the site in sight is task of location managers
NKC Tribune, October 1, 1992
By M.J. "Squeak" Giaudrone
If you want a job that keeps you hopping from left to right--the left side and the right side of Washington state, that is--you want to be a location manager for Pipeline Productions and working on the television show Northern Exposure. If you already have that job, then you are Dan Dusek and Vicky Berglund-Davenport. Their faces are becoming so well-known in the Upper County, it gets more difficult with each episode to tell them from the natives. Most of the natives, however, don't have that easy Texas drawl that Dan has, nor do they have three telephone numbers on their business cards as does Vicky. But most of the natives find them as easy to talk to as, well, their own next door neighbors.
Dan, whose parents still live in Denison, Texas, is in his second season as co-location manager. When he started with the show, however, he began in the art department. A photographer, and an experienced location manager, he was there when it became necessary to have two location managers for Northern Exposure-- one to be in Roslyn to work on the current episode being filmed and one to be in Redmond preparing for the next. When former location manager, Sean Grayson, left the show last spring, Vicky interviewed for the position while working around Mt. Saint Helens on a feature film called The Vanishing. Her work on that show ended June 25 and she began work on Northern Exposure the next day.
Just What Do They Do?
So, just exactly what is it that Dan and Vicky do? According to Dan, scripts are received by a manager about two days before the director for a particular show arrives. It is read, broken down into scenes, and determinations are made as to whether the scenes will be shot on the sound stage in Redmond or on location in Roslyn or at some other site. Dan or Vicky, depending on who is doing which show, heads out with a camera and starts photographing possible location sites. After years of doing this, they have both developed a knack for knowing what the scene is going to need or what the writer saw in his head when he wrote in a scenic background. In an episode last season [3.21 It Happened in Juneau], when series character Dr. Joel Fleishman was to attend a medical convention in Juneau, Alaska, Dan photographed the Edgewater Inn in Seattle as a possible site.
"When I walked in, I could feel it," Dan states. "I just knew this was going to be Juneau." But, Dan still visited other sites and took other photos. In the end, the Edgewater Inn was the selection made by the powers that be to become the lodge-like hotel used for the convention. The same was true when he scouted for the location for the home of a character new to the show this season, who lives in a dome because of being allergic to nearly everything in the environment. While driving around the Upper County, Dan saw a dirt road that seemed to beckon him. He found a family enjoying the sunshine nearby and questioned them about what he would find if he drove down that road. He ended up getting a guided tour. His photos of the location (mixed in with those of other sites) beckoned to everyone else, too, and the site was written into the show.
Next comes a "tone" meeting during which Rob Thompson and creators Joshua Brand and John Falsey meet with Dan or Vicky and the director, production designer, production manager, first assistant director, producers, wardrobe and transportation heads to go over every scene in the script. A feel for the story, or "tone" is acknowledged as each participant listens, takes notes and begins figuring out how each one's individual expertise will be used with the episode.
Head 'Em Out on The First Scout
The "First Scout", as it is called, requires that the producer takes a physical look at the filming sites in order to begin working out how a scene will be filmed, depending on the needs of the script. If the script calls for a non-regular location site, i.e. the Edgewater instead of Roslyn, that site is visited, and a decision made by the end of the day how and where every scene will be filmed. By Day 3, casting of the show is underway, studio shots are planned, and location managers are taking care of the logistics: --If they are shooting on Forest Service land or working with other government agencies, official okays or permits must be obtained, fees paid if necessary, permission from property owners must be obtained, locations set, etc. Vicky is currently working with the prison warden at Monroe, who will be calling shots for footage which will be filmed there for a new-season show.
Next comes the "tech scout." The same people who were involved with the first scout meet now with the chief electrician and a "grip." The grip is the one who is responsible for laying out all of the track on which camera dollies travel during shooting, and positioning cranes and other equipment for filming. The results of this scout show how much needs to be done: is a road good enough to get trucks full of equipment and supplies in without major obstacles, for instance.
In the case of an episode being filmed at the old county gravel pit near Ronald, it was necessary for Pipeline to have the road graded and graveled to keep their trucks from bottoming out and getting stuck. "At the end of that show," Dan remembers, "we actually left an improved road where nearly none had been." A new mural on the back of the theater building in Roslyn, depicting a Marlon Brando-like caricature on a motorcycle that would be visible in many location shots and a lighted plastic awning on a new restaurant were two hurdles which Dan had to jump before filming could resume after a two-week vacation.
