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Summer 2014-5

Location, Location, Location

An Insider's View of Film-making

Not every movie or show can be shot in the controlled environment of a sound stage or a convenient drive from the heart of Los Angeles. And while places like Atlanta and New Orleans are popular destinations for production projects, they don't yet support enough of the necessary specialists to fill out a crew with locals. And so if you are a production professional in any one of a number of capacities and you like to travel (or are willing to travel, like it or not), the studios will offer compensation to make it worth your while. And while the allure of many months' secure work, travel and per diem are undeniable, there are aspects of location work - good and bad - that one's more likely to discover than anticipate.

1 - Your shoot is almost always the location's lowest priority.

I've worked aboard Navy destroyers, aircraft carriers, submarines, 'Air Force One' aircraft, in NASA facilities, subway tunnels, cruise ships, international airports, national parks, UPS cargo hubs, Beverly Hills luxury stores and the guts of giant laser fusion machines and without exception the shoot had the lowest priority of anything going on.

There was also that time we were told that the place we wanted to build a 17th-century port town was land leased for fracking, which might begin without warning. So the artificial lake in which we planned to build a dock and float ships might drain at any moment. The Navy wants to use its ships and train its crews, the Air Force and NASA people have their very, very important work to accomplish and all the rest are more focused upon doing whatever it is they actually do, than standing back to let you use their turf for a backdrop. So you set up and shoot between floods of packages flowing through the cargo facility (turns out that riding the conveyor belt is grounds for instant firing and banishment, in case that's a life-long dream I can deflate), when sections of track are shut down, when ships and planes are laid up for maintenance or overnight when the store is closed.

Well, all right, actually, there's one exception: the laser-fusion machine staff were pretty much all big fans of the science-fiction franchise that we were there to shoot. And so we got maybe a little bit higher priority, than we're used to. And it's definitely the guys with the giant laser fusion machine that you want on your side.

2 - Even if you don't drink, you'll go drinking

Alcoholism used to be very popular with film crews and although that's reportedly changed for the better, Friday night at some place that serves liquor is where people decompress and bond and hang out outside of work. You don't have to drink but you ought to show up. If you don't care about the bonding angle, come for the show: producers and directors get drunk with teamsters and illustrators and costumers and camera guys. Crews on location - at least, any crew worth belonging to - develop a sense of family and if you're not drinking or pretending-to-drink in some tiny Mexican-themed bar in the frozen wastes of Utah on a Friday night with the Production Office and Transpo guys, you're missing a family function. And of course there are certain people whose location kit includes a well-stocked traveling bar, and sometimes the party has been known to begin late Friday afternoon, at the office...

3 - You will find drugs at your command

Hollywood types in general have a fairly well-deserved reputation for recreational drug use. Maybe this is why within the first week on any location project someone local will let you know that they are your connection for whatever it is that you happen to like. Or maybe the drug use is as popular as it is because of its ready availability in seemingly the unlikeliest of places (and from the seemingly-unlikeliest of people) where one works. Some people are more proactive in finding their fun: I once had a colleague return to our Honolulu office from a scout on the North Shore. He waves a handful of small, silvery-brown mushrooms under my nose - yes, magic mushrooms found growing at the shooting location, to which he planned to return on the weekend for further harvesting. At any rate, should you be the sort of person who appreciates their fine pharmaceuticals - no judgments, from me - you will find it practically a professional perk.

4 - You will make location buddies

People platonically pair off when on location (well, and non-platonically too, but that's a separate matter we'll ignore). It's a particular sort of friendship where people who back home don't normally see much of one another share coffee rituals, train together, hike together, drink together, take in movies together and generally indulge a sort of temporary friendship of convenience that will be interrupted by a return home, and will resume on the next location gig. Somehow on distant location projects people openly antagonistic at home sometimes form odd temporary location-friendships. I once became coffee buddies with a decade-long professional antagonist on a location shoot, someone to whom at home I would have thrown an anvil, were he drowning. Maybe it's like summer camp that way: time off with a different set of rules.

5 - You will miss a lot of your life at home

The typical three-or-four-month location run on a show is a long time away from home. Line up three or four projects and you're home a few days a year to re-pack gear and do laundry between flights to Boston or Hawaii or New Orleans or Romania or wherever. People fly home on weekends, vacations get taken and family visits but it's easy to end up living a very large chunk of your life in hotel rooms and rental apartments. Kids' milestones get missed. People grow apart. Relationships suffer. Some people find it very easy to finally get home and pick up where they left off. Some people find that they're happier being away on an endless succession of location gigs. Growing to like it is a risk.

Dec, 2014.

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Karl Martin filmography on IMDB

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