Reposted with permission from KFTV (KEMPS FILM TV VIDEO) Published January 28, 2020.
Author: Chris Evans
In a wide ranging interview, Turner talks about Tom Cruise, tax breaks, scheduling, Netﬂix’s impact, shooting Jesus in the desert and her favourite locations.
Georgette Turner has worked on a variety of projects of all sizes as a location manager (from assistant to supervisor), including Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Edge of Tomorrow, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and Ginger and Rosa. She is also Treasurer at the Location Managers Guild International.
Can you tell me about the types of projects you work on?
I work on everything from commercials and short ﬁlms to big budget projects. In fact, I am currently working on one of the biggest live-action remakes Disney has ever done. Then over Christmas I had a short hiatus and a friend asked if I could help a team ﬁnd a location for a small reality-TV show, which I did. I think it helps keep you really versatile, working from big budget productions to small.
Is the process very different depending on budget?
It is so different – you have to put your different hats on. On a TV show I need to be very vigilant of where we are because you cannot move – you shoot more so you need things within a certain remit. You have to be creative, but logistically you have to have options which work within a certain time zone. It is much more about relationship managing and being able to pull things out the bag without upsetting anyone. On a ﬁlm we have lots of time to do set-up, but there is no margin for error at all. You just have to make things work. Even if an ask is absolutely ridiculous you have to ﬁnd a solution.
Have you had many ridiculous requests?
Always, yes! But that is why we do it – we love the crazy requests! I was working on the film Edge of Tomorrow with [veteran location manager] Sue Quinn and we had about four months to go when Tom Cruise was brought in. We had a meeting and were told they wanted to bring in an RAF helicopter and land it in Trafalgar Square – and we did it! It was the biggest buzz. Luckily at the time the planets just aligned – the dates were available, Transport for London was on board and everybody just did it. I could be asked again tomorrow and it might not work.
Everything starts and stops with the director on a film, but on a TV show they are a director for hire, so they don’t have as much say. Vision and ideas, yes, but the executive producer, writer and set runner will have much more say in how things are done.
I guess as Netflix comes in and the budgets get bigger, you’re getting much higher status directors on board the high end TV shows, but I’m talking about your traditional TV shows.
How have the likes of Netflix changed the shooting landscape?
In the UK, Netflix has got an exclusive deal at Shepperton, which was all in the news last year, but some of the stages can then been sold out to other production companies. This happens at studios quite a lot. However, there is still a lack of building actual facilities, so the TV shows really suffer.
When you are a TV show and you get a director over from the US they want to go to somewhere brand new, which isn’t a reality in London! Everywhere has been shot so it’s all about seeing what’s available, kind of going off brief. Before it was creatively led. You can still do that with enough time, but if you haven’t got a cast or haven’t scheduled then you sometimes end up in the same place anyway. You’re having to lose great locations to time because scheduling is everything. It’s not just us in locations with content scheduling problems, it’s casting directors as well whose cast are busy promoting movies they worked on six months ago.
I did a shoot two years ago, which only re-shot in November last year because they couldn’t get the two actors back until then to re-shoot. So, what happens is you end up settling for places just because you can get everybody there at the same time.
Do you have to have that conversation initially, to try and coordinate everyone?
No, as at the start it’s going to be the best thing in the world with no issues! Actually, I believe that’s true as you want to be glass half-full!
But for most projects, you have to factor in everything from cast to lighting to time of year to even getting the right type of costume designer. It’s all about awards now for a lot of these studios and outdoing competitors. If you’ve got Apple spending $20m an episode on a series, then the next month you have Netflix doing a show which is $21m an episode. It’s become a case of “we’ve got the biggest show”. With that comes insane scheduling and so many particulars to squeeze into one spot. It just haemorrhages everywhere and so you book your locations for five weeks because you don’t know how long you’ll need them for. The line producer will say “do it!” because they don’t want the headache of having to restart the process with scouts again further down the line, plus get a designer doing new drawings on overtime etc.
It affects everything down to things like make-up mirrors. Someone I know had to book them for 16 weeks, even though they only needed them for three weeks, because they couldn’t afford to lose them to another production. It’s a lot of money! I have a hire company and I’ve just bought some new make-up mirrors. It’s boasting in the most wonderful way. Everything is new and it’s quite chaotic, so there needs to be some more structuring going on.
