J.J. Levine is the Director of Communications for The Location Managers Guild of America; here is a link to its website:
Q: What made you interested in becoming a locations manager?
A: I like being really challenged at work and Location Managing definitely does that! It’s the perfect right-brained, left brained job to fit my personality. Scouting fulfills the creative, artistic side because you are storytelling through your photography. Managing requires juggling a lot of tasks, working with logistics and being solution oriented. As a Location Manager, I am always dealing with different personalities who are either a part of your production or the general public.
Q: What is a locations library?
A: There are two definitions, really. A “library” aka “location service” is an agent/manager for homes, businesses, ranches and other locations that want filming. Most scouts also keep our own libraries, which more often than not, saves clients money and time because we can “pull” files many more files to show than we could scout in the same period of time.
Q: What are the most important pieces of information a location library can have about a certain location?
A: For me – it’s the personality of the owner/manager as it relates to filming; the “film friendly” nature (or not) of the neighborhood and any unique permit parameters. For example, there are locations in Los Angeles where 1 side of the street is one permit authority and the other side is another. If you don’t know and you are short of time, you can hit a problem with “delivering” a location like this. The more info we have ahead of time, the better.
Q: What are some common mistakes independent filmmakers make when choosing a location?
A: That’s a great question. I think it would be not realizing the “hidden” costs before you got into filming somewhere – like falling in love with a home and finding out the artwork and the furniture, which is why you chose that location – are not part of the deal and even worse, they want you to pay professional “white glove” movers to have them removed during filming and put back afterwards. This is why you hire a Location Manager, because we clarify these issues before they become a problem.
Q: What was your most challenging job as a locations manager?
A: Our job is funny that way. When I am in the middle of a situation, it is consuming and “mission critical”, but we do so much, so fast, that you have to let things go very quickly. Two days later, I can barely remember the issue. We are just always jumping over one hurdle after another until the job is done. The big difference between Location Mangers and other crewmembers is that the crew, for the most part, is all on the same agenda and working with each other. Location Managers have to work with the crew, but also the public-at-large – whose own agendas are not always in alignment with ours. For example, the other day we were shooting in a restaurant and one of their patrons refused to leave – or even just move out of the shot. The restaurant manager didn’t want to insult his regular customer and wouldn’t force him out of the way of our shot. After offering to buy him lunch and trying everything I could think of to convince the patron to move, we finally we gave up and put some extras hovering right next to his table so we couldn’t see him and his guests – and kept rolling.
Q: What made you interested in working for the Locations Managers Guild?
A: I’m a volunteer, just like the rest of us who “work” for the Guild, with one exception. We recently created a paid administrator position last year. Location Scouting and Managing can be kind of a lonely profession in many cases. We often work alone – or in small teams, so there isn’t a lot of natural networking or training in this profession. Through the Guild, I was able to meet and commune with other location pros. I was able to ask and provide advice, participate in seminars and Fam tours and learn a lot more about every aspect of our job.
Q: Yours is a relatively new guild, what prompted location manages to finally organize?
A: I should distinguish that we are a Guild of Professionals not a Union that establishes and negotiates for wages, etc. In addition to the camaraderie and opportunities to commune with fellow professionals, the Guild came together to help develop a higher level of professional standards, as well as support our members in their creative endeavors. Our Mission Statement tells it all:
The Location Managers Guild of America is an organization of experienced career professionals in the motion picture, television, commercial and print production industries. We are dedicated to the establishment of professional standards of personal conduct and business ethics. We support the formation of strong links with business members, governmental agencies and local communities. The Guild promotes awareness of the goals and achievements of our members to the general public and within the industry through creative, educational, and philanthropic programs.
Q: What are the benefits of membership?
A: I think everyone gets something different out of his or her membership in the Guild. When I joined, it was the opportunity to feel connected to a network of location professionals both socially and professionally. For others it’s the opportunity to participate in photo shows, educational or other events that support people in our profession. Members also get quarterly issues of The LMGA COMPASS magazine, which is an insider’s glimpse and celebration of our profession, with a strong emphasis on photography. Lastly, membership offers tangible discounts at certain camera stores and other businesses that support our goals.
Q: What are your personal goals as Director of Communications?
A: My personal goals are to continue to grow the guild and support our members in all of their creative endeavors. In addition to being scouts and managers, a lot of our members are amazing photographers, artists or performers and filmmakers and we are super supportive of that. My other goals would be to continue to increase awareness of our trade and to expand our membership nationally and internationally.
Q: What is your weirdest Hollywood story?
A: When I was just starting out – I worked on a show with Oprah Winfrey called, “The Big Give”. The objective of the show was for teams of contestants to help people in need. The Producer said to me, “I need you to permit every city in Southern California,” and I laughed and told him to let me know when he knew where we were filming. 2 days later he came to me and asked me how it was going. He was serious! So I got on the stick. This was in the fairly early days of reality TV – so a lot of cities didn’t know how to deal with it – and really, neither did I. I enlisted the aid of a permit service, and midway through the job, I got a call that if we went to a certain city, the police would be looking for us – and would have us arrested. Turns out our permit service didn’t exactly communicate our needs very well – and the city thought we wanted to shut down a whole area within the city. Of course, when the city knew the real story – they welcomed us with open arms – but the idea of Oprah Winfrey being arrested still gives me a bit of a giggle (but only AFTER I knew it would never really happen, of course)!
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)