31 Dec 2015

Location Scout on a Roll in 2015

Location scout Murray MacDonald with director, Richard Bell, and producer, Mehernaz Lentin, at Peighton Beach.


Long before the cameras roll on any film production, the director has already imagined what every scene is supposed to look like on the screen. But, tracking down real-life locations to match the director’s imagination is a significant challenge. 


That’s where Murray MacDonald comes in. 


And, lately, MacDonald has been on a roll.


Four times since April of this year, location manager MacDonald has been hired by Creative Saskatchewan to show producers and directors around the province. Each time, MacDonald’s mission was to find the perfect places that bring the filmmakers’ vision to life. 


Three of those times, MacDonald succeeded, and cameras rolled. 


Officially, the industry calls these missions “location scouts.” But to MacDonald, his job is much more than simply finding places. “My first responsibility is to take the script I’ve been given, and interpret it creatively. In much the same way as a director will look for just the right actors to play a role, I will look for just the right places. I treat it a lot like casting. The difference is I’m casting places, not people.” 


Knowing all the nooks and crannies of Saskatchewan’s communities and countryside is something that comes naturally to MacDonald. “It’s a landscape I know well and love,” he says. 


But, aesthetics are just one factor MacDonald must consider before showing off the province he loves. Many places that would look fantastic on the screen will not work for a film production. “There is a big logistical element to what I do as well. The places I present to the producer and director have to be able to support crews of up to 50 people, and that can rule out a lot of locations I’d love to see on the screen.”


That balance MacDonald delivers, between aesthetics and logistics, is critical to film makers who are considering a shoot in Saskatchewan. “Murray's approach to scouting and his passion for the project elevates the whole experience. We not only see the best locations Saskatchewan has to offer but we get a sense of the passion of the craftspeople, as well,” said Anand Ramayya, co-producer of a made-in-Saskatchewan feature film that recently scouted the province. Richard Bell, director of the same project, agrees. “I was delighted with the location scout of the camps, lakes and studio. Much respect and gratitude to MacDonald for being our guide,” said Bell.


"I treat it like casting. But, I’m casting places, not people."


When asked how he explains his recent run of success, MacDonald modestly shares much of the credit. “Three productions out of four scouts is probably a bit higher than your typical success rate, but much of the credit has to go to Creative Saskatchewan. Their location scout investments allow me to do advance work to properly prepare, and to ensure that the scouting trip is as impressive as possible.”


“Location scouts are an absolutely essential part of the process when encouraging a filmmaker that Saskatchewan is the place to get their cameras rolling,” says Tobi Lampard, Program Coordinator for Creative Saskatchewan. “We’ve been thrilled with the work that MacDonald’s been doing for us, as have, obviously, many producers and directors,” she added.


Now into his third decade of showing off Saskatchewan to filmmakers, there’s still something MacDonald wishes he’d be able to do much more frequently. “I wish I could overcome the logistical challenges of filming in the northernmost parts of this province. There is so much unseen beauty there, and so many untold stories in that landscape. For now it remains, for the most part, a missed opportunity, but perhaps I’ll be able to figure something out in the future.”




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