What we need, above all, though is studios. It’s coming – 10 years ago you couldn’t get a loan to build a studio. Now banks will offer them, because they see it’s a proper business.
Is enough being done though to build studios?
It is very different depending on where you go. I am a freelance studio consultant. It came about because when I worked on Edge of Tomorrow, we were the first production that leased the big swanky new Warner Bros studios. As we were the first production in the studio I was very involved with the finishing process. I really got to know a lot about studio making and sound proofing.
Liverpool have got it right – I think the Liverpool Film Office is one of the best in the world. They are all in one place – travel, tourism, estate management – so it just gets stuff done.
However, you also get a lot of cowboys in the studio build environment. You start to wonder if people are there just to sign a piece of paper. What often happens with planning permission is that if you are building a studio you are creating jobs by bringing a lot of wealth to an area. Therefore, it’s quite easy to get it. With housing estates there are a lot more hoops to jump through. When you are building a film studio you have to also develop a certain amount of social housing. What’s happening quite often now is developers are coming forward under the pretence that they are going to build a studio. Then when the investment doesn’t come in, they build a load of houses, save themselves a lot of money and cut through a lot of hoops.
You do get a lot of people not involved in the industry who want to build a studio because they can see what it’s going to bring but they don’t quite have the connections or the know-how and it just doesn’t seem to happen.
You start to see a lot in the media that you think is just a media opportunity rather than what’s actually happening.
What about the alternative studio space race? Warehouses, hangars etc? Is that the way to go?
It’s the only way to go, especially when you start on a big feature. We all share ideas. I have a Facebook group with 900 UK-based members and we’ll message each other to share information. You can’t keep it all to yourself because you have to help each other out with such a quick turnaround. You spend thousands getting these places how you need them to be. What you can do is search for empty warehouses. Someone just did a Toys R Us search because they’re all empty now. It can get tricky though because the administrators still have them. It’s all that kind of stuff to deal with.
What are some of the key factors that make a country successful as a shooting location?
As much as tax breaks are great, they’re only great if you’ve got the crew. If you’ve got a tax break of 45% but you need to bring the crew from the UK and put them up, that tax break is soon gone. Romania launched an incredible tax break, but two shows went there and couldn’t get any crew! That had a ricochet effect throughout the industry with everyone saying, ‘don’t go to Romania, they don’t have crew’, when in fact they do and they’re great, but they were on a job in a neighbouring country. It’s the same with Serbia. Now it has really established itself and is coming up and doing wonderful work, but three years ago the crew would have gone to Budapest instead. Another thing would be how quick the turnaround on the tax break is. If I have to wait six months for a 35% tax break, it may well only be worth 28% after I’ve paid off the loans I’ve been given against my cashflow. Serbia don’t declare it, but their turnaround is about five days, so their 35% is actually worth more like 38%, because you’re getting the money so quickly.
Accessing the incentives isn’t always a straightforward process in some countries and political issues can sometimes have an effect too, right?
Absolutely. It’s all business. When countries are downgraded on their security, the big studios, like Disney, are watching this constantly, so that they know before going anywhere. You can give them a list of options and they will then do their due diligence into issues like terrorism and weather factors, such as earthquakes, tsunamis etc.
You have always got to watch tensions and that can change things hugely. Shooting in the Middle East can be problematic depending on where you go. If you want to make a film about Jesus, go to Morocco, because politically, of all of the desert countries it is probably the most westernised in terms of filming. They’ve got all the costumes for every kind of film about Christ, purely because it’s safe and you won’t get targeted, plus the king is very pro-filming. Of course, you’ll still have some issues but the crews are now some of the best in the world because they’ve been taught by some of the best people. They’ve trained them up whilst being over there.
Where Morocco get it really right is that they’re very honest – they have a certain amount of money per year that can be used for the tax relief and so they have a queuing system. If they have seven films shooting there, and you’re late to the party they’ll put you in line, but they’ll tell you there are six in front of you and that only five are qualifying spends and so you might not get any money back. At least you know what to expect.
You touched on natural disasters there, how much is climate change having an effect on the industry, particularly with the Australian fires at the moment?
It is devastating for an industry which has really done well. Studios and production companies plan everything 18 months in advance, so films that were going to Australia next September might now be going somewhere else. Then once a production goes somewhere else that looks like where they were going to go in the first place it becomes their new norm. So, this could really have an impact for them. It’s very sad.
