Pierre Schoeller’s films so I was delighted to be invited to a preview. It was also a very difficult film to finance and produce.
If you hadn't become a Location manager what other job would you have liked to have done?
That’s a question I often ask myself but I’m afraid I don’t really have an answer. Very probably another job involving organisation and travel… possibly organising techno music concerts. I love gigs, the venues, the tour buses, everything. That’s why you will sometimes find me in London.
What do you do to chill out after a long production?
I sleep! Then I do all the boring jobs such as taking care of paperwork. Once that is done I reboot my social life. I often go to the cinema, visit museums, read books and take advantage of Paris, my home town. It is one of the best places in the world to live. It always seems so fresh after a long trip away and it’s always a joy to rediscover it.
Thank you Marc, it’s been really good talking to you.
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