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.
All photos courtesy Matthew Fleischman/LMGI
PROFILE ON: Matthew Fleischman
HOME BASE: Weehawken, New Jersey
POSITION: Key Assistant Location Manager
PAUL MESSANA: Let’s start from the beginning. Tell me about where you are from and what got you interested in the industry.
MATTHEW FLEISCHMAN: I was born and bred in Nyack, New York, a small town about 20 miles north of New York City. After graduating from Gettysburg College, I moved to NYC and eventually made my way to Brooklyn. When my wife and I found out we were having a child, we packed up and moved to Weehawken, NJ, where we live today with our two children, Madeline & Oscar. Out of college, I started out in audio post and found it wasn’t for me. I then moved over to production and started working every nonunion gig I could find: movies, TV, commercials, fashion shows, and even tried my hand at some small grip and electric gigs. I even worked nights and weekends for a window installation company—we did a lot of the beautiful window displays on 5th Avenue. I come from a long line of film professionals, so you could say I grew up in the business. My grandmother (Dede Allen) was a film editor and my grandfather (Stephen Fleischman) was a writer/producer/director for ABC/CBS in their heyday. My father (Tom Fleischman) is a re-recording sound mixer in New York City. Clearly, I took a different path than the rest of the family but film was always a conversation at the holiday get-togethers.
PM: How does location management fit within your family of film professionals? Do you ever cross paths professionally with any of them? Are they local?
MF: The rest of the family worked/works in post-production, so our paths never crossed. My grandmother was slowly retiring when I was coming up as a PA; my grandfather was retired by the time I was a teen and my father works in a sound studio so he is never out on location or in the production office. I did work with a few sound guys who recognized my name and knew my father but that was about it. My grandparents were NYC based for most of their lives. When my grandmother became an executive at Warner Bros., she and my grandfather moved out to LA. That was sometime in the late ’90s. My father still works in NYC out of SoundTracks F/T.
PM: How long have you been working in locations and what do you primarily work on?
MF: I met Carol Cuddy in 2009 and she gave me my first opportunity on a big show as a set PA on the film Remember Me. After PA’ing for a while, I had the opportunity to jump over to locations while working on the TV show Gossip Girl (the original). Two amazing location managers, Sascha Springer (Sisterhood of Night) and Michele Baker (God’s Pocket), both gave me separate opportunities and took a risk with a young guy and allowed me to shine as an ALM and scout and I never really looked back after that.
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?
MF: When I moved up from location PA and actually got to get into the nitty gritty of scouting, contracts, negotiations, all the “fun” so to speak, I found that I have a knack for working with people. You are oftentimes the first person the community sees or hears from and that first impression is so important. You can truly pave the way or burn a bridge before anything even begins. Working in locations also allowed me to use my talents for hunting out new places and organizing logistics. On my first ALM job, Sisterhood of Night, we
filmed in Kingston, NY, a city about an hour and a half north of NYC. This was before the big film boom in Upstate New York, so even though we were a tiny production, we were some of the first film productions a lot of the city had seen in a while. This was before locations on the East Coast were unionized either, so we all wore a few hats. Being such a small production, you really got to be involved in every aspect, from meetings with the mayor and town officials to scrambling for a second meal at 11 pm out in the woods. I learned a lot on that job and it really helped me sharpen my teeth for future projects.
One of my passions has always been to travel. Pre-covid, I was on the move to a new country every chance I got. I literally returned a rental car at the airport after wrapping a job once and jumped on a plane. I’ve been blessed and can say I have made it to all seven continents. The film business, while all encompassing, does allow you the freedom to enjoy life a little bit more than a 9-5 would. The work life balance is a constant and real struggle.
PM: So what’s next? Is there anything you are aspiring to do in locations?
MF: I always dreamed about doing one of those around-the-world jobs, like Gemini Man, 007, Mission: Impossible, etc. To be able to scout for locations around the world and help facilitate that filming would be a check off the bucket list. But besides that, I’m really just trying to take it one opportunity at a time. My wife and I have started to have the conversation of possibly moving out to California to be closer to family.
PM: What have you found to be the most enjoyable part of your job?
MF: I love working at different locations and not being stuck behind a desk all day long, even though those days happen. Working with different people is also a true joy. You meet some of the best people—and worst—people working in locations and it’s always an adventure. The hunt for the perfect location is another great point of enjoyment for me. Going over a script and working to help bring that vision to life can be a rewarding process.
PM: What have you found to be the most challenging?
MF: The hours and the constant level of stress, honestly. When I was younger, the hours were fun, and it was great to feel like you were giving your all to make the dream happen. But as I get older and now with a family and with COVID, I’ve learned that I truly value my time with my family and friends. The long hours we work can be abusive and the lack of work/life separation needs to change.
PM: Do you have any advice for any young assistants just starting out?
MF: We are the first ones in and the last ones out every day, we find and manage not only the expectations of the creatives and crew but also the location itself, the municipality you happen to be working in and the community you’re impacting. We are always juggling community boards and neighbors here on the East Coast. The job has so many beautiful perks and opportunities but it can also swallow you whole if you’re not careful.
While on set: Be early! Being the first one to catch a problem and or smooth out a wrinkle before it becomes an issue is such an integral part of our job and is often overlooked. If we are doing our jobs well and get the proper time to prep, you don’t usually notice our hard work because everything is seamless. Always answer your walkie too but, that may be a personal hang-up from my PA days.
PM: What’s the best locations’ advice you’ve received?
MF: You can’t beat a strong prep. As much as I love to live by this, here on the East Coast we do mostly TV work and the prep time is more comparable to scrambling then anything. As cliched as it sounds, “You catch more bees with honey.” When I was first starting out, I found that a lot of people were turned off by overly aggressive film crew members and rightly so. Being calm, listening and doing your best to communicate and understand people’s needs is always a winning path.
When scouting: Always shoot the reverse. Everyone wants to see the opposite direction of the hero set/angle. They need to know what can be achieved in any given space both aesthetically and logistically. It’s important to give the creatives all the angles we can when scouting. Plans change so frequently, you always need to know what you can do in each location.
PM: What are your tools of the trade? What car or tech gadget or tool can’t you live without?
MF: My car always ends up being my office away from home so I like to try and get a roomie rental. Without it, I’m on the hunt for a cafe where I’m smushed between people drinking overpriced lattes. My phone-charging brick, too. While on set, we are so glued to our phones. I commonly go through a fully charged phone with a charged battery case and will end up needing a charge of both throughout the day. My MacBook, Nikon DSLR and pocket notepad are never far from my grasp either.
PM: What made you decide to join the LMGI?
MF: My friend, LMGI Board member Eric Klein, really helped me, as well as a number of others out on the East Coast, get involved with the LMGI.