Location, location, location with Martin Walker
We talk to Martin Walker, who has worked on short films such as Cla'am, feature films including The Fitzroy and Cockneys vs Zombies, plus TV series Fungus The Bogeyman, about his role as Location Manager.
Hello Martin, thank you for taking the time to talk to Exit 6. You’re a highly experienced Location Manager working in both short and feature films. Can you tell us more about what your role on a production entails?
The Location Manager is responsible for finding the locations, negotiating the price and terms, and the running of the location logistics on the day like power, parking and access. We are responsible for liaising with the authorities as well, so Local Authorities, Police, local neighbourhood associations and similar. We work with the Assistant Directors when we are working in public as we are a department that works with the public to keep them safe but away from the shoot. Good interpersonal skills are very important. It is a very broad job description. Basically if you don’t know which department it falls in, then it will fall in Locations. From 'can I land a helicopter on Oxford University's cricket pitch' to 'making sure the man who cleans up the goat crap has somewhere to chuck it afterwards'! We also do the longest hours (on average) of all the film departments. By definition we have to be the first department on site to open up the location, and we are the last department there after everyone else has left to tidy up and lock up afterwards.
How did you become involved in Location Managing?
I sort of stumbled into it. I wanted to work in films in some capacity and was working with a local director. He suggested it might be a good fit for my skills and encouraged me to attend a short course at the National Film & Television School in Beaconsfield. After that it was just a case of one job after another. One of my very first jobs was on a Bollywood film. Ever since then they have kept coming back and offering me other jobs. I have done over 10 Bollywood films now including some of the very biggest and back-to-back which has kept me very busy for 11 months.
Is it difficult not to see every new place you go to while ‘off duty’ as a potential filming location?
No it actually isn't. You find you get more excited by big car parks, as finding somewhere to park the Unit is the bane of our lives. You also end up watching films differently. You end up thinking how did they lock that off? How tough was it to get permission to do that?
Besides budget, what is the main difference for you between working on short or feature films?
Not that much actually. It is still the same job. Find the location. Get the permissions. Get them parked and keep them filming by being nice to the public and not letting them get in the way. That job can be easier on a feature film as you have the resources and team members to help you do that, where as on a short film chances are you will be doing it all yourself. But the basic job is the same.
There must be an awful lot of travel in your work, either on production or scouting ahead of time. Are there areas of the UK friendlier than others to independent film productions rolling up with a load of cameras?
London is becoming tough to film in from a cost point of view. All the Councils are film friendly but at a cost. And they have had so much filming that they have become a little jaded with strange film requests. But once you get out of London filming is still relatively rare so people are more helpful and fascinated by what we are doing. And things cost far less usually.
How important is it in your role to have a good relationship with regional film offices?
It is very important. They are an important resource. They have location libraries and know are the local contacts in the councils that they look after. I always introduce myself to them before I start a new job.
What’s been one of your favourite ‘finds’ as a location?
I always enjoyed finding an Electron Microscope for a gangster film. But finding the perfect house with the perfect geography in the rooms can be rewarding.
What’s been one of the toughest locations you’ve had to source – either through difficulty of finding one to fit the bill, or logistically a difficult place to shoot?
I did once have to find a house with the most specific geography for Fungus The Bogeyman that took nearly a month to find. It was an interior of a house where the exterior had been shot first but then fell through by the time they had to shoot in interior. I have never forgotten it. It had to be a left hand-side semi detached house with the door on the right of the house. The door had to open and turn 90 degrees to the hall and see the stairs. The stairs had to be ahead and raising left to right upwards. And in the end, after 100’s of houses looked at on estate agent websites I found it and it worked!
What are the key qualities needed to be a good Location Manager, and how would you advise anyone looking to get into that area of production?
A good temperament with the public. Good organisational and admin skills. And a good problem solving brain. We have been described as the Ambassadors of the film. We are the face of the film to the Authorities and the Public. So you need to be able to get the crazy world of film requests, then translate it into how to solve it in the real world. And keep smiling!
You can follow Martin on Twitter: @MartinWWalker