by Su Fang Tham
There is a new voice in the blogosphere. In deep mellow tones, Georgia-based location manager Dodd Vickers/LMGI converses with his fellow location pros to mine the “back channels where the work gets done” on his podcast, Locations on Two.
Behind-the-scenes stories animate the interviews, revealing in often hilarious detail, how location pros use their wits and know-how to solve complex logistical issues and deliver on what sometimes seem like impossible location asks. The inaugural podcast features an hour-long interview with 2014 LMGI Awards winner Ilt Jones/LMGI, the veteran British location manager of mega-blockbusters Black Panther, Iron Man 3 and Kong: Skull Island.
In the business for a little over a decade, Vickers boasts a long list of credits, including HBO’s crime drama Sharp Objects, director Denis Villeneuve’s crime mystery Prisoners and Netflix’s series sequel of the Karate Kid films, Cobra Kai. He realized early on that the role location pros play in the production process is often misunderstood. Since the location team is most visible on set handling logistics for everything from parking, catering, and location access to securing filming permits, the part of the job that happens before the crew arrives often goes unnoticed.
“Most people don’t realize the critical role we play in the creative process. We’re often one of the first people to get that script, sometimes months before principal photography,” he explains.
Raising Awareness with the Locations on Two Podcast
Vickers wanted a way to raise awareness to the artistic side of the craft. Growing up, his grandmother—who was legally blind—always kept the radio on to listen to sports and talk radio. This taught him about the power of audio storytelling at a very young age. In the early days of podcasting, he became fascinated with a medium that offered niche talk shows on topics that probably would never be covered on the radio. As a longtime magic enthusiast, he was thrilled to geek out on all-things magic when he launched the Magic Newswire podcast around 2008. Some of his interview subjects have included the late actor Tony Curtis, who talked about his iconic role playing Harry Houdini in the 1953 biopic Houdini, and actor Neil Patrick Harris when he was the President of Magic Castle, the famed magicians’ clubhouse mansion in Los Angeles.
It seems only natural that Vickers would draw on this experience to think of creating a podcast devoted solely to all aspects of location scouting and management. This was something he knew how to do, and it would certainly raise awareness of the craft. After discussing his idea with LMGI Board member Alison Taylor/LMGI (Straight Outta Compton, A Wrinkle in Time), Locations on Two was born.
In June 2020, he started producing and hosting the podcast in earnest. He already had a few episodes in the can before the pandemic wreaked havoc across the globe in March, but the shutdown actually gave him more time to produce each episode throughout the rest of the year. Season 1 concluded last December with 22 episodes.
“One of the fun things about the podcast is I get to learn how many of my colleagues came to be in the business,” says Vickers. “Jones was in banking and finance before becoming a location manager and LMGI President Mike Fantasia (Top Gun: Maverick, Spider-Man: Homecoming, 3:10 to Yuma) was in the U.S. Forest Service for 13 years prior to joining the film business.”
Serendipitous Career Change
Vickers’ own career also began in the most unlikely way. After a stint in the Army, he initially attended Georgia Tech as an architecture major before pursuing a career in hotel management and landing a job at the prestigious Ritz-Carlton in downtown Atlanta.
He was helping out with the dogs and horses on his mom’s farm when a tour bus rolled up the driveway and several people jumped out and started looking around and taking pictures. It turned out to be a location scout for Wanderlust, the rom-com with Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston that would soon be filming nearby.
When location manager Stephen Dirkes/LMGI (Ant-Man and Furious 7) approached Vickers to see about renting out the property as a staging area for equipment, crew parking, and craft service, little did Vickers suspect that this encounter would change his life.
Vickers wound up hanging out with Dirkes and his team between shifts at the hotel—sharing his knowledge of the local area and helping them out on the property during their month-long stay. Dirkes was so impressed with how smoothly Vickers handled any logistical issue that came up, he suggested that he might want to consider a career change. “That was right before Georgia really exploded into a production hub. Until then, I had never thought of filmmaking as a career,” he recalls
A few months later, Dirkes followed through and introduced him to location manager Maida Morgan/LMGI (X-Men: First Class, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle). She hired him as her assistant on American Reunion, the fourth installment in the American Pie film series. Vickers counts this as the official start of his journey into the movie business.
Now a much sought-after location scout and manager himself, Vickers takes a holistic approach to his role in bringing a project from script to screen. He sees his job as going beyond the day-to-day logistics of finding locations and securing permits. Regardless of which big-name director or actors are in the film, his team is the face of the production to the local community. “Long after the production wraps and leaves the area, the locals like me will still be here. We are the names and the faces the neighbors have come to know,” says Vickers. “To them, I’m ’the movie guy.’ We may want to go back there for another shoot. So you have to make sure the neighbors have been part of the process and that it was a good experience for them. I try to be a good ambassador not only for my project, but also for other projects that may want to film in the same neighborhood.”
While consulting on a project, Vickers learned that the owner of a property production wanted to film was not at all on board with the idea. The previous owner had shared his bad experience while hosting a film crew, which explained his reluctance to sign on. Even though he wasn’t officially on the show, Vickers called the new owner to apologize on behalf of the industry. By explaining how the filming should have gone and the steps that could have been taken to ensure a more positive relationship, he managed to turn him around—much to production’s relief!
“I should change the title on my business card to ‘Professional Guest,’” he jokes. “Because that’s what we are: we’re guests in the communities we go into. It’s just like when you’re a house guest at a friend’s place, you make your bed and clean up after yourself, and you want to be invited back.”
