Finding the right location for a film, show or shoot can be crucial to its success, and it's the primary job of the location manager to research and secure the right spot for each scene
As a location manager, you'll be responsible for making all the practical arrangements for locations used for film, television or photographic shoots outside the studio. Productions are made in a range of places and you'll need to research, identify and organise access to appropriate sites.
As well as arranging and negotiating site use, the role usually includes managing sites throughout the shooting process. This involves working to strict budgetary and time limits and maintaining a high standard of health and safety and security.
The demands of organising crews and dealing with a variety of people make this an intense and varied role.
You'll have a range of tasks, from the pre-planning to completion stages of a production, which may include:
- assessing and interpreting scripts or story boards to get an understanding of the location required
- meeting with the director and designer to discuss projects and working to their creative vision
- collating ideas and undertaking research using resources such as the internet, specialist location libraries, local and regional film commissions and agencies
- visiting and photographing locations appropriate to budget in order to assess their suitability
- making preliminary enquiries regarding access, parking and location use
- collating practical information on potential locations, such as hotels for accommodating the crew and cast and in the case of photography shoots, often booking the hotel and making travel arrangements
- liaising with key members of the production team to assess visual and technical specifications
- ensuring no disruptive noises or events are likely to occur during the shoot
- negotiating access and drawing up a contract with location owners
- organising permissions for access, for example, with local authorities and the police
- scheduling crew arrival dates and times and keeping all parties informed on site
- ensuring the technical specifications for equipment, power sources and crew accommodation on site are met
- ensuring compliance with health, safety and security requirements and undertaking risk assessments
- distributing maps and directions to locations, often known as movement orders, to ensure all services and crews reach the locations as directly, safely and quickly as possible
- providing all relevant support information to all services and crew
- arranging schedules for the day with the assistant director to ensure continuity
- managing the location on the day and resolving practical or people-related problems as they arise
- supervising location support staff throughout the process
- dealing with members of the public who may intrude upon a shooting location
- ensuring the final clearing up ('the wrap') runs smoothly and thanking site owners.
Most location managers work as freelancers and are paid on a contract basis. Many enter the career as an assistant manager or location scout and so would start on a lower salary.
Rates of pay for location managers vary widely, depending on experience, reputation within the industry and the type of production. Location managers working on major television dramas or feature films can expect to earn more than those working on low-budget productions. For recommended minimum rates for location managers contact the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU).
Location managers working on photographic ('stills') shoots work with smaller crews but also take on the role of producer. Their rates of pay are therefore higher, but photographic shoots are less governed by unions so there is greater variation in the rates of pay.
Income information is intended as a guide only.
Work levels vary seasonally, with winter traditionally being quiet and summer the busiest period.
On filming days, the location manager is normally the first to arrive and the last to leave, so hours are often long and unsocial. Part-time work is rare because the location manager needs to be constantly available.
What to expect
- Work is often outdoors, so it's important to be adaptable and able to work in all kinds of environments and weather conditions.
- Employment is only available in restricted locations. The irregular nature of the work may lead to periodic relocation and financial insecurity.
- Work is usually offered on the basis of recognition or recommendation, so you need to maintain a network and build up your experience and reputation.
- Location managers work under pressure. They are often required to find locations in a short period of time and must foresee problems and respond quickly as issues arise.
- Spending time away from home is common as location managers have to visit many potential sites and then will be based on those sites while the production is in process.
- There may be opportunities abroad for experienced and established location managers. If a film or television production is set in a particular town or city, it will not necessarily be shot in that town or city, or even in the same country.
You can become a location manager with a degree in any subject, but in particular those related to media or production will be most relevant and helpful. Related subjects include:
- communication or media studies
- design for film and television
- film and television production/studies
- media/broadcast production
It's important to make sure that any course you are considering offers the appropriate training. Some courses, available at various levels, have been assessed by the television and film industry and are approved by Creative Skillset, the industry skills body. Details of these can be found at Creative Skillset Courses Directory.
Entry without an academic qualification is common, but you'll need to be able to demonstrate knowledge of, and commitment to, the media industry.
You need to show evidence of the following:
- excellent communication skills, including the ability to work with a diverse range of people
- adaptability, to deal with external factors when organising the environment required for the shoot
- a diplomatic approach, to encourage or persuade people as the situation demands
- dependability and excellent organisational, planning and administrative skills
- a passable knowledge of architectural styles
- for specific jobs, a strong knowledge of the region where filming will take place
- knowledge of health and safety regulations
- the ability to problem-solve and think laterally
- artistic, creative awareness and competence as a photographer
- stamina and flexibility in order to work long hours under pressure
- a full driving licence and preferably ownership of a vehicle.
