Location Manager James Cleary

James Cleary

When the TATMR's production needed a Location Manager to find and secure suitable filming locations on the Isle of Man, they called upon James Cleary's expertise. James has kindly offered to answer our questions and shares his recollections of working on the movie below.
Interview Correspondence with Ryan, June 2011

How did you get started in the industry to begin with, and how did you come to be a Location Manager?
I first got started in 1991, I moved from Ireland to Los Angeles, CA after college. I was in a local bar on South Fairfax and there was a man in the bar, who had a bit too much to drink. He told me he worked for the film industry and he could get me work. I thought "yeah, right". We exchanged numbers and he told me to call him at 0800 the next morning. I thought nothing of it , putting it down to a drunk man blowing his own trumpet.
Needless to say I didn't call. At approx. 0915 my phone rang, It was him. Why didn't you call? I gave him my honest answer. He laughed, asked for my address and picked me up for work 30 mins later. That day I began work as a rigger. The man that started it was Micky Murtagh.
I didn't get into Location work until years later, I moved back to Ireland, working as a Location scout and doing film security. It was a friend of mine who knew I worked in the industry, and asked me help out on a production on the Isle of Man, "Paranoid" with Jessica Alba. That was when my location work really took off, so to speak.

What other movies and TV shows had you worked on prior to Thomas & The Magic Railroad?
Back in my rigging days, the company got the credits, or the owner got the credits. Looking back now I kind of regret that. Then it was movies like Highlander II, True Lies, to name a couple. I was with the company 4 years. I have worked on various commercials, music videos, Paranoid, Secret Society, Real lives BBC tv show, Darkrealm Warner bros TV show. And scouted locations for various features.

How and when did you learn of and get signed on to the movie's production?
I was working on "Secret Society" at the time as Assistant Location Manager. The facilities guy on "Secret Society" had met with the production manager, he mentioned me. The production manager called me, we met and had lunch, and that was it. Time to break down the script and start locking-in locations.

Were you already familiar with the "Thomas" and/or "Shining Time Station" when you signed-on?
I had heard of Thomas the Tank Engine, who hadn't. I wasn't familiar with it though, so I guess you could say I cheated, LOL. I went to the library and bought some books.

What were your responsibilities as Location Manager for this movie in particular? Was there a lot of travel involved?
Responsibilities on Thomas were somewhat different, most locations, if not all where in public areas, hard to contain and in various parts of the island. Buildings where changed inside and out. I brought in my security team from Ireland to secure the locations. There was also some scenes and landmarks the IOM government did not want on film.

As for traveling, not a problem the island was small. The RV's had some problems on the small roads though. LOL, but it was all good.

Did you have a particularly strong part in selecting the Isle of Man and the certain American locations used for the movie?
I had no part at all for the Isle of Man being selected, the whole production came from nowhere, and unfortunately nothing to do with the United States.

How did the local people in St Johns (Isle of Man) feel about their town being 'Americanised' for the movie?
The local people in general on the island love it when the film crews come in. I remember one old man said to me "If it wasn't for Tynwald Hill, you would know it was the same town..."

Were there ever any great difficulties during the location shoots?
Always give the fairies their dues, say hello and be polite, if you are nice to fairies, you will have no problems.

No great difficulties, just the usual film stuff. We where filming in the fields one night for scenic and green screen shots, the grip truck got bogged down and I had to get a JCB truck to pull it out. That turned out to be a late night. When we were filming at grandpa's cottage the horse trailer got stuck, oh man, another late night. The animal wrangler was not very happy. It's a true saying the location manager is never recognized until something goes wrong. LOL

Re: "thanking the Fairies" - we understand that it's deeply imbedded in the local folklore, can you tell us a bit more about that?
The fairies, all Celtic lands have this folklore, stories handed down through the years. An outsider would look and say "What?". Fairies can be mischievous little things and deserve their respect. In fields you will see a dark circle with flowers in it, hawthorn bushes, a mount in a field (a fairy hill). I know farmers in Ireland will not plow this part of the land, and go around it. The fairies are believed to be our ancient Celtic ancestors, Gods and Goddesses from bygone days. When they died they went to "Tir Na nOg", "Land of eternal Youth".
Give the fairies their dues, they are everywhere on the IOM, the fairy bridge for example, if everyone driving over it says "Hello", "Good day", it will make for a pleasant trip. Ignore it and I will guarantee your trip will not be a pleasant one. A brand new car, trust me it will break down.

Where would you credit as being your favourite location from the movie?
Grandpa's cottage, no doubt (my secret location). It is off the road, down a winding road into a small valley, looking out at the ocean. I could live there happy and content.

Did you meet actor Doug Lennox (PT Boomer) or seen any of his and Russell Means' scenes being filmed?
Doug Lennox is a gentleman, no doubt. I had a few conversations with him during his time on the island. Russell Means was a gentle man. Quiet, but when he did say something he meant it. Great conversation.
I was there when some scenes where being filmed, but being the location manager I was busy pretty much all the time. I had a lot of locations to look after, whether they were being used that day or not. I did see some of his scenes though. Unfortunately I don't have any photos of Doug, I don't usually take photos during the production, and most of my photos are all pre-production.

