Trailblazer Award: Lori Balton - Location Managers Guild International
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Trailblazer Award: Lori Balton

In 2013, Lori Balton was the first Location Professional accepted into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since its inception in 1927.

This precedent-setting achievement recognized Balton’s significant contribution to the artistry of film and shone a light on the crafts of location scouting and management. She has forged a path for qualified location professionals everywhere.

The Aviator

Her body of work reflects the Academy’s determination that Balton “has achieved unique distinction or made an outstanding contribution within her field.” Academy Governor Jim Bissell adds, “Unlike the Cinematographers or Editors branch, the design branch is inclusive and embraces members with an extraordinary body of work from all contributing disciplines that consistently enhance the dramatic design of a film. Balton’s storied career certainly qualified her.”

She grew up with four brothers above the family funeral home in Brooklyn. In first grade, her father drove the hearse around the corner to the Immaculate Conception School, dropping off the Balton clan. She credits her father for her sense of humor, curiosity, and delight in conversing with strangers. With degrees from Cornell and Boston University, she began her career in Boston, where she met her husband on a movie and relocated to Los Angeles. The birth of their daughter Cera brought career reassessment; Balton focused on location scouting so she could carve out time for parenting. The hours were still long, but her presence was not required on set 24/7.

The list of directors Balton has worked with reads like a cinematic Who’s Who, and includes Robert Redford, Alan Pakula, Mike Nichols, Cameron Crowe, Ava DuVernay, Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, Tony Scott, Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann, Brad Silberling, Christopher Guest, Tim Burton, Warren Beatty, Nancy Meyers, Michael Bay, Alexander Payne, Rob Reiner, Sean Penn, John Lee Hancock, Darren Aronofsky, Frank Darabont, and Christopher Nolan.

Frequent collaborator, Production Designer Jeannine Oppewall reflects, “Lori has an amazing ability to photograph a location from the viewpoint of the story. She doesn’t just shoot locations. She understands and interprets the script, finding a way to tell the story. She picks a point of view, a place to set the shots. She is a shaman, listening to and looking carefully for what a particular place might be saying. She just seems to know when a location is saying, ‘Take me! I want to be in your movie!’”

Seabiscuit

Seabiscuit cinematographer John Schwartzman recalls, “We ended up placing the camera exactly where Lori’s location photos were shot. Her ability to interpret a location for the script is uncanny.” Director Michael Bay adds, “I had the pleasure of working with Lori on a number of films—all of which required very specific locations. If it existed—she found it. And if it didn’t exist—she still found it. She is a master of thinking outside the box. This award is so appropriate and well deserved.”

Balton feels fortunate to work with people who acknowledge that filmmaking is a team sport. When not chasing incentives, she lives in Venice, Calif., with her husband, daughter, and four rescue dogs.

Balton’s credits include A Wrinkle in Time, The Dark Knight Rises, Memoirs of a Geisha, Argo, Face/Off, Ghosts of Mississippi, Catch Me if You Can, Heat, A River Runs Through It, City of Angels, The Insider, There Will Be Blood, The Aviator, Inception, Pirates of the Caribbean (On Stranger Tides and Dead Men Tell No Tales).

Lori Balton