Lauren Taylor knows that the success of a movie or TV shoot can hinge on the tiniest details. The angle of a streetlamp, the contact information of an animal handler, a prop cigarette — they’re all part of an impossibly complex, constantly shifting equation that must be solved before production can even begin.
Taylor is a location coordinator, most recently on the Hulu series, Wu-Tang: An American Saga. Her job is to make order out of the chaos that is television pre-production. She handles the contracts for locations. She navigates Byzantine hurdles set up by mayors’ offices. She procures permits.
Taylor began working in the New York City film industry after graduating with a film and electronic arts degree from Bard College in 2010. Knowing she loved movies, but unsure exactly how to translate that into a career, she began working as a PA in different departments. She dabbled in wardrobe, casting, and construction before settling on locations.
Now, nearly a decade into her film career, Taylor is a member of the Teamsters Union and has worked on a mix of critically acclaimed independent films, Hollywood movies, and high-profile TV shows. Before entering the Wu-Tang, Taylor was location coordinator on If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) and location manager on Swallow (2019) and Before You Know It (2019), which premiered at Sundance.
Taylor’s work, in some ways, hides in plain sight. You can see the fruits of her labor — successfully acquired locations — in the background of every shot, but there’s a world of effort that goes into finding and locking those places down. In this interview, Taylor breaks down exactly what the locations department does — and what it takes to become a coordinator. But first, we start with semantics.
Anna Green: What’s the difference between a location coordinator and location manager?
Lauren Taylor: The location manager is the head of the locations department. They basically run the whole department: They pick who’s going to work for them, in what position. They play a huge part in helping the production and producers. They might tell producers things like, “Okay, if you want this location, that’s going to cost $50,000. But if we can shoot this at a different place — let’s say this park — that’s going to save you $40,000.” So, location managers are the department heads and help steer the ship in terms of production.
Location coordinators are kind of the nucleus of the whole department. They hold it together. They work with everyone from the location PAs down at the bottom of the totem pole to the location manager, and they’re basically support for the entire department. They do permits, they work with the city agencies, they make sure that the police show up on set on time if you need to stop traffic, they process all of the paperwork for the entire department. So, any time you have a location contract or an inconvenience fee for running a generator in front of someone’s store, the location coordinator processes all of that paperwork and then keeps it on file digitally and physically in order to hand off to the studio at wrap.
Lauren with Hannah Pearl Utt, star of Before You Know It
Anna: Wait, what’s an inconvenience fee?
Lauren: If you shoot on a street, especially in New York City, where everything is so crowded and congested and close together, chances are a lot of businesses are going to be impacted. You might give them a payment as an inconvenience because maybe they won’t get as much business that day. There’s not going to be as many people walking by, so you might offer them $500 for the day.
Anna: What’s your favorite thing about working on Wu-Tang: An American Saga?
Lauren: It’s honestly the people in the office, but I know that’s a bad answer.
Anna: That’s a good answer!
Lauren: Okay then, the thing I enjoy the most about what I do now is the people. It took me a while to get comfortable in this position because doing permits and working with city agencies can be extremely tedious. If you forget one thing on the permit, it could mess up something really big. The mayor’s office has strict times they’re available and strict rules on what they’re able to change, so it can be very stressful. But having good people around you while you’re in the office is what makes the day go by fast — and we’ve become pretty close, since we’ve been spending twelve hours a day together in an office since January.
Anna: When you say you’re working with the mayor’s office on permits, what exactly does that entail?
Lauren: Once I submit a permit to the mayor’s office, I can’t ever get that permit back in order to edit it or make a change. So, for example, let’s say the production changes the call time. I had written on the permit that the shoot starts at 10 a.m., but production changes the call time to be 7 a.m. Now we have no permit for those three hours. It could be a big issue. Any trucks and campers that are parked there could get tickets; it could be a problem if we’re trying to shut down a street and we’ve organized NYPD officers and traffic agents to be there at 10 a.m., and now we need them at 7.
One thing that happens frequently is assistant directors change logistical details, and it’s up to me to figure out how to fix it. I have a coordinator I work with at the mayor’s office, so I might call or email her depending on how dire the situation is and see if she can help us change the permit. If she can’t change it, I have to personally resubmit the whole permit, make sure there’s no mistakes, and then let the mayor’s office know I resubmitted.