You'll likely need some pre-entry experience, and it's advisable to have some understanding and knowledge of media production. Get involved with film, video or photography activities at university and try to get some work experience.
Initially, you're more likely to find opportunities for experience in general production support than in location management support. Try the large organisations as well as smaller production companies. For instance, a number of work placements are offered each year through BBC Work Experience.
The Production Guild runs Location Assistant Training, which is a three-day intensive course which helps to prepare you for working in the locations department in television or film. Find out more at The Production Guild Training Hub.
Independent cinemas host special screenings of television or film productions that are sometimes followed by Q&A sessions with writers, directors and producers who can give a useful insight into what happens before, during and after a shoot. Check monthly programmes in advance as tickets will be limited.
Vacancies are not usually advertised, so be creative about looking for an opening as a location assistant or scout. Send your skills-based CV to as many production companies as possible, and always follow up with a phone call or visit.
Some established freelance location managers take on assistants. Directories listing location managers are available, and include:
The film and video industry in the UK is made up of the following types of organisations, which are the typical employers of location managers:
- independent production companies
- post-production and facilities houses
- community film and video projects
- film companies.
There are a variety of projects for which location managers are needed, including:
- pop promotion videos
- television programmes and trailers.
Broadcasting companies usually commission freelance location managers, who are employed to provide services for the making of a specific programme, but there are also very limited opportunities to work in-house, where drama or light-entertainment programmes are the most common sources of employment.
Various genres of programmes, such as factual, news or current affairs, may incorporate location management functions within the in-house production team.
Film companies and independent production companies usually recruit location managers for individual productions and are most likely to appoint on the basis of previous experience and reputation.
Location managers and scouts also work within specialist location agencies and companies that provide services to television and production companies.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Production Base
- The Production Guild - has an Availability service for members, which informs the industry about your experience, credits and when you are available for work.
You can make speculative applications and should use industry directories to identify location managers and companies.
The majority of training is completed on the job as there are limited formal training opportunities related to location management. It will mainly be your responsibility to take the initiative in identifying and following up relevant training.
The Production Guild provides the Assistant Location Manager Training Scheme, which is aimed at those already working in location departments who are looking for the next step up. The course includes practical on-set learning, online and classroom learning and mentor support.
You must be able to show that you already have professional experience in film, television or commercial production. Find out more at The Production Guild Training Hub.
Courses in production management may be useful to location managers as some of the skills used in these fields overlap.
Other sources of relevant training opportunities include:
- BBC Academy - has a production department and offers advice, information and training.
- Creative Skillset Courses Directory - lists up-to-date details of media courses available in the UK.
- National Film and Television School (NFTS) - runs short courses as well as Masters, diploma and certificate-level qualifications in various areas of television and film production.
Events, as well as opportunities to network and share good practice, are available to members of The Production Guild and BECTU.
Maintaining and developing basic photography and video skills is also useful. Location managers working on 'stills' shoots generally train with one or two photographers over a period of time to gain experience of producing stills shoots and knowledge of photographers' technical requirements.
It'll benefit you to maintain up-to-date knowledge of issues relating to health and safety by attending short courses. Public liability and legal contractual matters are other aspects to keep up with, and working with local authorities and the police requires knowledge of procedures and byelaws.
Developing a career in location management takes time, as finding work often depends on industry contacts. Making yourself known to production companies and working flexibly but professionally is a key part of early career progression.
In film or television location work, it is common for students or graduates to get experience as a runner, assistant director or camera person in production, or specifically in location running.
A common career progression route is for a location runner to move on to location assistant, location scout or, in larger productions, unit manager and eventually location manager.
You need to show willingness to get involved, be prepared to work hard and undertake basic tasks, and demonstrate problem-solving skills.
Career development for location managers usually takes the form of progressing from small productions to larger and more ambitious projects. Because projects vary from one-day shoots for a pop video or commercial advertisement to major feature films or television dramas that take several weeks or months, this aspect of the work offers great scope for the development of a location management career. With experience, it is possible to build a career in a specific area, such as drama or commercials.
Some location managers set up their own company or location agency, either independently or with other professionals. Others go on to work for location companies or become producers, directors or production designers, and there are a few rare opportunities to work in-house for film or production companies. New opportunities in roles such as film officer are also developing with regional film agencies.