Stepping up to be an HOD: Roger Paul, location manager

Roger Paul (centre, in Coca-Cola t-shirt).

Queensland-based location manager Roger Paul almost got into the screen industry as an assistant when the X Files was filming in his street in Canada. But he didn’t.

He’d had the idea in his mind of working in films since he was a child, when he had buried himself in the worlds of books at the local bookshop next to the family business on the Gold Coast.

“I found it really interesting that the written word could have an emotional impact on me to such a degree and I was hooked pretty quickly.”

Then his uncle took him to the cinema for the first time – to see Hollywood action film Orca.

“I thought that was just incredible and I realised that these two mediums were sort of married and I knew pretty early that I wanted to be involved in that somehow.”

But life intervened – as did  a job as a law clerk for a couple of years.

Which led to Canada and to the X Files.  He’d met a Canadian woman in Australia, went home to Vancouver with her and they married. 

“This should be a great story.  I actually called the X-Files office and they said, ‘Yeah, yeah, come on down. We’re always hiring Pas.’ But that didn’t suit the family dynamic at that time; they thought that was flaky, doing film stuff.

But the film business wasn’t done with him yet.

“A couple of years later, I wound up managing a bar in a very affluent area of Vancouver called Horseshoe Bay, and one of my regular customers was a producer.  I didn’t realise it at first, but he said, ‘Well, you come work for me if you want to get into film’. I said, ‘Yes, please’.

“‘It’s very interesting that you direct yourself away from this path and it sort of brings you back.”

To work, he needed to get into the Directors Guild of Canada  by running up 150 days of on set experience. 

“The first indie I walked into was filming in some crappy little shed in the back streets of Vancouver, and they said, ‘Oh, what do you want to do?’ I said, ‘What’s going on?’ They said, ‘Well, we need an assistant location manager.’ I said, ‘Cool, I’ll do that’. No money, of course.

“And then within about a day they said, ‘Oh, we need a location manager now. And I was like, ‘Oh shit, okay’. And so yeah, I got thrown into the deep end.”

Next step: trainee assistant location manager on a series of children’s films featuring animals that could play sport.

“There was a dog that could play soccer and the chimpanzee that could play ice hockey, which was honestly to this day, some of the best experiences of my life because my daughter was very young.”

He got his DGC ticket and started “schlepping on anything I could get.”  He was office PA on Angelina Jolie’s film Life or Something Like It and progressively built a career as a location manager and first AD.

Then he became ill and had to return home – and virtually start again. 

Since his return, he has worked on dramas Love Is In the Air, Darby and Joan and Land of Bad, factual series The Black Hand and reality series including Bachelor in Paradise and I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here (Australia and UK).  All of which present their own challenges.

For instance, on I’m a Celebrity the plan was to have contestants drive Ferraris and other supercars drive down to the beach, walk onto a super yacht backed up to a pontoon where helicopters could take off.

“The most challenging thing was the dock itself because it’s considered a structure. And you need a development application, which takes two years.

“The Gold Coast Waterway Authority really, really helped in the end. They said, ’You know what, we could probably dress a barge up and you could get away with that.’

“You do rely on the help and the expertise of councils and local authorities, and they’re normally pretty good if you approach them in the right way.”

Locations jobs are highly stressful – and need calmness and supportive management. Paul has learned a lot from the “tyrants” he has worked for in the past.

“You don’t realise it at the time but it’s afterwards when you realise ‘It’s actually affected me’.  I’m in a negative head space for the next month or two – it’s almost a form of PTSD”.

Paul says the key to his job is making sure the teams are always looked after.

“You want to make sure that they know that you have their back.”

Denise Eriksen is co-founder (with Esther Coleman Hawkins) of Media Mentors Australia. 

The company is rolling out across Australia management and leadership training for early career HODs or 2ICs ready to take the next step in their careers.