Before 'lights..camera..action,' 'location..location..location'
Note: The following is the fourth in a series focusing on the local film industry, specifically the various jobs that go into producing a movie. Today: Locations
In film production, the right location can mean the difference between a rapt, attentive audience and one thinking, ‘Hey, there aren’t any mountains in Biloxi’ (see 1980’s Private Benjamin).
Lisa Latter has been a location manager and scout for the past six years and has worked on more than 50 movies.
“I saw a couple friends doing it and I thought, I can totally do this,” said Latter. “I know the city like the back of my hand, I grew up here, I have a ton of connections, and I also do ten things at once. You’ve got to be a little ADD to be in this industry.”
Once Latter gets hired to scout for a film, she’ll be sent the script, “and I’ll break it down,” she said. “If they need a fancy restaurant, a gas station, whatever it is, I go out and scout.” Latter then takes pictures of the locations and sends them to the production team.
Sometimes, scouting can involve bringing a production to New Orleans, versus another place like Atlanta, Latter said.
If she is hired to work on a film, she’ll manage the location, which begins with being the go-to person for the home or business owner where filming takes place. That means executing the contract with them to being the point person between them and all of the production departments “so they don’t have every department calling them asking things like ‘do you mind if I come by and measure something?’…they always have to set everything up through Location.”
If a grip needs to put a screw in the ceiling or they need to hang a light, or if hair and makeup need a room off to the side, “I do all of that,” said Latter.
And, perhaps most importantly to the home or business owner, the Location department is responsible for restoring everything exactly to the way it was before filming (and replacing any potential damages) and they use meticulous photos to help do that, Latter said.
“I also do permitting for all of the trucks and I go to City Hall and get the ‘no parking’ signs and if we have two or three hundred extras…we have to find a place for catering for them,” said Latter, who added she is also responsible for locating a base camp for production and working with the transportation department to make sure all of the truck routes are clear of low hanging wires or branches so they can get where they need to go.
Aside from the clear need to be able to multi-task, it can be physically demanding work, said Latter, adding that men far outnumber women in location work.
The hours can also be tough.
“I remember the first time I worked, they told me it was going to be a 12- to 14-hour day,” she said. “Well, it turned out to be a 23-hour day. And it was on Lundi Gras, the day before Mardi Gras, on Bourbon Street. And at the end of it, they were like, now we’ve got to go pick up the trash. We were like, ‘trash? We’re on Bourbon Street! What are you talking about? And barricades, too?’”
Despite it all, “I love what I do,” said Latter. “I like that I can be on set, but I’m also dealing with the people of New Orleans. I’m kind of like a liaison or a dual agent. I’m for the production company and I’m also for the people here. This is my city and I love it.”
Latter also sees the film business doing big things for New Orleans thanks to the state’s tax incentive program.
“It’s building New Orleans up a lot, because people are moving here because of this industry.”
It’s not just the tax incentives, though, Latter said. “They just love it here. There’s a Cameron Diaz movie that I scouted for recently and it should be in New Mexico, and they’re going to New Mexico, but they’re coming here to do part of it because the director’s done a film here before and he wants to be here. They love New Orleans.”
And Latter predicted that this is just the start, as the construction of two huge soundstages in the metro area is ongoing, one of which will have both a French Quarter backdrop – which Latter said will free up a lot of congestion in the actual Quarter during filming – as well as a New York City backdrop.
“That is going to bring a lot of big movies,” Latter said. “They are definitely here to stay and I can guarantee that.”
Brian Friedman writes about Hollywood South for NolaVie.
Brian Friedman writes about New Orleans for NolaVie.