Location, location, location. It’s a mantra that’s not only heard in the real estate business, but also in the film industry. Location scout Tim Gorman is always on the lookout for suitable movie sites. Recently, he was hugely bummed to find out that German restaurant Jacob Wirth was closed. He was hunting for a period beer hall from the 1800s, and the downtown Boston restaurant fit the bill. But it was shut down after a fire, and after realizing it wouldn’t be immediately available, Gorman went to Plan B: the Castle at Park Plaza, a former armory.
Gorman, who recently finished scouting local properties for Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” which is starting production soon, said that finding era-specific locales is especially time-consuming. Gorman has also been reconnoitering around Concord, Lexington, and the North Shore, on the prowl for other movie sites. If they require street closures, are off-limits, or need special permitting, Gorman is accustomed to wrangling over legalities and film-making logistics.
Gorman, 55, who lives in Needham, estimates that he’s easily scouted 10,000 locations in the past 15 years and secured at least a thousand or two.
“Everything from a crack house to a mansion, and anything in between,” he says.
His scouting credits include “Ted,” “Shutter Island,” “Knight and Day,” and “Stronger, “as well as numerous TV movies, commercials, and documentaries.
Most location scouts work their way up the pre-production ladder, but Gorman initially got into the film business as a dialogue coach in Prague. He was riding the capitalist wave after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and knew enough German and Czech to help foreign actors learn their lines in English. He ended up being the bilingual go-to movie guy, whether it was art director, casting, or assistant director. He jokes that he is now “typecast as a location manager” in the Boston area, where he says is now almost as busy as in Hollywood, thanks to attractive state tax incentives for production companies.
Gorman, who works both union and non-union sets as a freelancer, says that he typically earns $400 to $600 a day, depending on the project. There’s nothing he loves more than getting in his car and doing some detective work. “It’s just me and my camera and computer, on a wild goose chase,” he says.
The Globe spoke to Gorman about his career in production.
“I’m both detective and mind-reader, trying to find the right location. Where does the main character live? What kind of car would they drive? What bar do they go to after work? I need to find all the physical spaces for the film. It’s a lot of research and investigation, as well as shoe-leather — pounding the pavement and trying to get behind closed doors. In many ways, I’m a salesman, pitching the idea of having a film shot in someone’s property or building. I need to be a honest broker – a lot of big boys with equipment will arrive like an army before dawn, stay late and cause chaos. But we pay for the spaces, and pay very well — depending on the location, maybe $2,000 to $3,000 a day for a house, and easily go up to $5,000 or $10,000 for a restaurant or bar.
“Once I find the location, it’s all about managing. That’s when the scout becomes the manager, which is actually ideal. I found the spot, and met the players at the beginning, which makes it easier to move forward and film.
“The worst nightmare in our world is if the cameras can’t roll and the movie can’t be made as scheduled. That’s a huge loss of time or money, which is why in the days and hours moving up to a film shoot, it’s a battle-ready situation and I thrash to get logistics in line.
“As location scouts and managers, we are sharks that keep moving forward and forgetting about the past, always looking for our next meal. Often it’s not finding the location but securing them that takes time. Museums, prisons, hospitals, and universities can be tricky and sometimes you have to compromise creativity and build on a stage or backlot of a studio. It’s all about capturing the image. An older home might have a low ceiling or be so small that you can’t even get the gear and a bunch of actors in the room, let alone figure out catering, police details, parking, storage, and other stuff that comes into play.
“Everyone thinks they want to be in the movie business, but 15 hours into the day, when it’s cold and rainy and you’re on your feet all day, it’s less than sexy. I’ll be at this horse farm for the rest of the week, then at a hospital in Methuen, and a high school on the North Shore. Right now I can’t complain, surrounded by acres of beautiful farmland. And then it’s onto the next location. Such are the dark arts of location scouting.”