Advice for Location Managers
Expert Advice for Location Managers
Written by Rebecca Davidson
With over 30 years of experience as a location manager, Michael J. Burmeister has worked on many Hollywood blockbusters, such as True Lies, Terminator Salvation andEdward Scissorhands, and with A-list filmmakers like James Cameron and Michael Bay. “When you’re dealing with [high-profile directors], you don’t want to make any mistakes,” says Burmeister, who most recently worked on Scott Waugh’s action-packed thriller Need for Speed. “At that level they expect perfection. Anything less than perfection is not good.”
Of all the great film projects Burmeister has worked on, his favorite job was on True Lies. “It was one of the first big movies I ever worked on,” he recalls. “We were in Florida, Washington, D.C., Rhode Island, Los Angeles and Key West. That was quite an adventure because I was all over the country.” Despite his vast résumé, Burmeister still looks forward to being a location manager on his ultimate dream project. “I always wanted to work on a James Bond film,” he enthuses. “Every location manager wants to do at least one James Bond film. [True Lies] was the closest I got to a Bond film because the production designer and art director for True Lies did all the Bond films and gave it a real James Bond feel. I really enjoyed that experience.”
The dream of aspiring location managers is to reach Burmeister’s level of experience and professionalism. According to Burmeister, the key to being a great location manager lies in three areas: having a good eye, the ability to communicate effectively, and the talent to visualize a script.
Have a good eye.
“My number-one piece of advice is every location manager needs to have an eye,” says Burmeister. “When you read a script, you have to be able to visualize what you’re reading to be able to grasp what the writers and director see for the script. When you go to a place to shoot photographs, you have to know what you are looking for and how to shoot the photographs to present each location in the best light.”
“The second important factor is you have to have good communication skills,” he stresses. “After you figure out the look and interpretation, then it’s all about logistics and communicating with the real world on what you want to do. You need to be able to communicate with others in [order to make] what you want happen.”
Be able to visualize.
“Once you figure out the content in the script, you then consult with the director, writers and producers on how they see the look of the film,” Burmeister explains. “You have to have a good sense of what they are looking for, and then you go out and find it. You have to be able to conceptualize what you are reading.”