by Paul Messana
All photos courtesy of Meredith Hodder/LMGI
They’re young, smart and enthusiastic about what they do. In this occasional column, KALM Paul Messana, a genXer himself, talks with the upcoming generation of location professionals on the rise.
PROFILE ON: MEREDITH HODDER
HOME BASE: Whistler, BC, Canada
POSITION: Location Manager and Scout
Paul Messana: Tell me about where you are from and what got you interested in the industry.
Meredith Hodder: I am originally from South Carolina and have always been fascinated with exploring the world. As a kid, I poured over issues of National Geographic with a sense of wonderment. After completing an undergraduate degree in art history at the College of Charleston, I had a real urge to travel the world and see all the places I had learned about. I thought that getting a job in international television production might be a way to achieve this goal, so I moved to Los Angeles to begin the journey.
PM: What was your experience working in Los Angeles?
MH: I started off working as an assistant to a motion picture agent at Creative Artists Agency (CAA). This was my crash course in how the industry worked. It was great because I met so many people with insight into upcoming productions. When I heard that this new CBS show called Survivor was hiring, I jumped at the chance! I was one of the first four people hired on the Survivor franchise—and the rest is history. I began as the assistant to the co-executive producer, but eventually moved onto casting and contestant coordinating. I traveled with contestants to the location and, since they were not allowed to return home until filming was completed, I had to manage where they hung out when they were voted off the competition. I wound up working on the series for 10 seasons! This opportunity paved the way to The Amazing Race. I was first hired to contestant manage and then moved into producing the “Pit Stops,” which were the ending point for each leg of the race. I then moved onto field producing. I worked on AR for seven seasons and truly realized my goal of seeing the world!
PM: Where in the world did Survivor and The Amazing Race take you?
MH: We went everywhere! During my time with Survivor and The Amazing Race, I travelled to over 50 countries. Some of my favorite places were New Zealand, Fiji, Chile, Greece and Kenya.
PM: You’ve since moved to Whistler, British Columbia (BC). How’d that happen?
MH: When I was working on the first season of Survivor, I met my future husband Kevin, a TV producer based in Canada. He was in Los Angeles working on another Mark Burnett production called Eco-Challenge. Five years later, we got married and I moved up north. I was going to get out of the industry, but friends started calling saying, “Hey, we are coming to shoot in British Columbia, would you help us?” so never really got the chance!
PM: How did you eventually get started in locations?
MH: My first opportunity scouting locations came about by happenstance. At the time, I was working as the assistant to the co-executive producer on Survivor who was a mere days away from going to Africa to scout for Season 3. The production manager who had organized the trip became ill and could not travel. They ended up asking me to fill in for her as I knew the show and the scout schedule. It was on that trip that I knew I wanted to work in locations. Several years later, after moving to BC and becoming a Canadian citizen through marriage, I started scouting on DGC (Directors Guild of Canada) projects. Once I was eligible to join, I became a member.
PM: Is it true you were involved in the Olympics?
MH: Yes, I had the honor of being part of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games as the script writer for the medals ceremonies. I grew up wanting to be an Olympian, so the kid in me loved being part of the pageantry of it all. I would walk to work in the morning and see spectators heading out to events dressed in their respective country’s colors, waving flags and singing national anthems. When their country won a medal, they would buy food and drinks for anyone who was around. It was incredible to be part of a global event like that!
PM: How did the skills you learned on Survivor & The Amazing Race translate to your career in locations?
MH: There are so many skills that I learned while working internationally in those early years. I learned how to work through difficult situations and be resourceful. When you are shooting overseas, you might not have access to all of the resources you would find in Canada or America. You quickly learn to plan ahead and ensure you have everything you need before you leave for a location, which has been helpful since most of the shoots I do in BC are in remote areas.
PM: So what’s next for you in the locations world?
MH: Most recently, I have been working with plate units in some of British Columbia’s most dramatic locations. I am seeing more productions choosing to shoot on a stage with a green screen rather than travelling cast and a large crew to location. Some of the plate units have two or three crew on set, while others might have upward of 40. I enjoy working on these types of shoots as you can access locations that might not be feasible for larger crews. My most recent work was for the Netflix production Slumberland. We spent two weeks filming everywhere from snowy mountaintops to ocean inlets.
PM: What have you found to be the most enjoyable part of your job?
MH: Scouting! I love finding the perfect location for a project. It almost feels like I’m a detective solving a mystery. I also, strangely, like budgeting and reconciling the accounts at the end of a shoot. Crazy, I know!
PM: What have you found to be the most challenging?
MH: At times, I find the careful balance between the ever-changing needs of production and keeping the location owners happy can be a challenge.
PM: Do you have any advice for any young assistants just starting out?
MH: Show up early and don’t be late.
Vet locations before you present them! Ensure that the location is available for the dates and specifications required before you present it as an option.
Plan for as many scenarios as possible. Be prepared for any type of weather that could occur. Expect changes to things like dates and crew size. Be nimble!
Be completely upfront with the owners or liaisons of a location. Build relationships with the key players for each location. If the location owners trust you, they will be much more willing to work with you in the future!
And finally, be kind and thank everyone for working with and for you.
PM: What are your tools of the trade? What car or tech gadget or tool can’t you live without?
MH: I am often scouting locations outside of cellphone range, so I don’t go anywhere without my Garmin inReach satellite communicator. The inReach gives you the ability to send texts and emergency messages via satellite. You can also put the device on tracking mode so those who have the link can track your progress and see where you are at all times. I encourage everyone to make this item a standard part of their scouting kit.
I also rely on an iPhone app called Gaia GPS, which allows me to track my trip, set waypoints and link photos to all of the locations. I find this is especially helpful when I’m organizing all of the information at the end of a scouting day.
Another app I like is PeakFinder, which allows you to hold your phone up to a mountain range as if you’re taking a photo and miraculously learn the names of all of the peaks in the frame!
PM: What made you decide to join the LMGI?
MH: Ken Brooker! The longtime location manager and LMGI Board member introduced me to the organization. After I did my research, I realized that I wanted to be a part of this global location community and share common strategies, struggles and information. It’s been really amazing. I have gained so much knowledge from the organization—especially from participating in “Coffee Tuesdays.”