Location Manager Job Description: What Does a Location Manager Do?
The location manager is responsible for finding and securing locations for principal photography. In addition to finding and booking external locations, they will also obtain police, fire, and governmental permits for each location and serve as the public face of the production to locals.
Location manager Jason Allen (“Ready Player One,” “The Mummy,” “1917”) says the first part of his is about breaking down the script and incorporating notes from the director and production designer to send his team of location scouts out into the world.
“Once scouting photos have been presented and a shortlist of favorites [is] made…. a small number of senior crew [visit the] locations to consider what’s possible and to pick favorites. Once locations are agreed on, the locations department organizes a tech recce when all the heads of departments visit the chosen locations and discuss what each department will need and what they will do in order to achieve filming.”
Then it’s up to the location manager to lock down dates for preparation (construction, load in, etc.), filming, and strike (returning a location to the state you found it in). They also negotiate fees with property owners and provide locations for parking and equipment storage. “If we want to film somewhere extreme, we need our facilities close by. Sometimes we have to create that space, we might need to lay a surface that can cope with 20-ton trucks,” says Catherine Geary (“Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi,” “Game of Thrones,” “Philomena,” “Skyfall”).
She adds that the work of a location manager is “a job that people in film crews say they would never do. The crew generally deal with other members of the crew. But the location manager deals with the outside world.”
Alternate Titles for Location Manager
The location manager is a part of the production department and works closely with the director, production designer, and producers. They’re also in charge of their own team. On large projects, the location team typically consists of a location manager, location coordinator, assistant location managers, a unit manager, an assistant unit manager, location assistants, and runners.
On a small project, the location team is likely to consist of three roles: location manager, unit manager, location assistant.
Location Manager Salary
A location manager can earn anywhere from $79,000 to $142,000 annually, depending on experience.
Location managers are represented by a variety of different regional unions: In L.A., they’re represented by the Teamsters Local 399; in New York, they’re represented by the Teamsters Local 817. As union members, they’re guaranteed minimum pay rates on union productions.
How to Become a Location Manager
The location manager is the head of its team and a senior level position in the production department. As such, they need a great deal of experience working with locations (scouting, management, and permits) and many begin their careers as location scouts before moving to an assistant location manager position.
As with many positions in a crew, location manager jobs and advancement rely heavily on your professional network. “The majority of my work comes from people I’ve worked with over the years or from recommendations from those same people as well as my peers,” says Allen. “It’s a small community and if someone’s asked about doing a job and they aren’t available and know you are, they’ll often [recommend you].”
Location Manager Required Experience + Skills
A location manager must be creative to find the perfect locations, organized in order to handle logistics, and have excellent communication and interpersonal skills—not only do they help map out cast and crew arrival times, but they are also community liaisons, dealing with local citizens and law enforcement.
“There’s nothing more exciting for me than getting on a plane and going to find locations in a place I don’t know. It’s like being a paid tourist,” says Brian M. O’Neill (“The Disaster Artist,” “The Revenant”) of the creative side of his job. “But then there’s also the monotony of ‘Where does the trash go? Where does everyone park?’ Believe me, no one has ever parked close enough to make them happy.”
There’s no academic path to becoming a location manager; rather, it’s a career developed through experience. “I don’t have any job-specific training,” says Allen. “I learned everything on the job and continue to do so.” A good eye for design and strong attention to detail are definitely useful, as is strong knowledge of unique geographical locations.
For more on how to get work on a film crew, visit Backstage’s crew hub!