California On Location Awards honor location managers for pluck
A few days before filmmakers for the hit Fox TV series “House” were set to shoot a prison scene at a former boys correctional facility, the show’s location manager, Nancy Haecker, got a phone call that made her stomach churn.
Deputy State Fire Marshal Al Adams informed her that he could not clear the way for the July shoot because the vacant Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility in Whittier was overgrown and posed too much of a fire hazard.
Determined not to disappoint her director, Haecker and her crew sprang into action. Over the next 12 hours, they brought in forklifts, trash bins and water trucks to clear the brush and other debris on the property. It was enough to convince the fire marshal that the property was safe for filming.Such behind-the-scenes dramas play out daily on film and TV sets across Los Angeles, creating numerous challenges for Haecker and fellow location managers, whose work was honored Sunday at the 17th annual California On Location Awards at downtown’s Millennium Biltmore Hotel.
“It’s a validation of the hard work that we all do,’’ said Haecker, a veteran location manager who won the award for location professional of the year for episodic television. “We have worked behind the scenes since motion pictures began and to get an award like this shines a spotlight on our contributions to both the aesthetic look and style of projects, but also the logistics of productions.”
Location managers are often described as the eyes and ears of directors, playing a pivotal role in finding and securing the key locations that bring production shoots to life. Yet, rarely is their work recognized. In an effort to remedy that, film commissioners in California each year bestow honors on nearly a dozen location managers and their teams. Categories highlight location managers’ work in feature films, commercials, episodic television — and also honor public employees such as state park workers and sheriff deputies who do their part to facilitate filming.
Launched in 1995 as a kind of Academy Awards for location professionals, the so-called COLA event is sponsored by Film Liaisons in California Statewide, a group representing 45 film commissions and offices.
“This is our way of acknowledging them and saying thank you for a job well done,’’ said Sheri Davis, director of the Inland Empire Film Commission and founder of the COLA event.
Finalists are nominated by their peers and chosen by a panel of judges composed of industry professionals. In choosing those honored, they take into account the difficulty of pulling off challenging shoots, such as setting off an explosion on a freeway or filming in a location that is at first off limits, such as the correctional facility used for “House.”
Other demanding shoots for Haecker included using a snow blower at a private hangar at Los Angeles International Airport to film a winter scene in the middle of summer, and making a beachfront home in Malibu look as though it was set in Fiji, where “House’s” acerbic doctor played by Hugh Laurie was vacationing.
S. Todd Christensen won an award in the feature category for his work on the current release “Moneyball,” in which Brad Pitt stars as Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane.
The movie shot at the Oakland Coliseum and various locations in L.A., including Dodger Stadium and Blair Field in Long Beach, which was made to look like a minor league field in Arizona. For a die-hard fan like Christensen, who grew up with Yankees farm team players boarding at his grandmother’s house in South Dakota, scouting baseball fields was thrilling.
“For six months I visited baseball fields and talked to experts,” he said. “It was pure joy.”
— Richard Verrier
Photo: Nancy Haecker, location manager for the hit TV series "House," who was among several location managers honored for their work at the California On Location Awards on Sunday. Credit: Tim French.