I first heard about Leann Emmert’s work as a Location Scout and Manager in a Microsoft Commercial. Unlike most adverts, this one grabbed my attention straight away. An interesting career in films? Check. Inspiring scenery? Double tick. Creativity? Absolutely. So I wanted to find out more. Because without the locations department, we wouldn’t even have movies. The show really wouldn’t go on. I was fortunate enough to chat to Leann about her brilliant work. Have a little scroll below to see what she said.
How did you get into Location Scouting and Management?
I was new to LA and working as a cast driver when a friend asked me to come on as an assistant in the Location Department on ‘Next Best Thing’. So you could say that I fell into this career, as I didn’t know it existed. However, I like to believe that I somehow manifested this career as I loved photography as a kid and wrote a letter to National Geographic when I was 12 to let them know my dream job was to be a travelling photographer. In high school, I wanted to work for the Cousteau Society on the film crew. In college I graduated with a degree in International Affairs with the hoped of being an Ambassador one day. When I graduated I changed direction and decided to try my luck working in film and moved to LA. So here I am now…all these years later, I’m a travelling photographer working on huge movies and am essentially the Ambassador of the film crew, as we are the connection between the film and the location.
What’s your favourite thing about the job?
Every day is different; be it the movie, the city, the country, the challenges…so my life feels like a constant adventure.
Which production has been your best working experience?
‘Kong: Skull Island’, by a long shot. I spent 286 days in Vietnam scouting, preparing and filming scenes for that movie. From building roads in small villages to meetings with the Prime Minister of Vietnam, it was an adventure I’ll never forget.
Is there a big difference in the process of working on films vs working on television shows for the locations department?
The job and the process is mostly the same, however, you have much more time on features to really search for locations and set them up for big scenes. TV often has very little time to scout, prep & shoot, so they are much more “run and gun”.
Do you have a certain portfolio of locations that you call on? Or do you often find yourself with a new location and a blank slate?
Yes and Yes. I have tons of locations in my head and in file photos on my computer, but every film has something new and often I find myself in new cities or countries that require time on the ground scouting. This gives me the opportunity to photograph a location specifically for a scene to help sell it.
How much of your job is desk based and how much is field based? Which do you prefer?
I do have a certain amount of budgeting and office work, but my job is more field-based than desk-based, which I love. This circles back to the adventure part of my job. I can use the internet to see maps, street view, find contacts, etc…but the best way to do this job is to be on location, shooting the sexy shot and then making all the personal contacts necessary to properly prep and film at a location.
What’s your relationship with films? Do you often watch them through a work-lens or can you still sit back and enjoy them?
Totally! I CAN NOT watch a film without thinking about where a film is shot, noticeable camera moves, or marvel at how hard a certain scene must have been to pull off (i.e. ‘Baby Driver ‘or ‘Atomic Blonde’), or even noticing a rogue extra! However, if a film is really compelling I can fall into the story and let go of my production mind for a bit – which is the best!
And finally! For anyone wanting to get into this part of the industry, what would your advice be?
Note: I’m explaining what the job actually entails a bit, as it’s about more than just scouting.
Being a Location Manager is a right and left brain type of career; being both creative and logistics based. Some people are better scouts, some people are better at logistics, and the best Location Managers are great at both. So I would say learning photography is a good start. It helps if you know your way around a camera and have a “good eye”, however, once you land a job on a film and start getting some scouting experience, you will learn what is cinematic and what looks great on camera. You will learn the logistical part of the job once you have a job. There are a million little details we deal with which just can’t be taught, as again…every movie/day/set/problem is different and unique and must be thought through and solved.
Ultimately, this job takes immense people skills, as you have to get people to trust you to open their doors and allow the circus (movie) to come in and take over. You are the middle person between homeowners, neighbours, businesses, government agencies, police, directors, producers, cast, truck drivers, and the rest of the film crew, so you have to be able to manage the many colourful personalities you always encounter. You ARE the ambassador of the film, so you always walk a fine line of trying to make everyone happy and make sure the film/tv show has the locations and they can film there on schedule. Also, we are the first person to knock on the door and hopefully the last person shaking hands with the location owner, so having a measured personality is key!
You don’t need to go to a fancy film school to learn how to be a good Location Manager. My suggestion is to reach out to your local film commission, film permit office or even Location Manager Unions (if you have those in the UK). They have direct contact with Location Managers, who might be looking for fresh people to train. The Location Managers Guild International is also an excellent resource. They have a website and a monthly magazine that features Location Managers who work around the world in film, television and commercials, where you can read more about the job and hear stories from the “front lines”. They also have a member directory, which might help to connect with location managers who are local to you! To learn more, check out this website: locationmanagers.org.
Thanks so much for your time, Leann. It was great chatting to you!