Nobody knows the City of Angels better than Jason Wisch. As one of the film industry’s most sought-after location scouts — who also moonlights as a filmmaker — Wisch takes audiences worldwide to the places that define not only his hometown but outside the Los Angeles city limits as well. Wisch credits a life-long passion for photography for giving him a keen eye while scouting locations and selecting those that work well on-camera. For Wisch, he approaches his craft based on a belief in the motto: “I have never been to a place that I can’t find something I like.”
While his work in commercials and music videos reflect an accomplished career, the road getting there has not been easiy for Wisch; some of his behind-the-scenes stories rival those being told in front of the cameras. From run-ins with LA gang members and stand-offs with armed homeowners to the attacks that landed him in the hospital, Wisch is on the front-lines for every project he works. Despite these obstacles, Jason always finds the perfect spot for the the ultimate shot which is reflected in the projects’s impact and quality.
A drive and willingness to do what it takes to get the job done, Wisch has location scouted and managed more than 500 projects for a client roster that includes: Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Pharrell Williams, Adidas, Harley Davidson, Pepsi, Maroon 5, Arcade Fire, Kanye West, Travis Scott, Solange, Logic, YSL, Twitter, McDonalds and numerous car manufacturers, among others.
Most recent, Wisch served as location manager for Beyonce’s “Spirit” music video from The Lion King soundtrack — a feather in his professional cap. VENTS caught up with Wisch while on-location for his current top-secret shoot.
VENTS: “Beyonce’s Spirit” music video is a masterpiece — tell us how you became involved with the project as Location Manager?
WISCH: I had just worked with the producer on another job. He loved my worked on that one, as I had pulled off some locations that they didn’t think they could get in time. I joked with him that a lot of production call me because I seem to be able to get the impossible done. Sure enough, a few days later, one lovely Saturday morning, he called with the impossible. They needed some lat minute locations for to finish the video they had already started. They wanted a couple more epic and spectacular location they could film as soon as possible. I spent the weekend on the phone, and was able to come up with at least 5 locations. On Tues we got the okay from 2 of the places I found, one was the Cathedral Rocks in Sedona Arizona. The second, and the one that I was told was going to never happen, was getting the okay from the Havasupai Indian reservation, to be able to film at the beautiful waterfalls there. They don’t often allow this to happen, but they made an exception. By Weds morning, Beyonce, the camera peeps, and a few production people where on their way to the Falls, while the rest of the crew was headed to Sedona. I got to the Cathedral Rocks about 3pm, spent about 3 hours in 106 degree weather, making sure we were ready when she arrived to meet us at the second location. She got there at 630, we shot for less than 2 hours, got what we needed, and called it a day. It was one of the most amazing experiences as a location manager. To see it all come together in such a short time. As much as it was something I had a big part of pulling off, there were a lot of people that where instrumental in making it happen.
VENTS: Is the spirit of “Beyonce” still with you right now or does it leave the room when she does?
WISCH: I feel like everyone I work with, their “Spirit” stays with me. I often just sit quietly sometimes (Doesn’t happen often) and think about the adventures I have been on around this crazy world of ours. Beyonce has such a strong presence and energy, that I think I will be feeling her spirit for a long time.
VENTS: You received a mantle of awards for Pharrell’s original “Happy” music video — were those for co-starring alongside the music superstar or the tougher job of Location Scouting?
WISCH: The awards were because of the amount of work I put in to getting the locations. It was one of the biggest jobs shot in Los Angeles. I think I counted over 70 locations,. I got the job because almost every other location manager turned it down. It was super challenging. The directors, 2 very talented guys from France, sat me down and explained that they wanted to make a music video that was 24 hours long. (At the time, I , like almost everyone else, thought they where nuts.) But I was willing to see what we could do. Again, I didn’t have a lot of time to get this done, basically a weekend to figure out how we were going to do this. My solution was to find central points in the city to use as anchors or starting points. Then I would get what is called a “Grid Permit”. This allows us to basically have large amounts of area that we could walk around in, without having to permit every single location. The only issue is, you are supposed to be 15 people or less. There where times I would turn around and we had maybe ,40-50 people in our group. NO one ever gave us a hard time. And the video turned out to be a master piece. Its one of those projects that really inspired me to do more, to not take no for an answer, and to dream big.
