May 15, 2017
JOHN GRANT is an award-winning location manager who knows the Greater Los Angeles Area like the back of his hand. From feature films to reality TV shows, John has a genuine love for finding real-world settings for producers and directors to use in creating make-believe worlds. (43:28)
I’ve lived in the Eagle Rock area of Los Angeles for 20 years and in that time I’ve seen a lot of film and television shoots on my street and around the neighborhood. Clint Eastwood lived in the house behind me in “Million Dollar Baby.” The Italian Bakery at the end of my street had a recurring role in “Sons of Anarchy.” “The Office” shot at Pete’s Blue Chip Burgers, and Zooey Deschanel rode down Colorado Boulevard in a pedicab for her show “New Girl.” Pharrell Williams used Eagle Rock High School, our bowling alley All Star Lanes, and the local CVS for his “Happy” music video. HBO’s “Togetherness” was not only filmed in Eagle Rock, but actually set in Eagle Rock -- it usually passes for other places. The tidy Craftsman house they used for the series is just a few blocks over. And get this: the male lead character’s name is Brett Pierson. Talk about close to home.
But no matter what part of the city you live in, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see some Lights, Camera, Action! at one point or another. Like it or not, LA functions as a gigantic backlot for film and TV producers. And as longtime location manager JOHN GRANT tells me, there are plenty of people who don’t like it: “Managing the location is a lot about public relations. And when you’ve got a resident or merchant screaming at you about your presence there, I’ve got to remember that I’ve got to go back and shoot in that neighborhood again sometime. So, I’ve got to maintain a level of decorum in the neighborhood so that everybody feels that this wasn’t a production that screwed them over.”
Of course, there are some people who aren’t satisfied unless they get something out of it for themselves. “Gratuities” is the line item in a production budget for dealing with persistent grumblers: “If there’s somebody who feels like they’re getting shafted, I’ll say ‘Let me pay you a thousand bucks and do catering on your lawn or in your backyard’ or ‘For 150 bucks a truck, can I park 3 trucks in your driveway?’” But John says pacifying a vocal local doesn’t always mean handing over a fistful of cash: “I remember on Fear Factor I could fix the problem just by giving people a hat. They’d say, ‘Hey, look. They gave me a hat!’”
With over 30 years of experience in the field, John is a seasoned professional who’s been around the block – actually lots of blocks – many times: “In Los Angeles you can get knee-high in the tall grass if you’re not careful. You bring a large footprint of trucks and trailers and you don’t prep it right, you’re going to have trouble in the neighborhood. And I pride myself in the way that I prep things. I’m very thorough and leave no stone unturned."
John’s serious attention to detail has not gone unnoticed. He’s been nominated for 8 California On Location Awards and won his first COLA in 2005 for his work on MTV’s reality show “The 70s House.” The win was a huge surprise for John because he was up against the location managers working on two major network episodics: CBS’s “NCIS” and NBC’s “ER.” John won a second COLA in 2013 for “Face Off” on the SyFy Channel.
In talking with John it’s clear that he truly loves Los Angeles. He grew up here; went to Hollywood High; and knows the city like the back of his hand. He’s got a long list of spots around town he loves to shoot in – and a very short list of spots he hates shooting in. In fact, it’s just one place. And you might be surprised to hear where it is. (No, it’s not Eagle Rock.)
Many thanks to the Blue Dot Sessions for the music featured in this episode royalty free through Creative Commons licensing:
1. "The Zeppelin"
3. "Faster, Faster, Brighter"
4. "Copper Halls"