They’re young, smart and enthusiastic about what they do. In this new occasional column, assistant location manager PAUL MESSANA, a genXer himself, talks with the upcoming generation of location professionals on the rise.  

Profile on: LUKE FORD
Age: 32

Ford’s hometown on the Gold Coast.

PAUL MESSANA: Where were you born and how did you get started in locations?

LUKE FORD: I was born on the Gold Coast, Australia, and my path in locations started whilst I was living in Vietnam. At the time, I was managing the marketing and development for Oxalis, an adventure tour company, where we set up and operated week-long underground expeditions to Son Doong Cave, the world’s largest cave, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The place quickly became a drawcard for thrill seekers and location scouts, who had come across the pictures of the cave online.

Our company was fortunate to assist Indochina Productions with a scout for Kong: Skull Island, which is where I first met supervising location manager Ilt Jones, LMGI. Ilt introduced me to locations and eventually offered me a position on his team where I had the pleasure of working with Leann Emmert, LMGI and Zachary Quemore to prepare a couple of key locations.

Scouting rooftops in Seoul, South Korea

PM: Where did you go to school and what did you study?

LF: I did my undergraduate studies in marketing and international business at Bond University on the Gold Coast. I then went onto my postgraduate MBA with the first subject being a study tour of Europe. I quickly realized upon landing in Czech Republic that I would not be flying home that semester, and immediately set out to find work in Prague. I stayed for the three years working for a tourism development company with projects across the region.

PM: How have your early days working in tourism helped your career in locations? 

LF: I was fortunate to work and travel through more than 50 countries during my career in tourism, often spending weeks or even months in a new country. I was primarily responsible for training tourism operators, which also gave me the chance of getting to know these cities through the eyes of a local. These experiences helped me to ultimately gain a better understanding of people—which I think is key to being a successful location manager.

Working for Oxalis in Vietnam was a mind-blowing chapter in my travel career. I learned to work in a fairly difficult environment and manage large groups of very particular customers on what is a dangerous activity—whilst always delivering exceptional service and quality. This service-orientated mindset has helped a lot when dealing with film crews.

Aerial shot of Son Doong Cave, Vietnam

Luke Ford with Oxalis team inside Son Doong Cave, Vietnam

PM: How long have you been working in locations and what do you primarily work on?

LF: I’ve been working in locations now for the past three years with experience in feature films, reality television and long-form drama. I just finished a series assisting Lauren Cooper for Netflix/Hoodlum Productions called Tidelands, and am now doing a little scouting for another Netflix feature, which is preparing to shoot in Australia next year. 

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? 

LF: I started thinking about this as a potential career the moment I met Ilt. I saw working in locations as another level to working in tourism, where there were similar challenges but ever-changing and on a much grander scale. I then had the chance to work with Leann Emmert for a number of months on Pacific Rim: Uprising and her energy for her work and life in general was completely contagious.

Hanoi, Vietnam

PM: Would you go back to Vietnam to work in locations given the chance?

LF: Absolutely. Vietnam has enormous potential as a filming location. It has such a diverse range of natural landscapes; with its maze of rivers and swamps, otherworldly sand dunes, lush jungles and gigantic caves, rocky mountain ranges and of course, the world-famous Ha Long Bay.

I think anyone who has been to Vietnam would also attest to the local people being amongst the most hospitable in the world, and it makes working there a pleasure.

Luke Ford with Lauren Cooper in Brisbane

PM: What have you found to be the most enjoyable part of your job? 

LF: I enjoy meeting random people when scouting who end up leaving a bigger impression on you then you would have ever expected. For example, on a previous job, I had the opportunity to spend some time scouting on North Stradbroke Island with the indigenous Quandamooka people. Spending long days with them scouting and being on set, hearing their stories, gave me a fresh perspective on life and a new appreciation for my home and its ancient beginnings.

South Bank Parklands, Brisbane

PM: What have you found to be the most challenging? 

LF: I think the most challenging for me at the beginning was learning the requirements of each department, along with the accompanying lingo, and what questions to ask. It all comes with more experience though.

PM: What’s the best location advice you’ve received? 

LF: I have an ongoing checklist but the first is pretty simple—don’t be late—which I learned on one of my first days. I make an effort to be ready, well before even the earliest call times now!

PM: What are your tools of the trade? What car or tech gadget or tool can’t you live without?

LF: I am currently loving my new Sony 12-24mm G lens, and of course, zip ties, lots of zip ties!

PM: What made you decide to join the LMGI?

LF: Leann Emmert and Colin McDougall, LMGI had both mentioned it on several occasions, and I liked the chance to be among industry experts to soak up whatever I could.

Seoul, South Korea while working on the film, “Pacific Rim”