TATMR Location Mgr. James Cleary (far right)
TATMR Location Manager James Cleary (lt. blue shirt - far right) setting up at Castletown, IOM in August, 1999.  Note Dita (Mutt), and PT Boomer's motorcycle. Actor Russell Means can be seen standing behind the bike. Photo courtesy James Cleary to SiF.  (click image to see larger version)

I understand that some filming for Burnett's workshop was done in one the Isle of Man Railway's goods sheds or such.  Was the 'Lady' full-size model simply constructed inside there for the purposes of filming?  Or was this done in a studio back in Canada?
In the photo I sent you, the building in the background, with the sign "Shining Time Co-op". That's the building "Burnett's Workshop". Lady was constructed inside. Those guys worked hard on that, absolutely fantastic work. So there you go; Grandpa's workshop was right beside the station. Smart huh?, get the two locations beside each other.

Can you tell us more about the workshop set? We believed it was located in the Port St. Mary railway goods shed.
When filming in Grandpa's it was a small place to work in, so only the director, DOP, and main filming crew were inside. I can tell you that no one was allowed in and it had 24/7 security. As for the location, you are right, Lady was built and filmed in Port St. Mary. You have me thinking now what we used the Castletown shed for and all my production folders and notes are in the U.K.  I really do think it was an extension of Grandpa's workshop.

Can you recall the reaction of locals and visitors on the Isle of Man Steam Railway when they saw Castletown Station recreated as Shining Time?
Now there was a transformation, inside and out. Those guys did a great job on that. The locals where amazed at the station. Word spread quickly and people drove from all around the island to see it. The station turned into an attraction overnight. Bringing their children and families to the station, something magical was already happening on this production. That was part of the reason I brought in security, not that people where being bad or anything, I just needed my location to be safe and untouched.

After filming, was the interior Shining Time Station set and mural left intact, or was it painted over/gutted?
Everything in the studio was put back the way we found it. The studio was left empty and clean, as per the contract.

Doug Lennox mentioned that a lady did his motorcycle riding scenes for him due to his bum knee  - some say it was Production Manager Noella Nesdoly.
LOL. Yes it was Noella. The best Production Manager I have worked with. Noella is fantastic at her job, and a hands-on person. Unfortunately I lost contact with her, much to my regret. From our first meeting we hit it off and a great friendship developed. So hopefully she reads this and we can work together again in the future.

Can you tell us anything about setting up for the filming in the Dalby Mountain area (Muffle Mountain in the film)?
Ahhhhhhh, Dalby Mountain, "sigh". A beautiful location. To this day I still don't know why I used it. LOL. I guess when we do our jobs, we challenge ourselves. "YES" I can do this! And I did. This is where the trucks got bedded down and I had to hire a farmer with a tractor to pull them out. What a late night. We had an early morning call the next day. Naturally I start a couple of hours before the crew, putting up road signs, leaving the printed out copies of directions at the hotel for crew, and getting to the location before anyone to make sure the trucks park in order of priority.

We were told of a little pursuit of a lorry that was towing fun-fair rides to some destination. Production felt that the rides would make a nice addition to the Shining Time locale, so the chase was on to rent them from the owner.  Is this an example of Production improvisation?
Yes, LOL. I remember that. The chase was on to get it. As it turned out, a local from the island working in another department knew the guy. Production improv, Britt was the master. She could see anything and turn it into something magical. Phil is pretty good at it to from the location and filming aspect. LOL.
Just to run off a bit, most directors, when it comes to what they see in their mind can be very vague, but Britt had this wonderful ability to give you a full image of what she saw. I was disappointed when they cut the movie, to me it was like taking someone's dream and cutting it in half.

If you had the opportunity to go back and change things during the shoot, would you have selected other locations for the movie?
I always pick 3 or 4 locations for each of the locations needed, and the production team i.e. director, producer, gaffer, production team, art department and myself all do a tech recce on all locations. It is at this point the locations are chosen and notes are taken. So to answer your question "no". No matter what location is picked out of the selection, I chose it.

I imagine that as Location Manager, you would have been also coordinating things with John Bellis. Would you be able to tell us what it was like working with him? Was here pretty excited about voicing "Thomas"?
I remember John had just bought over all the facility vehicles that year, (and sold them the same year). He also looked after the production drivers, that's how he managed to pick Britt up from the airport. I remember seeing John at the hotel, and he looked a bit off. I asked him what was wrong. That's when he told me, LOL, he was still in disbelief. Now if you closed your eyes and listened to John talk, you would swear it was a young Ringo Star.
During the production I coordinated a lot with John as he was the facilities guy. For the younger people who read this and are not familiar with filming, for every location in a film the location manager needs another location nearby, for all the dressing rooms, wardrobe, make-up, the caterers, lunch buses etc. - these are known as facility vehicles. Now here is something interesting for you - John is married to my cousin Linda. It's a shame they didn't use his voice, but that’s Hollywood for you, for years and years Thomas sounded like he just came out of Liverpool. John was naturally disappointed, who wouldn't be?

What other projects have you been a part of since Thomas & The Magic Railroad?
I have done Real live TV show, Frightmares, a few features in Portugal. I moved back to the United States 6 years ago, worked on a few commercials etc. and started my own company, Recon Film Locations.

We'd like to express our deepest thanks to James for contacting us and providing addtional insight about TATMR's production. We wish all the best to James with his company's present and future Film and Television projects :)