Josh Silverman

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The unwitting residents of an isolated trailer park in the middle of a Southern California desert were taken aback when all of a sudden a helicopter eased out of the sky and dropped off a mysterious being. The dust cleared to reveal Josh Silverman, making a typical move in his not-so-typical career as a location manager. The 39-year-old Silverman was simply looking for a location for a Pac Bell commercial, just one of about 50 spots he's worked on in his 15 years handling all kinds of productions, including feature films, television movies and music videos. Ad-wise, he's also worked on commercials for Budweiser, Apple, Skittles and, most recently, he masterminded the locations behind one of his most taxing charges to date: Nike's "Move," out of Wieden & Kennedy, directed by Jake Scott of RSA.

"This was one of the most challenging projects any of us has been involved with," he asserts. Most important, the more than two dozen locations had to believably represent the athletes' own training grounds. Doesn't sound so hard, but when you factor in the tight schedules of world class athletes like Picabo Street, Lindsay Davenport and Vince Carter, with only 10 days to shoot during the ultra-busy holiday season, Silverman had to pull some Olympic feats of his own. "Josh is a master," says W&K producer Vic Palumbo. "We would throw things at him that were unbelievable. He almost acted as a producer, in the sense that he really understood the storyboard, what we were trying to accomplish, what locations needed to work and why they needed to work." At one point the team had to find a way to squeeze in a tennis scene with Davenport, who was only available on what Palumbo calls a "huge day" of filming triathletes in Malibu. Silverman scouted the area residences for a court, but ultimately came up with the solution to build half a clay tennis court on one of the beach parking lots. "We found ourselves, throughout the entire spot, needing to be extremely flexible so that we could make sudden changes as these thing popped up - and they popped up from day one to the last day," Silverman recalls. On the day of the Malibu shoot, he didn't even stick around because he was already on a jet to Colorado, negotiating a last-minute change of venue at Steamboat Springs, where the team was going to shoot Picabo Street and snowboarder Barret Christie. Hours later, he was flying back to L.A. to show pictures for final approval from the team.

For someone with such a rock-solid act, Silverman actually landed in the profession pretty randomly. The San Francisco native was about to check into law school when he decided to cruise the Caribbean in a chartered sailboat. Adrift at sea and in life, he happened to work on a couple jobs managing commercial shoots for the European market, and when he washed ashore five years later production became a regular part of his life. He got his start in television and then made his way into features working on both first-and second-unit jobs. "I was very fortunate in that my training ground was large-budget features," he notes of his past film jobs, which include Beverly Hills Cop III, Under Siege, Pelican Brief and Face/Off.

Many of those fall into the category of action/adventure, which happens to be one of his specialties. It's paid off in spots, including, believe it or not, in a Skittles commercial, from D'arcy/St. Louis. He jumped into a helicopter and scoured the entire SoCal coast to find the perfect rocky outcropping on which a stuntman could stand in place of a Merlin figure, to be composited in later. Silverman has also had to become something of a stuntman himself, doing aerial scouting not just by helicopter and airplane, but even hang glider. Already down to the wire trying to find the perfect estate that would double as a luxurious Aspen home in For the Love of the Game, he homed in on the Tahoe area of Northern California. "I was desperate to find an airplane or helicopter to take me up to do some scouting on short notice. I was losing light and I couldn't find anybody that was available. I did, however, find a hang gliding school. I went running in there, and said, 'You're gonna think I'm nuts, but I'll pay you cash. I need a qualified hang-gliding pilot to take me up and keep me up as long as the thermals will allow. I need to find a house and I need to scout by air!' And they said, 'You're right, we think you're nuts, but we'd be happy to take your money.' "

Ultimately, the hang-gliding tour didn't lead to the perfect home, but the dead end is a typical reality of scouting. However, persistence does pay off. "We spent one month looking for a barn," he recalls with amusement about another Skittles spot. "You'd think that a barn would be easily enough found, but the director was looking for a particular style of barn, sitting in relationship to a field in a particular geographic position, and we wanted the field to appear in a particular way with consideration given to where the rising and setting sun fell on the entire location." He spent 30 days scouting from the Mexican border into Northern California, and to his chagrin, he finally found the barn in Palmdale, a Southern California city known more for its desert than for its bucolic pastures.

So how does he begin? Does he look under Barns in the Yellow Pages? "Part of location scouting is becoming at times a master researcher," he explains. The web has made things a lot more manageable, but before that "it involved talking to a lot your peers and calling up film commissions. In the case of the barn, I was also calling up the Department of Agriculture. I often find the local police department or the highway patrol are invaluable, because they're constantly aware of what exists in their environment."

As is Silverman, no matter where he may find himself. "We're first and foremost the interface between the fantasy world of production and the real world," he says. Taking into account logistics, permits and budgets, "you want to deliver to the production designer or director the very best of the choices," he says, making it sound as solemn as an oath. "The nature of the creative process is such that you do need to exhaust any and all possibilities."

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