by PAUL MESSANA
Photos courtesy of Ehrin Davis
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: EHRIN DAVIS
HOME BASE: Oakland, California
POSITION: Location Scout/Key Assistant Location Manager
Paul Messana: Where were you born and how did you get started in locations?
Ehrin Davis: I was raised on a 160-acre ranch in rural Mendocino County with no outside power lines running to it. All of our power came from solar and water from a spring. We didn’t have cable which made me all the more obsessed with the movies and TV shows that my aunt would tape on VHS and mail us. We moved to Lake Tahoe when I was in sixth grade which to me was the equivalent of a big city.
I majored in global studies with an emphasis in Latin America at UC Santa Barbara. I spent my junior year studying abroad in Brazil and learning Portuguese. After school, I was pretty nomadic; I had stints working on remote construction projects in Panama and Papua New Guinea.
When I first moved to Oakland, I got onto an indie film called Kicks through my (now) wife’s friend who was the executive producer. The EP took over as location manager and brought me on as the scout. I didn’t know much about Oakland, but I worked hard to familiarize myself with neighborhoods through scouting. Looking back, I had no idea what I was doing (those first scout photos are cringe-worthy) but I landed us some great locations.
PM: How long have you been working in locations and what do you primarily work on?
ED: I started in 2014 on the indie film Kicks as the location scout and assisting on set. I kept location assisting on indies and PAing on anything I could get onto to stay afloat. My big break was getting into the union to be on the first season of 13 Reasons Why. As a product of the Bay Area, I do it all–-TV, features and commercials. I was on Goliath (episodic) and Venom 2 (feature) right before the coronavirus shut everything down, so I’ve maintained that mix of projects. As production begins picking back up, I’ve just booked a feature that films in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.
PM: Was there a particular moment while scouting/assistant managing that really made you think about this field as a long-term career worth pursuing? Are there particular people or productions that have inspired you to take this current career path?
ED: I always took my film career one step at a time and set low expectations for myself. When I got on my first indie film, I was very proud of myself and my scouting but I didn’t know if anything else would come of it. In the early days, every project I got on I would think, “this is great but I have to be ready to accept that there might not be another one and I’ll need to pivot.” Things just kept rolling, especially because of the support of Dave Weber/LMGI and Ryan Wylie—two fantastic managers who mentored me and sent a lot of work my way. Working with Nancy Haecker/LMGI and Stevie Nelson/LMGI on 13 Reasons Why gave me a template for accomplishing work at a studio level.
PM: What is something you aspire to accomplish in locations?
ed: Scout internationally! A location scout interacts with their environment in a unique way, always imagining how a production could utilize a space. I would love to combine that awareness of environment with my passion for experiencing other cultures. I speak Portuguese and Spanish so Latin America is of obvious interest but I’d be happy going anywhere.
PM: What have you found to be the most enjoyable part of your job?
ED: I love being part of the initial creative work that shapes the look of the show. We always follow the script but are still able to express our own creativity in what we scout and how we shoot. Being the first one at a location is also an exciting feeling. It’s like standing in the middle of a blank canvas and contributing the first brush strokes of a collaborative painting.
PM: What is a crazy/wildest story from “on location.”
ED: When I was starting out, I managed an indie film up on the North Coast. We were shooting at a boat graveyard on the Noyo River and I promised the director I would move this giant dumpster right in the middle of set before our shoot day. The garbage company bailed on me, never came and refused to help me out. I called an equipment rental company and reserved a large telehandler forklift with a driver to operate. I showed up at the rental place the morning of the shoot—the forklift was ready but “by the way, there’s no driver.” I ended up driving this thing (a piece of equipment I knew nothing about) miles down Highway 1 at a top speed of like 5 mph, holding up traffic and probably breaking a few laws. I moved the dumpster before the shoot and returned the forklift that night. When you’re starting out, the sense of doing whatever it takes to get the shot is so powerful. I would think twice about doing something like that these days!
PM: What have you found to be the most challenging?
ED: We do so much important work in locations: scouting, permitting, prepping. A lot of the crew interact with us on set after the bulk of our work is done; they don’t see everything that we’ve contributed. One of the great things about LMGI is that it raises our profile as a department and showcases all the important work we do.
PM: Do you have any advice for any young assistants just starting out and why?
ED: Don’t let other people’s panic be your panic. Try to slow down enough to appreciate the fun parts of the job and enjoy yourself while maintaining a good work ethic. Learn from managers like Justin Duncan/LMGI how to kick ass while staying relaxed.
PM: What’s the best location advice you’ve received?
ED: “Shoot to sell.” I try to use my photos not just to show a location but to give the director the sexiest shots that they will want to replicate within their vision. The sooner we sell a location, the sooner the whole department can move forward.
PM: What are your tools of the trade? What car or tech gadget or tool can’t you live without?
ED: I love the Sony mirror-less cameras. They’re small enough to be subtle while scouting in sketchy areas but still pack a ton of photography power for nailing beautiful stills.
PM: What made you decide to join the LMGI?
ED: Stevie Nelson invited me to speak on the “Location by Design” panel with her, Nancy Haecker and Jonathan Slator/LMGI at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival but I had to be an LMGI member to participate. As I’m writing this, the top picture on Yelp for the festival is of us after our talk.