Location managers find the right location for a film, show or shoot and coordinate many practical and logistical elements for a project
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.
Carrying out tasks from the pre-planning to completion stages of a production, you’ll usually need to:
- assess and interpret scripts or storyboards to get an understanding of the location required
- meet with the director and designer to discuss projects and work to their creative vision
- collate ideas and undertake research, using resources such as the internet, specialist location libraries, local and regional film commissions and agencies
- visit and photograph locations within budget to assess their suitability
- make preliminary enquiries regarding access, parking and location use
- research practical information and logistics involving potential locations and make bookings and travel arrangements where appropriate, e.g., flights, hotels and transportation
- liaise with key members of the production team to assess visual and technical specifications
- ensure no disruptive noises or events are likely to occur during the shoot
- negotiate access and draw up a contract with location owners
- organise permissions for access, for example with local authorities and the police
- schedule crew arrival dates and times and keep everyone informed
- ensure the technical specifications for equipment, power sources and crew accommodation on site are met
- ensure compliance with health, safety and security requirements and undertake risk assessments
- distribute 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
- provide relevant support information to all services and crew
- arrange schedules for the day with the assistant director
- manage the location on the day and resolve practical or people-related problems as they arise
- supervise location support staff throughout the process
- deal with members of the public who may intrude upon a location
- ensure the final clearing up ('the wrap') runs smoothly and thank 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. The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) has recommended ratecards for location managers in film and in television.
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 are then 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 won't necessarily be shot there - or even in the same country.
You can become a location manager with a degree in any subject, but the most relevant courses are those related to media or production, such as:
- communication or media studies
- design for film and television
- film and television production
- media or 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 ScreenSkills, the skills body for screen-based creative industries. Details of these can be found at ScreenSkills - Education & training.
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 organisational, planning and timekeeping skills
- 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
- good administrative skills
- a diplomatic approach to encourage or persuade people as situations demand
- a passable knowledge of architectural styles
- for specific jobs, a strong knowledge of 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 to cope with working long hours under pressure
- a full driving licence and preferably ownership of a vehicle.
It's likely you'll 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 Careers: Work Experience.
The Production Guild runs relevant courses, including Location Assistant Training, which is a three-day intensive course that 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:
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
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 those with previous experience and a good professional 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.
Most of your training will be 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 on relevant training.
See The Production Guild Training Hub for professional training opportunities in film, television and commercial production.
The Assistant Location Manager Training Scheme, run by The Production Guild, 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.
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.
- ScreenSkills - offers lots of useful guidance and information about developing your career and lists current courses that you can book. Some bursaries are available.
- 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.
Members of The Production Guild and BECTU have opportunities to network and share good practice.
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's helpful 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 bylaws.
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's 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.
Showing that you’re willing to get involved, are prepared to work hard and undertake basic tasks, and that you have good problem-solving ability, will all help you progress in this career.
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's 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.