There are a lot of individuals behind the scenes who are essential to making great movies, and Jillian Fisher is one of them. While working as the Coordinator of Public Relations in Kingston, New York in the early 2010s, she researched and secured a number of sites for movies which were to be shot there, which piqued her interest in location scouting. We asked Jillian about her background in the industry, the nature of her current position, and her experience on the set of the Brendan Fraser and Darren Aronofsky picture, The Whale.
What initially led you to a profession in entertainment?
I began my career in entertainment with a college internship at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. I went on to work with two more film festivals afterward. Many years later I had an eponymous boutique public relations company with the City of Kingston, New York being one of my clients. I was contacted by a location manager who was considering either filming Upstate or closer to Manhattan. As she told me about their movie, I filmed it in my mind. She and the director then came to scout the locations I chose for them. I nailed the locations, negotiated their hotel rate and was a resource for anything they needed. They even wound up calling the fictitious city in the movie Kingston ("The Sisterhood of Night"). The following year I did the same thing for another movie ("Cold in July"). It was at that time that I decided I enjoyed the creativity of location scouting more and thus began my location scouting path. I have been recommended for every project on which I have worked and continue to work word-of-mouth only.
Being a location manager is such an important part of a film's appearance and feel. How would you describe the job of working in the location department of a film to someone who is unfamiliar with it?
Although I negotiate fees and contracts, and continue to be a resource in whatever capacity necessary to the project, I prefer the creative aspect of scouting. I am generally around the third person brought onto a film because until it is decided upon where a movie will be filming, quite often, outside of main positions, a movie will not crew-up, especially if they’re trying to hire locally. Most of the time I am sent the script to read. I pay attention to the intricacies to determine not only styles and time periods but landscapes and the overall vibe of the film. Then I usually speak with the director to determine that I understand their vision and that my assessments are correct. Sometimes, if time is of the essence and a quick turnaround is needed, they will either only tell me verbally about the project or I’ll receive a look-book which showcases the general aesthetic they’re trying to achieve. Most of the time whether I’m reading a script, viewing images or hearing about an upcoming project, I know at that time where it will be filmed.
What is the ideal location for filming a film? Is it in a metropolis, a coffee shop, or somewhere private and discreet, such as a studio?
There is no ideal location for filming. Every project on which I work - movies, television, commercials - comes to me with a different vision. Helping to bring their vision that began with a concept, then to the page and finally into a reality, is incredibly satisfying. Understanding the intricacies of their projects so I know where to begin is key. Also knowing where independent sound stages are located if the production is seeking a New York State Film Tax Credit is pivotal as well.
Are there any specific scenes or locations from The Whale that you remember working on the most? What did you find to be the most important part of your role as location manager on this film?
There was one main location for Brendan Fraser’s character in “The Whale”. Previously production had looked at some locations that did not work; then they contacted me. They sent me some quick reference pictures and I knew the location immediately. I scouted the interior apartment as well as the exterior of the building, paying attention to the points that were mentioned to me as critical angles. It’s rewarding to know that the only location I sent them was spot-on.
What movies or TV shows in particular have had an impact on you and why have they been so influential to your career?
Dating myself here, but growing up in the 70’s & 80’s had a total impact on my creative vision. Some of the reruns that were shown on television at that time were already incredibly old. Channel eleven out of NYC aired Abbott & Costello movies on Sunday morning. To this day, “The Time of Their Lives”, is one of my all-time favorite movies. Although made in 1946, the special effects used were chilling to a child. But that movie gave way to my love for the classic film noir genre. Understanding the importance of intentional angles to build suspense during story telling has served me well. The vast landscapes in “Thelma & Louise”, were definitely on my mind when I scouted cross-country roadtrip movies (although I created mine within a twenty mile radius for ease of filming). “The Truman Show” also showcases beautifully the art of supreme storytelling where a serene landscape is so pleasing to the eye while creating the ultimate deception at the end. Being a teen of the MTV generation allowed for mass viewing of a medium trying to perfect extremely short-form storytelling. There are so many more movies and television shows with dialogue so concise that it has allowed me to be visually connected as I’m hearing or reading any script or story that I am lucky enough to assist in making into a reality.
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