Richard George is both a Location Manager and a Location Scout, working in the film industry for nearly 20 years, with plenty of big titles to his name: “The Imitation Game”, Steven Spielbergs’ “The BFG” and more recently the upcoming Bond film “No Time To Die” to name but a few.
Richard’s field is film, less so TV dramas and commercials. He often spends days scouring Britain’s countryside so we caught up with him to hear more about the scouting part of his role.
Being a Location Scout on Big Title Films
How would you introduce your work in a nutshell?
It’s the best job in the world. Travelling around the country with my camera hunting for an original and exciting location that might end up on the big screen whilst meeting new and interesting people. But it’s not just a jolly; there’s a huge amount of ups and downs going in to scouting for the right location. Then once a location is chosen, I’ll move into my role as location manager, making sure the location owner knows what to expect and ironing out all the shoot details, then finally making sure the place is looked after by the crew on the day.
Who or what inspired you to become a location scout?
I have a memory of watching Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” and seeing in the end credits that it was partly filmed in the UK, along with Malta and Morocco. My sister knew a camera technician working on the film and that was the moment I realised working in the industry was a dream that could come true. Banking then was no longer for me.
Location managing and scouting appeared to have a great combination of travel and freedom, with a dash of glamour. Needless to say, to this day, whilst there’s been plenty of travel and a good dose of freedom; there’s never been the glamour!
So when you are given a new scouting brief, where do you start?
Film-making is a collaborative endeavour, so I would always start by sitting down with the Production Designer, to really try to get a sense of the look and feel they are after from the locations. Often it might already be drawn or some reference photos will have been gathered, so it might just be a case of finding the best match. But occasionally it’s an open book and I’m able to just go and find something interesting and original. The budget plays a big role in tempering this creativity: often there’s a match of a location that you know might exist in Scotland however budget means it needs to be found within the M25. That’s all part of the challenge. The search itself can take various forms; I might start with places I know, perhaps places I already have on file. Then I might put a query out to a couple of location libraries. At the same time, I will almost certainly be packing my camera and preparing to get in the car to go for a drive round and find somewhere new.
When a farm brief comes in, do you jump for a joy or do you wish for something different?!
I imagine with some industries, such as fashion advertising, Farm briefs are quite common, but for me I had my first farm brief in about ten years land on my desk in February, so I was thrilled at the prospect of getting out of London and getting stuck in. The production wanted to see options on farms with a specific scale and layout within a 30 mile radius of their studio and so initially it was a case of getting an OS map and doing the leg work. When none of those options were hitting the mark, the search was then widened and it quickly became a monumental task trying to cover the ground alone. It’s our job to deliver ideas quickly. I turned to Jo at Farm Locations to try to get some traction with the search. With a great range of farms on the books and a handy radius tool on the site she was able to line up some good ideas for a recce in no time.
What should a location owner expect from a scout visit?
When I’ve scouted for farms without the prior introductions made by an agency like Farm Locations, I find that 9 times out of 10 the farmer is out on the farm rather than answering the door, so I invariably have to walk around the yard or even into the fields to try to get noticed and hopefully not have the dogs set on me or worse! Once I’ve identified myself, I explain the brief and what’s involved. Whilst I’m hoping to convince them on the spot that it’s a good idea (and the fee attached often helps with this), I’m always faced with the owner being inconvenienced. It can be tricky therefore scouting locations unannounced, so being introduced by Farm Locations prior to any visit certainly helps me. On this first visit, once the owner is comfortable with me and the outline brief, I would ask to take photos. Photography is key to selling the location in to the decision makers and I’m usually shooting with the script in mind. It might take anything up to an hour or so. After that, I’ll be on my way, present to the designer a range of location options, and it could take a couple of weeks before I can give any feedback as to whether the location can move to the next stage or not.
In your farm scouting experience, which farm has made the biggest impression on you on your first visit and why?
It was a farm in East Sussex. I was scouting for a house with huge character and it needed to play a major part in the film – so the scouting went far and wide. I was covering the area and completely by chance, when driving out of a village I saw, across the gorgeous rolling valley, this wonderful stone farm house set on top of the hill with beautiful period farm buildings surrounding it. I knew instantly it was what we were looking for, it was just a matter of convincing the owners and getting our Production Designer down there as soon as possible.
On average, how many locations would you need to visit, before a final location is chosen?
It depends on quite a few variables such as how the Production Designer operates, how accurate the brief is (and if it changes course through the process), production’s budget limits and expectations; but on average it’s around 7-10. An old location manager trick is to keep the best until last, but in my experience that’s not a game worth playing. On Justice League a few years ago, our Production Designer and Director fell for the first location we showed them. I had to hurriedly cancel all the other appointments we had lined up for them on the 2 day scout.
In other cases, often with more inexperienced production teams, the scouting will be allowed to continue for weeks in the hope that something better exists out there. So as an location owner, it’s important to remember that we always have other locations lined up too, and it’s almost worth forgetting about the visit or enquiry; that way if a positive call comes in it will be a pleasant surprise.
Do you see your time wasted when so many locations are binned on your scouting journey? Or do the rewards outweigh those times?
There is usually a moment on a project when you get bored with a brief when it’s dragging on. But honestly, the joy of the job is that it’s not a drag and the only time I might feel that efforts have been wasted is if the location being presented is a really good one and yet it is being overlooked. And for all those unsuccessful locations that I’d photographed, they are now on my radar and may just be perfect for a future brief that I work on.
A question that ‘s left until last as it’s probably a tough one to narrow down. I often get asked “ Does my farm have film appeal?” If you had to pick a set of Top 5 features to increase your chances for filming as a location, what would they be?
Sadly, I don’t think there is anything that will guarantee your farm to be chosen as it will ultimately be down to the designers’ vision and any budget constraints that restrict distant travel. But, some features will help ensure the logistics don’t trip things up.
1. Hard standing – we like to bring lots and lots of trucks, so having somewhere to park them all without having to spend money on temporary roadway is always preferred.
2. Barns or outhouses. Often the production will end up wanting to build another set to film an additional scene in or they may need prop storage for redressing a room or somewhere to get lots of supporting artists made up and changed. A watertight large space is always welcome!
3. Good access is a nice perk.
4. Local Power – good to have, but invariably the production will bring its own generator to ensure constant supply.
5. Flexible owners. For obvious reasons really. The chances are that an almost endless list of requests and demands will be filtered in from the Production and it helps to have an open-minded approach to this, otherwise hosting a feature film might drive you mad!
Next time, Richard talks to us about being a Location Manager, and what to expect when a film crew descends on your farm.
As well as being a location manager and scout, Richard George also runs Allingham Production, a production service company catering to Film, Drama, Commercials and Stills shoots. www.allinghamproduction.com