We want it to look like the Mediterranean... Could be the South of France but no palm trees, the client doesn’t like Palm trees. Southern Italy works, but not Sicily. Why? I ask, as a Sicilian. The people are 'too dark'. Physically or emotionally? The question is ignored, the briefing goes on… Basically it’s Rome, but by the sea, without old buildings. No old buildings? No, we like old buildings, just not that old.
You’ve all seen the TVC featuring the location scout, it’s pretty close to the truth. Except these days, location scouts are history. If you’re making X-MEN and your budget is the size of Romania’s GBP, location managers aren’t a problem, but back in the credit crunched real world location managers have been replaced by the guy in the office currently checking his social media status. PA’s are the location scouts of the future, hell the 5S even has panorama, how hard could it be?
Let me tell you something about finding locations, finding locations has nothing to do with locations. A location is only as good as the person who gets you permission to film. And the permission is only as good as the bargaining power of your location manager. This is the person who will keep your show on the road when the old lady in the upstairs apartment is suddenly not happy you’re filming under her beloved balcony. No spotty guy with an iphone is going to get you out of that corner.
Late in 2013, as the warm glow of summer headed South, my “Mediterranean feeling” job was confirmed, but the location was not. Positivity on, I dial local contacts - it's the Mediterranean, but no historical buildings, no foliage, especially palm trees and we need sun. I know just the place, says my guy in Rome - Sicily!
Rome is out, Croatia’s in, and then Croatia’s out and Lisbon is in. Pretty soon, as Ken Kesey’s infamous bus sign read we were going “nowhere” fast. In a way locations weren’t wholly to blame. Yet again this was a typically modern production with a “challenging” budget - apart from quasi-Mediterranean requirements we also needed to create a high speed chase through a busy market with stunt doubles on Vespa’s and fruit flying everywhere – think Knight and Day crossed with an Italian comedy from the late Sixties. Bit of an ask.
Then, in true modern European style, the outside man, or should I say woman came to the rescue - Greece.
Now I have nothing against Greece, in fact, as a Sicilian, Greece is the Sicily of my dreams. Believe me I’ve watched Medeiteraneo many times. You tell me we’re shooting in Greece and I’m doing a deal just to get there, but Greece to look like Italy, really? Isn’t it the place to go if you want white on white with a bit of azure?
Then again, as an old producer of mine once said, choose the wrong lens and everywhere looks like Peckham.
Turns out I was totally wrong. Seems that back in the day the Greeks were in love with Italian architecture and build their first City Italianate style. Nafplio is not only the perfect Mediterean backdrop it’s charming and has a couple of streets that would bring a tear to even the toughest Venetian. Of course they have been somewhat ravaged by modern tourism and the place lacks some of the necessary “charm”, but all of that can be fixed with a good location art director and some time.
Enter Avion films, with the enviable task of transforming Nafplio into a non specific Medetearn location through which a couple of crazed Romanian stunt doubles can narrowly avoid local extras without disturbing the perfectly placed fruit stalls integral to the plot. And you know what, these guy not only have location managers but they have location managers who can manage.
Within days thanks to the team and Simos Korex, a very old friend of mine, (director in his own right), we were in business. The street was dressed, the sun was shining and there wasn’t a plam tree to be seen. But just as the crane was about to swoop in across the shot the shutters on an upstairs balcony opened and an old woman appeared. She pointed at me with her walking stick and yelled in Greek what I only presumed was – hey sonny, what you doing on my street you little punk!
I can’t even begin to tell you what our location manger had to do to calm her down...