EVER wondered what it would be like to work on the set of indie films or big-budget blockbusters? The National spoke to Erin Joan Michael, a 23-year-old location assistant based in Glasgow who has worked on upcoming productions such as ITV and Britbox's Crime and Apple TV’s Tetris.

What’s an average day like as a location assistant?

“Long. Basically, if I’m on set and the call time is 8am, I'll be there at 6am. I’ll get everything prepared. Turn generators on, turn heaters on, make sure everything is set up and ready for the crew to walk in and go.  

“I make sure things are well signposted, that there are bins laid out. Ideally, you don’t want to be called on the radio for people asking x, y, z.  

“If an old, locked door needs to be opened, if a wire needs to run through a wall and the wall needs to be drilled into – I’m the one who’s checking if that’s possible. 

“There’s also things like finding out if a bridge is strong enough to hold a truck. Some of the things I’m asked are ridiculous: ‘Can you stop that flag over there waving?’” 

“There is a lot of sitting about and waiting. Finding the right person to talk to is a big part of my job, phoning people just to find out who to ask really weirdly specific question to.  

“On a slightly smaller production, like Crime, I’m doing the rounds after that set has been used – making sure it looks back to normal and handing back keys to buildings to people.” 

The National: Irvine Welsh on the set of his police drama creation CrimeIrvine Welsh on the set of his police drama creation Crime (Image: free)

What are the logistics like for a production company ‘booking’ a location? 

"At the beginning of the process, productions will look at different places. They look at a variety of cities and studios and talk to local location managers in the area to see what’s possible and what they can offer. 

“A production will have a vision – the job of the location manager is to see what they can do to make that vision possible.  

“As soon as they say, ‘Okay, we’re coming to Scotland’, the locations manager starts building their team. As soon as you get scripts in, you do a minimum of two months of preparation.  

“Going out, knocking on people’s doors, taking photos – scouting, essentially.  

“You’re negotiating with house owners, restaurants, offices – half of them fall through, you’re disappointing a lot of people.  

“If you need to close a road, you have to know who you’re going to. If you tell me, ‘I need to close x road,’ I’ll know exactly who I need to go to. And those decisions start getting bigger and bigger the further along the shoot is.” 

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How long does it generally take to set the process in motion from the idea to the actual shooting day? 

“For a recent production I worked on, I was on for three months of preparation before the first shooting date, but people I work with had been prepping for two months before that. So, five months – from one person being approached to start scouting for locations to the first shoot day. 

“For us, a month is almost no time at all. We work a lot in hours and days, rather than weeks and months. There’s a lot of quick decisions being made.” 

The National: Film crew on the set of Tetris | Photograph: Colin MearnsFilm crew on the set of Tetris | Photograph: Colin Mearns

What are you looking for when you’re scouting for a location? 

“Someone will come to me with a brief of what they want, or I’ll read the script and try and figure out what the best location for a scene will be. 

“For example, for a scene featured on Crime of a lonely elderly man, I was thinking, ‘What would my grandads house look like?’ – a bungalow, so I’m looking for a run-down bungalow.  

“I was once told, ‘I need you to find a perfect circle in a break of trees.’ So, I spent three hours wandering around Mugdock Park just looking up. That’s obviously a very specific brief.” 

What are some of your favourite Scottish locations you’ve used? 

“This old tunnel in Greenock. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. It’s this massive old archway within this amazing greenery. It’s Disney-esque. We kept saying, ‘That’s the BAFTA shot’."

The National: A disused railway tunnel in Greenock. Photograph: Erin Joan MichaelA disused railway tunnel in Greenock. Photograph: Erin Joan Michael

What is essential to have with you when working on locations? 

“A lot of layers. Always thermal leggings. When it’s windy, all you feel is your legs being hit. Good shoes and socks, if your feet are cold – you’re done. We always say, ‘If you don’t have a black North Face, are you really on a film set?’” 

“Hats, dry shampoo. As much as you’ll shower, you don’t have time to wash your hair and dry it. And moisturiser, as your face gets battered by the weather.  

“And coffee. Trying to remember to eat is a good one. Not me, but everyone smokes. I feel like this is how people get jobs, going out for a smoke and having a chat. A good water bottle is essential, a 14-hour shift without water is not ideal. 

“Everyone gets ear infections all the time from wearing walkie-talkie earpieces all the time. My biggest one is a radio piece – called 'ear gear’, which is an embroidered piece that goes round your ear and sits really comfortably on your ear rather than in your ear.” 

To find out more about the film production industry in Scotland, visit the Screen Scotland website.