A Day in The Life of A Hollywood Location Scout
Siobhan Reid caught up with the high-flying location scout Caleb Duffy to talk movies, travel and what he misses the most about LA when he’s on the road.
Caleb Duffy’s resume reads like our “Recently Watched” list on Netflix: True Detective, Ocean’s Eleven, Erin Brokovich, Traffic. One of the most sought-after location manager’s in Hollywood, he travels around the world in search of set locations for film and TV. Duffy has scuba-dived for shipwrecks in the Bahamas and scoped out million-dollar mansions in Palm Springs, and as a native Angeleno, he’s one of the first to be called when directors like Woody Allen and Steven Soderbergh come to town. Here he spills on his high-flying job.
So tell us, what’s it like being a location scout?
“I put 35-40,000 miles on my car every year just exploring and jotting down locations in my notepad. But a lot of what I do involves city bureaucracy—applying for permits, negotiating contracts and determining which locations will be able to support the cast, crew and equipment. A location can work great conceptually and be exactly what the director has in mind, but we can’t always get the approvals we need to shoot.”
And how much lead-up time do you get before the cameras start rolling?
“Anywhere from a couple weeks to several months. Right now, I’m preparing for a late September shoot of Season 6 of the HBO show VEEP, which has an office and two house locations. But on True Detective Season 2, it took three months to prepare for a massive shootout and bus collision sequence that required shutting down six blocks east of downtown LA.”
You grew up in LA, what do you love most about the city?
"You can stand in downtown LA and in 45 minutes be in the mountains, in the desert, at the beach and in wine country. That’s what makes the city so perfect for the movies. You can create so many different worlds within one place."
How has being a local helped your career?
“Well, knowing all the under-the-radar spots has definitely given me a leg up. My dad is an architect, so I was lucky enough to learn about the city’s landmarks early on. But I’ve also been the other guy, and know the challenges of having to scout in a city you don’t know well. In those cases, you lean heavily on local contacts and Google Earth, which is, in my opinion, the best invention ever [laughs].”
What have been some of your most favorite LA shoot locations?
“Shooting in Dodger Stadium for Superman Returns was definitely one of the highlights. I’m a huge Dodger’s fan and grew up dreaming of becoming a sports journalist, so being in the press box where Vin Scully sits and looking down on the cast and crew on the field was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Another of my favorite locations is Union Station terminal in LA. I love the architecture and the fact that thousands of people move throughout the building every day. The best time to go there is late at night when it’s super quiet and the crowds have emptied out.”
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And your least favorite shoot locations?
“Upper-class neighborhoods. There are exceptions, but for the most part, wealthy people don’t want the inconvenience of having film crews in their homes—it’s ironic, considering that so many of them have made their fortunes in the industry."
After a long day, where do you like to go and relax?
“I workout 5-6 times a week and live on the beach in Marina Del Rey, so I like to go home to recharge. On the weekends, I go down to the beach in Del Mar and the race track. And I’m a huge skier, so in the winter I go north to ski Mammoth Mountain.”
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You spend a lot of time in your car. Have you always loved being on-the-road?
“Yeah. My folks were explorers and of the hippie generation, so they really opened the world up to me and my brother. I had my first significant travel experience in my early twenties, when a close friend and I traveled to 14 European countries in four months. It was before all the technological advances, so we had to carry around maps and train schedules, old school-style.”
Sounds like quite the trip. Any other memorable travel experiences?
“Ten years ago, when I was on assignment in the Bahamas for Into The Blue, and went to go to Cuba after. It was totally mind-blowing. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that we’ve missed out so much on their culture and architecture.”
Where to next?
“I finish a big project in February 2017, so I’m planning on doing a six-week tour of New Zealand and Australia to celebrate. I met a lot of Kiwis working on the Disney movie McFarland and kind of fell in love with their culture and way of seeing the world. Plus, I love nature and beer—two things I hear they have plenty of [laughs].”
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