Talk of the Town - Location scout spies sites for movies, commercials April 04 2001

He's made small talk with Brad Pitt and worked on a music video for Atlanta's own Black Crowes, but don't ask location scout John Findley to show you his autograph collection. He doesn't have one.

The Atlanta photographer has worked as a location scout for movies, commercials and music videos for most of the past nine years. In addition to scouting sites in Georgia, Findley travels to the work. He spent three months in Los Angeles last summer working on Ben Affleck's latest movie Pearl Harbor, which is slated for release in May. A few years ago, he spent several months in Oklahoma small towns working on the film Twister.

The Atlanta native studied photography at the Atlanta College of Art, and planned a career in commercial photography. Although his father worked in the film industry, Findley says he got into it by chance. He worked for the Georgia Film Commission for two years and now is a freelance location scout.

How did you get your first job on a movie?

It was actually just an accident. A friend of mine was working on a movie nine years ago, and he got me a job that was a one-day thing. Pretty soon, it turned into two or three days, and then it turned into a month. The more people I met, the more my name got out there.

What does a location scout do?

You get a script if it's a movie, or a storyboard if it's a commercial, and break down the different locations that are needed. You work with the director and the production designer on what kind of look they're going for. Then you look for various places, and knock on the door and see if people are interested, and take a few pictures back to the director and production designer. If they like a location, you secure it, do a contract and insurance, and work out what you'll pay to use it.

Is it hard to convince people to let you film on their property?

It depends. A lot of people are happy to have something done at their house. It's a extra money, and commercials don't take that long. But for movies, it's harder. There may be 50 or 60 people around and there's a lot more equipment.

What was the last job you did?

I just finished a commercial for Skil Chainsaws on a farm up in Walker County. It's just beautiful up there.

How much of your work is in Georgia?

I'd say 95 percent of it. The movie industry has died down, but I'm doing a lot of commercials.

Do you ever meet the actors on location?

You will, but I don't go out of my way to meet anybody. I was working on this movie Kalifornia and had Brad Pitt just start talking to me. You're doing your job and they're doing their job, and that's what it boils down to.

How much does this job pay?

For a commercial, they usually have budgeted $300 to $400 a day for a location scout. On movies, it's $200 to $300 a day. If you're working for six months and getting $1,200 a week, it's not bad, but you have a lot of time off where you're not working at all.

What skills or qualifications do you need for this kind of work?

It's just working hard, and getting your name out is the important thing. For a location scout, being a photographer helps, and also knowing the geography and the state. It's also working well with other people to know what the needs are for the whole production.

What did you do for the Georgia Film Commission?

I was a location liaison. Companies like Disney would send in a script, and I'd go through the files and send out photos. It's a big business. If you can get a good-sized movie, they can spend millions in your state.

Have you thought about moving to Hollywood?

I've thought about it. Last summer, when I worked out there I thought it would be intimidating, but it kind of grew on me. I like L.A., but I've lived here my whole life and I'd rather stay here.

What career goals do you have?

My goals are just to enjoy it as long as I can. If something else comes along and I want to switch careers, then I'll do that.


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