"I left Cicely, Alaska and came back to New York City," he had said upon his return. Everything looked different. Part of his job entailed working out compromises with the owners of both buildings. A new but rustic-looking awning replaced the plastic one, and the art department came up with a tarp to cover the mural that, when hung in place, looks like the wood on the theater building. These kinds of things, of course, Dan and Vicky like to work out in advance whenever possible. The longer the show is being filmed the better chance there is of that, too. Vicky received a call from the owner of the new "Fitness Factory" in Roslyn, which is located above the post office. They want to install a sign and are concerned about how it should be done in order to meet city codes, such as size and style, and they thought Pipeline might be concemed about what to do about it being in a shot: would it need to be covered, camouflaged or temporarily removed each time the crew came to town?
Vicky also notes that the Roslyn Museum is another spot for which external changes are being planned. Thanks to more-than-expected tourist dollars this year, the facelift is coming sooner, too. It will probably be a wood siding, and depending on what is selected, Vicky says the show's scenic painters can work with Mary Andler to help keep the building "looking like Cicely." Also during the tech scout, the location of base camp and parking of mobile dressing rooms, bathrooms and other production vehicles is determined. Location managers sketch the locations and the camera angles to be used. A production meeting follows back in Redmond with the scout teams and department heads who re-review each scene and discuss when and how everything will be accomplished. "By now, everyone should know what is required and, hopefully, in what order," Dan says. Special Needs for Special Use Permits Explained Working in Roslyn has had its ups and downs, but things continue to get easier all of the time.
One of the reasons for the improvement, Dan assures, is a better understanding of the filming industry by city officials and residents. Roslyn requires a special-use permit--something which was initiated after the first eight episodes were shot--from anyone wishing to film in the city. It is negotiable in some areas, but it primarily lets the production company know what they may and may not do and when they may or may not do it. Dan andVicky each pack a copy of it with them at all times, although they both probably know it by heart.
Either Dan or Vicky must sit down with Mayor Jack Denning and Police Chief Mike Mullin and/or Dave Dixon and Lori Brune, police officers, and sketch out what is going to be required for each filming. If a street needs to be closed temporarily, they try to determine the best time to do it. A home game at the middle school could mean an increased traffic load on State Route 903 which goes through part of the location site. The sound of school buses which might interfere with a microphone needs to be considered. A funeral procession may need to be re-routed, or a shot rescheduled if that isn't possible. The installation of a new water line means working out compatible schedules with the contractors.
"They always know in advance what we are going to do," Dan emphasizes. But sometimes, things change. An actor becomes ill (delay or cancel the shot). Equipment fails (delay or cancel the shot). Or sometimes, Dan's nightmare--bad weather occurs. "We were shooting the scene where Maggie's boyfriend, Rick, was about to be struck by a satellite," Dan remembers. The set was situated North of Roslyn, but when they arrived for filming, the snow was coming down so thick one could barely make out the campfire. In downtown Roslyn, it snowed, but just barely.
An emergency meeting with the police chief netted permission for the shot to be done inside town, on a vacant lot which, within two hours, had been designed to look like a remote camping spot in the midst of a forest--fake trees and all--and everyone involved had been re-notified. "Now that they all have become more 'movie conscious', it helps us immensely in getting our work done and us out of town as fast as possible. . . which reduces our impact on the town," Dan states. After the meeting with city officials, the location managers continue their in-town obligations. They notify all of the business owners on Pennsylvania Avenue or other affected streets of their plans, as well as the residents in neighborhoods where they might have to film.
Although Dan and Vicky are incredibly good at what they do, it's been some time since Vicky has done "episodal" television--a continuing series. She has been busier with films such as Singles, Say Anything, War of the Roses Past Midnight, and My Own Private Idaho. For Dan, "This is the first time I've done episodal TV where I keep coming back to the same location." When he worked on the television show Real People, he was never in the same place twice.
A bonus for everyone in the show--and Roslyn residents, too--is that the work gets done much more quickly now. An average filming day is about 12-13 hours, compared to the 14-16- hour days it took when Northern Exposure began. It should be obvious by now that public relations is an important part of both Dan's and Vicky's jobs. Their individual show responsi- bilities are not ended until they stay the one extra day after each episode. That's when they make sure all of the cleanup has been done, and make courtesy calls to ensure no problems exist as a result of the latest filming. Then it's back home for a well-deserved rest and re-focus.
And then they get a new script . .
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