As for co-starring, that was just a bonus. To explain it more. During the video, every 4 minutes, a new person is seen in the video. They walk and sing or dance or just do their thing, for 4 minutes straight, no cuts. We had something like 350 people in the video over the 24 hours the video plays. At the top of every hour, its Pharrell doing his thing. SO he is in the video 24 times. Production kept asking me if I wanted to be in it. I kept Turing them down. One night, I noticed that we had a really cool 70’s convertible on set. I asked them what it was for. They said they where going to have someone drive it while 3 or 4 models sat in the car. I raised my hand and volunteered to be said driver. They loved the idea. I was expecting it to be just one segment. But when the video came out, they had me driving for like 30 or 40 minutes. I was in the video second longest only to Mr Williams. So I joke that I technically co-starred in the video with him. If you want to see it, its somewhere at the 4:16am mark on the 24 hour versos of the video. NO awards were given out to me.
VENTS: Tell us — was Pharrell and the rest of the crew really happy and in good moods during the entire shoot? Was that a requirement for being hired?
WISCH: I got to tell you, we all had a ton of fun on this. We worked crazy hours for many days. The shoot was 10 days if I remember correctly, and I was on the shoot for about 28 days with no days off. But spirits said high the whole time. Pharrell, and I know people say this a lot about famous people,, was one of the nicest people to work with. Never saw him complain once for the long hours. He has a very easy going personality too. Which helps us when shooting. The funny thing was.. at the end of the shoot, after hearing the song maybe a thousand times, I actually still liked it.
VENTS: Your self-directed epic road trip footage was acquired by Mercedes for their marketing campaigns — what were the downsides of spending 1500 miles in a car with another guy?
WISCH: I actually really enjoyed my time with my DP, Jorel ‘O’Dell. He is a super interesting guy. I didn’t know him prior to the trip. This spot I directed, was a personal project I had ben wanting to do for a while. I have a good working relationship with Mercedes-Benz, and I asked them if I cold borrow a car for a while. They said okay. I wanted to do sort of a documentary of me locations scouting California. I put the word out that I was looking for a camera person to go with me. A friend recommend Jorel. We had never met, he agreed to go on the road with me. He gave me a really amazing deal on his time and expensive camera equipment. We set out early one morning, and really just had a blast. I had ideas of places I wanted to go, but we also just kind of explored the state and found things on the way. When I got back, I hired an editor, and we put this amazing :90 second spot together. Now keep in mind, at the time, this was just a spec spot. Which means, I did it on my own dime. When I showed it to my friends at Mercedes-Benz USA, they were blown away. They thought I was going to shoot it on my iPhone. They where shocked that I had shot a professional looking commercial. Not too bad for a 2 person crew. They asked if I would be oaky with them using it, and of course I was. The funny thing is, the California Film Commision also loved it, and asked if I could cut a version of it for them, with less car, and more emphasis of why California is so great for filmmaking. And that’s what I did. I was actually able to make 2 commercials out of this. And Jorel and I have gone on to shoot a few more spots together.
VENTS: Where do you hope the ultimate road trip called, “life” takes you in the next few years?
WISCH: I have always been one of those people that really wants to continue to grow and move forward. I love location managing. Really feel like I found something I am great at. I have more work than I can handle at times, and I am hired to work on so many amazing projects. But I have always had that feeling I was meant to be the film maker. I love working on all the projects I do, but I am really just putting other peoples visions to life. I have so many of my own ideas rattling around in my little brain. I have an amazing pilot that I wrote (Ironically, I came up with the idea while location scouting for a music video many years ago. It takes place at the location I found for the video) that I have been out pitching. I really think someone is going to want to do this. The response from those that have seen it has always been very positive. But I am also willing to just go do this myself if needed. The Mercedes spot has taught me that I can get things done. I have surrounded myself with a lot fo very talented people, both in front and behind the camera. I have started shooting more commercial spots, and will keep moving forward with the scripted projects. My goal is have a few of my personal projects going in the next 2 years. The idea is to be doing what I love, with all the people I love to work with. And the thing about the town I live in is.. that its always possible to do this, if you believe in it and never give up.