Think Outside the Box
Vickers tries to avoid using the same locations over and over again, expanding his scouting beyond the places he already knows. “You don’t want to wear them out, the neighbors get tired. I always ask, ‘What else is there? Can we find something else?’”
Georgia’s generous film tax incentive program—which offers up to 30 percent credit without any cap on Georgia spending—has made Atlanta the “Hollywood of the South” in the last decade, attracting major productions such as Jumanji, Contagion, and Marvel Studio’s Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther. In 2016, The Peach State replaced California as the state with the most feature film productions. Another compelling reason to film in the state is the diverse environment it offers. “The only environment we’re missing here is desert: We’ve got everything else from urban areas to small towns, mountains, lakes and of course, the ocean,” says Vickers
When he rolls into an area that he’s never been to, Vickers often seeks out the hotel concierge staff to get the lay of the land, a reminder of his days in hotel management. Sometimes he’ll talk to the fire department or the local police department to get some tips on off-the-beaten-path locations. “I’ll show them a picture we’re referencing to see if they know any location that fits what we’re looking for. You’d be surprised how many times a firefighter has led us to exactly what the script called for. You just have to be curious and willing to explore!”
Vickers’ passion for architecture also informs his scouting. An office headquarters building for a TV show within Microsoft’s sci-fi action third-person shooter game, Quantum Break, would be the setting for several high-octane gunfighting sequences. Vickers’ team found the perfect location for the fictional Monarch Solutions headquarters at the American Cancer Society Center in downtown Atlanta. Designed by Atlanta architect John Portman, it had the high ceilings, open spaces, stark black-and-white contrast and lack of corners that gave it the futuristic look perfect for the story world within the game.
For the A&E medical miniseries thriller Coma, his team led production to another high-tech office building in the High Museum of Art, also in Atlanta. “You have to think outside the box. Even though the script says ‘office,’ you have to look at what could fit the style and story the director wants to tell. One of the things I love about this job is that we’re often trying to solve a puzzle with a creative eye, really focusing on the alternate uses of locations and spaces to convey the visual landscape of a story.”
Sharp Objects Comes to Town
Scouting has recently become a family business in the Vickers’ household. For the HBO crime drama Sharp Objects, starring Amy Adams, Vickers teamed with Taylor, his wife of 30 years, who had also become a scout. Together, they found the pig farm, swimming hole and several key locations in the city of Barnesville, Georgia. Sixty miles south of Atlanta, it stood in for the fictional city of Wind Gap, Missouri.
“We found the locations by getting to know the local community and gaining their support so they would be excited to help us with the project. It’s as much about the collaboration with local community as it is working with the production company,” shares Vickers.
One location that was a particularly challenging find was the “swimming hole” where a pivotal flashback sequence was to take place. In the script, it was described as a small lake or pond totally surrounded by trees with an intimate and claustrophobic vibe.
“This doesn’t exist in the real world,” says Vickers. “When you look at most lakes or ponds, there’s usually a shoreline. You don’t often find trees growing right up on the edge of a pond or lake.”
The perfect location presented itself as Vickers was chatting with the publisher of the local Barnesville newspaper. He just happened to own a property with an area he intended to develop into a duck pond. There was very little access to the spot, but director Jean-Marc Vallée and production designer John Paino fell in love with it.
“We ended up putting in a small gravel road, further excavating the area, and clearing out the brush in the pond. We found the nearest water hydrant so the fire department could pump water into it. Water-quality tests were needed to ensure there weren’t any contaminants leaking into the ground, and we brought in heaters to keep the actors warm. We really needed to get creative to work around some of the engineering considerations.”
Since the filming of the eight-part miniseries, Barnesville has embraced the movie location tourism that comes with being part of a big-budget HBO production. A walking tour featuring locations used in the series was created soon after the show was released. Local Barnesville artist Andrew Henry had been hired to create the “Welcome to Wind Gap” mural on Market and Main Streets that was featured on the show. “We’re so glad that Barnesville chose to keep the mural to immortalize a piece of filmmaking history. We’ve got a picture of Taylor and me in front of it,” said Vickers.
Using All the Tools in the Box
Vickers’ love for his unexpected career path is evident in how he revels in his podcast conversations and how he conducts himself on the job. He most recently worked on the upcoming 10-part Amazon drama thriller The Power and is currently scouting and managing Season 2 of BET’s stylized drama Games People Play. He’s also really excited to start another season of Locations on Two. One of the first interviews slated for the second season will be UK-based location manager Harriet Lawrence (Avenue 5, The Personal History of David Copperfield), who has established a training program in the UK for the next generation of location assistants. Other location pros expected on upcoming podcasts include Stranger Things supervising location manager Tony Holley/LMGI and LMGI founding member Mac Gordon (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and MacGyver).
Looking back, he marvels that Dirkes and Morgan were so willing to help him break into the business—realizing now that Dirkes saw the crossover between hospitality and location managing before he did.
“You definitely use all the skills from other jobs and aspects of your life,” reflects Vickers. “Everything I have done has led me into something I love even more. The people skills, thinking on your feet mentality and problem-solving from my hospitality days easily translated into location work. The Ritz-Carlton training really emphasized anticipating the needs of the guests before they ask for anything. That’s what we deal with all day in locations—I always tell my crew to pay attention to everything happening on the set so that you know what the next request will be even before they call on the radio asking for locations to come solve a problem.
We’re a service-oriented department that is expected to pull off significant logistical challenges flawlessly every single day on the job. I also get to utilize my passion for architecture and photography in an exponentially more creative way as a location professional. And now, being able to promote what we do with the podcast brings it all together. I never thought this would be something I’d be doing, and now I can’t see myself doing anything else!”