Anna: Is that ever frustrating?
Lauren: Yeah. It’s not a great part of your day when you realize you have to re-do a permit. Every little thing has to be on a permit: if you have minors, if you have a dog. They need to know who’s managing the dog and what their phone number is. They have to know that everything has been scouted and reviewed and approved by the sergeant and lieutenant that you’re working with at the NYPD. They have to know what special effects you’re using even if it’s just prop cigarettes. You have to put absolutely everything on the permit because otherwise if someone from the mayor’s office stops by the set — which they often do — you could get shut down.
“It’s not a great part of your day when you realize you have to re-do a permit. Every little thing has to be on a permit”
Anna: Have you ever gotten shut down?
Lauren: No. Thank the Lord.
Anna: Do you ever see a movie, and you’re, like, “Oh, my God, the location coordinator on that must have had so much work to do”?
Lauren: Yeah. Mostly on bigger budget things, especially period films. It’s just so much more time-consuming. With period films and TV shows, something people don’t think about is that everything looked different. The lamp heads on streetlights were different, the street signs were different, there were no bus stop signs that looked the way they do now. To make those adjustments, you have to work very closely with the Department of Transportation. That’s actually the hardest part of the job, doing DoT requests.
Lauren: The way in which you have to submit these DoT requests is so precise and so exact. If I told you exactly what we had to do, it would sound insane.
Anna: So, what — you have to tell them if you want to change a stop sign?
Lauren: Let’s say you have a block, and there’s three signs you want to cover. There’s two signs you want to remove and take the post down, and then you want to swap the streetlights from LED to the bulbs that they had back in the ’90s. That’s three different requests because it’s three different actions. For each request, you have to photograph the lamp or the sign from a certain degree angle. It has to show the whole sign. It can’t be cut off at all. They need to see the bottom of the base of the sign and the head of the streetlamp — everything. You have to write what address it’s in front of on the photograph, make a map, number it, then there’s four different forms. You have to get them notarized. There’s an indemnification form.
Anna: Wow. So, is DoT worse than just regular City of New York location permits?
Lauren: Definitely. No one enjoys doing DoT requests that I know of.
“Someone who is impatient, unfriendly, absentminded, and can’t sit still would probably be miserable doing what I do.”
Anna: What kind of personality do you think it takes to work in locations?
Lauren: You definitely need to be a people person. You have to talk to a wide range of different personalities not only in your department, but in every other department on the project, plus location owners, city agencies, even people on the street. Being a good listener is key to finding common ground with anyone you’re working with in order to get what the production needs and to make sure the client, whoever they may be, feels like they’re in good hands. Working in locations is always about accommodating both sides. You also have to love staying on top of lots of moving parts and details. This position is very detail-oriented, so someone who is observant, can catch mistakes and fix them accordingly, and delegate the resolutions efficiently is vital. Someone who is impatient, unfriendly, absentminded, and can’t sit still would probably be miserable doing what I do.
Also, I think being able to speak different languages really helps, especially in New York City, because you never know who you’ll need help from. Being able to speak Spanish has helped me a lot, actually.
Anna: Tell me a bit about working on If Beale Street Could Talk. Is that the first film you were location coordinator on?
Lauren: It was! That project was interesting because location coordinators are mostly in the office holding down the fort for the whole department, but on Beale Street, I was on set. There was no one in the office because it was low budget, so we all had to wear multiple hats.
Anna: Were you also securing locations on Beale Street?
Lauren: Yeah, I was. A lot of Beale Street took place in the West Village in the 1970s, but we found a lot of our locations in the Bronx. There’s an area in the Bronx — just a certain few blocks — that look untouched by time. There’s an adorable bakery on the corner that we used as one of our main sets. It was about finding places that hadn’t changed much and making sure our art department had permission to change awnings or repaint a building to make it look a little older.
Anna: How did you find that section of the Bronx?
