Location Managers Guild International

Summer 2019

The Location Managers Guild International (LMGI) is the largest organization of Location Managers and Location Scouts in the motion picture, television, commercial and print production industries. Their membership plays a vital role in the creativ

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48 • LMGI COMPASS | Summer 2019 by Shaun O'Banion The S.W.A.T. Location Department Making the Impossible Possible W hen S.W.A.T. originally premiered as a series in 1975, the show, starring Steve Forrest and Robert Urich, executive produced by TV legend Aaron Spelling, was only a modest success. Itself a spinoff of the ABC series The Rookies, it ran for 37 episodes over the course of just two seasons. Decades later, in 2003, the concept was resurrected as a feature film, starring Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, and a relatively unknown actor by the name of Jeremy Renner. Produced by Neal H. Moritz who had begun the Fast & Furious franchise just two years earlier, the film went on to gross more than $200 million worldwide. Shawn Ryan (The Shield) had been a fan of the original series and approached Moritz about developing a new series with Sony Pic- tures Television for the now action-oriented CBS network. They brought in Justin Lin (director of four films in the Fast & Furious franchise) to direct the pilot and produce with them and, very quickly, along with producer Paul F. Bernard and his partner, be- gan figuring out new and exciting ways to blow up the City of Angels. The new series, led by actor Shemar Moore, premiered in No- vember of 2017 and ended its first season as one of the top five most-watched shows. According to Nielsen ratings, it averaged about 6.2 million viewers per week and held CBS firmly in the top five for Thursday-night viewership overall. It was also one of the network's top streamers on its digital platforms CBS.com and CBS All Access. It was quickly picked up for a second season. Aviv Surkin, LMGI had grown up around the business. His father had been a special effects artist at Universal for more than 20 years before starting his own special effects company. But de- spite being exposed to filmmaking from childhood, the bug to work in the industry didn't really strike until Surkin was in col- lege. "I realized that this was something I really wanted to do, but I didn't know what I wanted to do," says Surkin. He did know that following his father into the effects trade wasn't for him. None- theless, he moved out of his parents' house and "into a shitty apartment in Hollywood where I basically lived on Top Ramen for two years," he says. Soon, he began to find work as a PA for Hallmark movies and moved up quickly from day-player positions to key set PA. It was Hallmark (known for their aggressively nonunion productions) that would change the course of his career—twice. While working on a TV movie in Sacramento, California, the pro- ducer gathered all the PAs together in a room. They were about two weeks from shooting and, with the group assembled, he an- nounced that the location manager had quit the show. "He looked around the room and said, 'who wants to be the new location manager?'" remembered Surkin. Nobody in the room raised a hand. Then, after a moment, Surkin raised his hand and asked, "If I do it, will I get paid more?" The answer was yes. "We were making, like, 50 bucks a day, so more money sounded good," says Surkin. The producer handed him a Bankers Box full of paperwork and said, "Here you go, we shoot in two weeks." Surkin was now the location manager, his life changed by Hall- mark for the first time. "I had no clue what I was doing," laughs Surkin. "It was definitely 'fake it till you make it.' I remember the office was putting to- gether the call sheet for the first day and they asked for the map. I was like, 'map?' They said, 'Yeah, you have to give us a map for base camp, crew parking, all this stuff…' So I spent the next three or four hours hand-drawing a map of downtown Sacramento. It looked like a 2 year old did it." He may not have known about creating the map, but fortunately, a previous experience had illuminated a key part of the job: "I was on this little movie. The company didn't have a permit and they couldn't shoot the entire day, so I realized the number one thing was to have a permit," says Surkin. Despite his limited understanding of the Location Department when he began, Surkin learned fast and Hallmark kept him on. He even helped the company set up their facility in Simi Valley. One day, after several years with the company, Surkin went into the office to start prepping a new show and found someone sitting at his desk. "I asked who he was," Surkin says, "and the guy goes, 'you should probably go talk to the producer.'" In the producer's office he was told, rather matter-of-factly, "Oh, we forgot to tell

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