Perseverance, flexibility and not being afraid to try something new, it might take you where you want to be!
My name is Andrew Henstock and I’m a Unit Manager in the film and television industry and also the Owner and founder of Location A Ltd, providing locations services and logistical management for filmshoots.
What does that mean?
Basically a film crew on the road is called a Unit and a Unit Manager’s job is to oversee and facilitate the day to day running of the logistical side of the shoot.
As a Unit Manager it is essentially my job to make sure everyone else on the shooting crew is able do their job as safely, considerately and efficiently as possible. Once the Location Manager has negotiated the use of a location and established the terms and conditions, I will then visit that location and assess the practical implications of filming there based on the Location Manager’s information. I will look at elements such as physical access, facilities, welfare, parking, directions, traffic management and security. I will put measures in place to minimise our impact on local residents, businesses and the owner / representative of the location. I will also find, hire and manage the nearest suitable area to base our bigger vehicles, caterers and private cars. All of the above will then be my responsibility until the crew are completely clear of a location and the owner / representative is satisfied that their property has been properly reinstated.
Nearer the time of filming, I will discuss the specific requirements of each department and either provide what they want/need or negotiate a more attainable alternative with them. Once filming is underway, unless the location is complicated for any reason, I will generally leave the set in the hands of a Location Assistant while I continue setting up future locations and striking previous ones. If I have not met the demands of the crew, the Location Assistant will be the first to hear about it. With this in mind, it is essential that I get the job done not only to keep the show on the road but also to keep my colleagues from facing the consequences of my mistakes or failures…. No pressure!
What might a typical day involve?
There is no such thing as a typical day because no two days on location are ever the same. Being freelance means every 3-4 months I will be working with completely different crew in a completely different environment each with their own unique requirements and challenges. For example last year alone I went from a Grade II listed country manor house with a 500 acre estate in York, to turning a Living Museum in Birmingham into a 1920’s gangster headquarters, to then film in a disused prison in Shrewsbury. So as you can imagine there is never time to get complacent.
However while the variation is there, the job is far from glamorous. 14 hours a day and more, 6 or 5 days a week. Mentally and physically exhausting and a relentless high pressure environment. During a shoot you do have to miss out on events, seeing your friends and family as it is all encompassing – especially if you are far away from home. A benefit of working for myself is that I can try to have a gap between jobs to make up to friends and family for the large stretches I don’t get to see them but it is hard and it’s not for everyone, as I have watched many people come and go. But ultimately that’s the price for doing something I’m passionate about and I’m more than willing to pay it. As my dad always said when I was growing up “Anything worth having is hard…. Otherwise everyone would have it”
How did you get to where you are?
I originally started on the acting route, starting acting aged 6 all the way up to my graduating Performance Art degree. Did quite well on the front theatre with a 5* review at the Edinburgh Festival and the a run off-Broadway in New York, but struggled to break into TV which was my aim.
After getting a small role on David Tenant period drama “Casanova” I was exposed to the scale of television production and was amazed at how many crew it took. I looked at them and thought “wow these are working full time in the industry I love” and that’s when I started looking into how to possibly get involved. Originally my plan was to have it as a back up to acting but as it started to take off the acting became the back up. At first, it felt like I was giving up a lifelong dream in a way but I soon realised I was now pursuing a new dream.
With bit of luck and a lot of perseverance I beat off hundreds of applicants and landed a work experience with BBC working on a game show called “Brainbox Challenge” from the development stage. Long hours and working a month working for totally free, but it was the foot in the door. It went really well, I was super keen and got on well with the producers and luckily for me (and not so lucky for them) they fired the paid runner for being too lazy. I was taken onboard (on half pay as I was from the work placement scheme) and stayed with the show all the way to and during the studio filming. Then after that finished, four months went by with nothing but then someone had remembered my name,and I got a call to be the production runner on a Ralf Little comedy drama called “Massive”. Obviously I snapped their hand off for the opportunity and that was 10 years ago.
Why do you love it?
I have been a massive fan of film and television since as long as I can remember. Being someone on the outside you see the actors and think that’s your only option to be involved, but the world is so much bigger.
Watching films like E.T. and Indiana Jones as a child set my imagination on fire and as I grew I have always known that I wanted to be part of that. Hopefully being part of something that will make the next generation feel like I did watching the ‘Goonies’ and ‘Labyrinth’. Even as an adult I still get that buzz from being surprised by storytelling, though now I read more into the subtleness of a story which adds a new element of enjoyment.
I’m not saving lives, and I often have to remind colleagues feeling the stress that we are working in ‘professional make-believe’ but films are a product everyone uses and can relate to. Maybe I don’t get the job satisfaction a doctor would get, but I take great pride in something I have worked hard on and is well received. Films are powerful and the right film at the right time can be the difference between a bad day and a good day. The reason you want to travel maybe or an opinion changer on serious topics. That’s where I get my job satisfaction from and what makes the long hours worth it.
Seeing my name roll by in the credits in a cinema or knowing it’s rolling by simultaneously in millions of homes nationwide (and now with streaming, worldwide) is a great feeling and I doubt it will ever grow old. Some crew like to pretend it doesn’t matter after a while but I think the moment it doesn’t make you smile you need to find a different career.
What would you say to inspire anyone thinking of getting in to film who feels they don’t know where to start?
Breaking into my industry gets harder and harder each year I think. Starting the way I did right now would be a lottery if the same opportunities came at the times they did and I don’t know if repeating the same path would bring me to where I am now. I would like to think so and that hard work will always pay off but the element of luck and ‘right place right time’ will always be there. It can be cutthroat at times and production companies do tend to take liberties exploiting of work hungry new faces to get them essentially to work for free under the name of ‘work experience’. But sadly it is necessary to put your face and name out there and there will always be 100 people willing to take your place it if you say no. But with that said, it gives you a chance to take it all in and plan which direction you would like to take whilst having the least responsibility on set; and you know everyone in the crew has had to do it when they started also.
Knowing someone also helps because you find it’s hard to break in, but once you are in, you see there is a shortage of good people they trust. And if you can have someone to vouch for you before you have your first credit can be a big advantage.
But the biggest thing is perseverance, perseverance, and more perseverance. Don’t stop trying. Be keen, make nothing too much trouble for you, be flexible, listen. All these things seem simple but you would be surprised how many people come to day one not willing to do things because it’s not what they expected or had planned out for themselves. I’m a firm believer in the right things happen at the right time in your life and if something turns you away from a goal you set, adapt and try the new path and when you’re meant to get there you will get there. Unless the new path takes you to a better goal.
The BBC work experience scheme still exists and is an excellent way in but competition for places is fierce. Maybe try to research the shows you are interested in and find the production companies that make them and send your C.V. out and try and get your name out there. The worst they can say is no, but eventually someone will say yes and you only need that one chance. I knew I only needed one chance because I really do believe that anyone from anywhere can achieve anything they set their mind to it…. You just have want it more than anyone else. And I knew I had everyone beat in that department, no matter background or experience. Goes back to the saying I kind of live by “Anything worth having is hard, otherwise everyone would have it” And it is hard, so I figured I had to stick with it. It’s not for everyone, but I have never regretted my decision.