Lauren: I think projects have been shot there before, so the location manager already had it in mind before I came on the project. Once I was on the project, it was just part of my job as the location coordinator to make sure everyone on those blocks was signed up and that we were able to film there and dress their storefronts to make it look like the 1970s. But it’s a little Italian neighborhood. It’s a lot of mom-and-pop shops, and the streets are smaller. Obviously, since the 1970s in the West Village, tons of new buildings have gone up, and the streets have gotten wider. The West Village now just doesn’t look like it did in the ’70s versus this small little Italian area in the Bronx.
Anna: It’s funny that the Bronx now looks more like the West Village than the West Village.
Lauren: Yeah. It’s true.
Anna: Tell me the best thing about being a location manager. What’s your favorite part of that job?
Lauren: Having location managed two films under my belt now, I think the coolest thing is being one of the head players at the table. I get to participate in the kinds of conversations I’ve always overheard — the higher-ups talking to the director, collaborating, sharing ideas, and being part of everyday problem-solving.
“I get to participate in the kinds of conversations I’ve always overheard — the higher-ups talking to the director, collaborating, sharing ideas, and being part of everyday problem-solving.”
And as a location manager, if you’re also scouting, you can present locations to the director and DP in a way that shows them how they could look in the film. You can present camera angles when you’re photographing a space that might inform how they shoot something.
Anna: And what’s the hardest part?
Lauren: With indies, it’s all down to the budget. Working with really tight monetary constraints, especially in a town like New York, is tough. For example, on Before You Know It, one of the hardest locations to find was a crematorium that would actually let us shoot inside, where they actually burn bodies into ash. A lot of places [in New York] actually outsource that.
When researching these things, you sometimes end up learning about way too much about something — like burning dead bodies in New York. But there’s only so many places that do that work, and then finding one that will let us shoot for three hours on our $3,000 budget — That was tough. We ended up filming at a crematorium that Boardwalk Empire previously filmed at. Obviously, Boardwalk Empire was able to pay them a lot more, so I had to schmooze with the owners and really get them to trust me and trust the project. I had to get them invested in the story that we were telling and how meaningful the scenes were.
Ultimately, I was able to win them over. We were able to shoot there, and it’s a beautiful shot. One of the ways I was able to get their permission was to cast the crematorium owner. In the movie, he’s actually the person pushing the body into the crematorium space.
Anna: What’s the next step in your career? Do you want to location manage more? Or are you happy bouncing between location manager and coordinator?
Lauren: Ultimately, if you’re working in locations, the end goal is to be a location manager. But as someone who has one foot in the union world and another in the non-union world, I can be a location coordinator, assistant location manager, or a locations assistant on big budget union jobs, and I can also location manage passion project indie films that are non-DGA. On union jobs, once you reach location manager, you have to become a member of the DGA. This gets a little tricky because the head of the department is a different union than the other positions within locations, the Teamster Union.
My end goal is to produce. A lot of location managers do move on to producing because the skill sets translate. Being able to problem solve quickly and creatively, offer solutions, to budget effectively, know how to accommodate and coordinate with a large range of departments are things both producers and location managers have to do all the time. Essentially, both roles are constantly trying to make everyone happy, which is no small feat.
Anna: Which aspects of your job are unique to filming in NYC, and which skills are transferable?
Lauren: The aspects of my job that are unique to filming in NYC are mostly dealing with permitting and anything to do with street interference. I’ve often heard if you can permit in New York City, you can permit anywhere. Because of the city’s traffic congestion and so many productions being shot here simultaneously at any given moment, the permitting process is time consuming and requires a unique preciseness that other cities don’t require.
Anna: What would you warn someone about who’s considering getting into this line of work?
Lauren: Upon hiring me, one of my previous location managers asked me, “So are you crazy like me, or are you a glutton for punishment?” Working in locations is demanding and often very stressful — you have to really love working hard for 12 hours or more a day. I would probably warn someone who is thinking about doing this that since the hours are so long, you probably won’t have much of a social life during the week but do plan your weekends wisely. Saturdays and Sundays are that much more precious.
Anna: Any final thoughts?
Lauren: I kind of feel like location coordinators are unsung heroes. We work behind the scenes, and you don’t see us on set. If there are problems, we have to figure out how to fix them. It’s a situation where, if the permit’s good, you can shoot. You can roll camera wherever you want, and no one thinks about it. But that’s a success for us every day. If you don’t think about me, that means I’m doing a good job.