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Digital changes for good and bad

Global Locations Report 2012

Location manager David Israel was flying some 35,000 feet above Arizona when he began scouting New Orleans locations for director McG’s since-shelved Universal feature “Ouija” in June 2011. With his Motorola Zoom tablet connected to the Internet via the airplane’s wi-fi connection, he did a Web search of Big Easy high schools, then looked at them up-close with GoogleEarth’s street view.

“I’d do some screen grabs, post them on my website, then email the designer, saying, ‘Here are the pictures of schools I think might work,’ ” he says. “Now we’re over Texas and he emails me back. By the time I landed I had picked out the ones we wanted to visit.”

Along with the rest of the world, the location manager’s job has been transformed by the digital revolution. Using laptops, cloud storage sites, smartphones and iPads equipped with 4G and GPS navigation, they’re able to do their work more efficiently, saving time and money.

The acceleration and streamlining of the workflow has been breathtaking.

Before digital cameras became commonplace around 2000, it wasn’t unusual for scouts to spend $150 a day on film and processing for location photos, which, before high-speed Internet became common, could take up to six days to reach L.A. from a far-flung locale such as Morocco even if they were sent via FedEx or DHL.

For others, the changes wrought by the digital revolution are more basic, though equally liberating. “For years and years, I had a telephone to my ear 18 hours a day,” says Washington, D.C.-based location manager Peggy Pridemore. “Now I do it all by email.”

But progress has a downside, location pros agree.

“Because we can now pull off minor miracles at high-speed, it becomes sort of standard operating procedure, so it adds a measure of pressure” says location manager Ilt Jones, speaking from North Carolina, where he’s working on Marvel/Disney’s “Iron Man 3.” “It happens a lot in television, where writers add a location at the last minute.”

One of the community’s first cyber tools was Locolist, an email discussion list location manager Marino Pascal started for his fellow Southern California location managers in 1997. He later created the Internet forum LocationTalk.org.

Last month the Location Managers Guild of America (LMGA) unveiled its own iPhone app, featuring membership and vendor directories and a “cyber kit” with a built-in QR code scanner and quick links to sun position tracking and tide report sites (see story, page xx).

Producers and studios are also getting into the act with such services as the PIX system, an online collaboration and project management platform designed for entertainment production..

“Instead of putting (images) up on my website, I put them in the PIX system, and then we can have a conversation with me in Wyoming, the other location scout in Montana and the entire art department in Louisiana,” says location scout Lori Balton, who used it on an upcoming studio feature. “The production designer could point with a red arrow, saying, ‘I’d like more of this and less of that.’ It’s really like we’re all in the same room.”

For the most part, the high-tech tools favored by locations pros are the same ones used by civilians, from apps that turn smartphones into flashlights or walkie-talkies, to Bing.com’s map feature, which location manager Robert Foulkes used to do a virtual flyover of the Laguna Beach, Calif., coastline for director Oliver Stone’s upcoming Universal crime thriller “Savages.”

“Bing gives you a tilted bird’s-eye view of things instead of straight above, so you get a better idea of what something really looks like,” Foulkes says. “The designer would’ve wanted to get up in a helicopter if we couldn’t bring up photos like that.”

But “NCIS: Los Angeles” location manager Tony Salome cautions that just because something looks good online, doesn’t mean it’s going to be viable in the real world.

“Once we find a location, we need to find a parking lot nearby where we can base the company,” says Salome, who’s first VP of LMGA. “Someone finds one online, then I go down to check it out and see there’s no way we’re going to be able to fit everyone in there. And the person says, ‘When I saw it on GoogleEarth, it looked plenty big.’ That happens a lot.” n

Global Locations Report 2012
Shoot pro rewrites rules | Digital changes for good and bad | Org releases own app | 10 location managers sound off

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