The same thing happened over in Georgia with the new abortion laws. There was a crisis meeting in Los Angeles with all the film execs and commissions. It’s a business. You have to consider if you stay are you endorsing the change? If you leave what kind of message are you sending? All of those things do need to be spoken about. I am sure there are so many things on a different political level discussed that we don’t even know about. There are so many ex-MOD, exintelligence people doing exploratory roles to ensure that you’re safe.
What about the issue of diversity, is the industry getting better on that front?
Yes and no. I was lucky being an East London girl from a really working-class background, not with family in the industry etc, so I had to graft. I am now a mum of two working in the industry, which is quite a rarity. I never had an issue and was always well-received.
Most of the people I know that I bring into the industry are from diverse backgrounds. People usually bring in who you know but the more people from different backgrounds they bring in, the more you get going forward too.
There are now financial incentives to bring people from different backgrounds in, which has its positives and negatives. It’s great that you have a percentage to aim for, but you need lots of different types of recruiting going on to achieve that – not just taking someone on because you have to. You could have five great candidates from one background and two from another, but you’re not choosing the one you want because you’re looking to tick a box.
I’ve always had a diverse team but not consciously, I just have. You usually give someone a chance and train them up because they’re someone you know. The top location managers in the country are mostly women and they’ve been at it for 30 years – Sue Quinn, Emma Pill, Ali James, Teresa Darby – and it’s very diverse within the locations department. Probably because you could be working on a council estate one month and a stately home the next.
It is lovely to see camera and sound departments changing too. I did a job eight years ago for a studio on a backlot and used a security service called Hoxton Film Services because I’d used them before successfully. I had so many comments because most of the crew were black – which I certainly didn’t stand for – but that kind of thing would never be commented on now.
It should just be a case of are they talented enough?
100%. Part of that is through training. I sponsor a casting agency in East London which is all about training young people from diverse working-class backgrounds, so they have the same opportunities as everyone else. But they’re just on the agency. They’ve still got to get up and go to that job. You can only lead a horse to water.
Where do you see the landscape going in 2020? What will be the key issues do you think?
For me, because of how the tax breaks work now, they’ve opened up. There’s so much co-production that if the UK was to build a new studio – just one – I think it would seal the deal for us, regardless of Brexit. You can qualify for your UK spend, the crews are established here and the actors want to be here – it’s a production mill. Having a studio here benefits the whole of Europe.
Films get made here that don’t ever film in the UK at all apart from in the studios, but they quality for the tax break because they’ve made over 35% of the movie here.
I know there’s a lot of frantic paperwork to get done after Brexit, but it’s like anything, people will find their ways and workarounds and then it’ll stabilise again. The key thing for me is really just having production space and versatility. There are big films now shooting in England without trailers, moving back into hotels, which is so important because there just aren’t enough car parks these days.
We just need to develop training and studios – those are the two big things.
Finally, what are your favourite locations?
I’ve been all over Europe. But in terms of efficiency, great period locations, being able to shut down streets and roadways, I’d have to say Liverpool. It’s so linked up. You can match it for London. They’ve really got it together. In terms of countries, it depends what you’re looking for. I’m always going to say London.
But in terms of a location that surprised me I’d say Berlin. It’s such a city of culture. It’s history is incredible. It’s kind of untouched and a tribute to what’s gone before. The people of Berlin are so accommodation. It wasn’t on my list of places to go, but now it’s one of my favourite cities in the world. Logistically it was easy to get permits to shoot. The last mayor was so pro filming that he made it his agenda to really make it simple to shoot, and he left a lasting legacy. Everyone there is so pro shooting. The parking is easy because of the wide road and grid system. The locations are relatively cost effective. Everything is so pro filming. The film commission is incredible. You can ring someone in Berlin and it’s like talking to an old friend. They’re just so helpful and pro filming, it paves the way for a lot of things.
Another country is Serbia. The reason people come to the UK to film is it’s so versatile, you can be in seven different countries in three miles, if you’re creative enough. Serbia has that on a super scale because of the money in development, more brutalist architecture than anywhere else I’ve seen, and it’s unspoilt. Plus, they have art deco architecture, then just a few miles down the road you’ve got mountains, snow and beautiful parks. It’s a canvas. There’s so much there to explore. It’s an exciting up and coming country that I want to be successful because it has so much to offer.