Bethesda Interview: Carol Flaisher
The movie location manager talks about finding a house for Wedding Crashers, the power of name-dropping, and memorable moments on the set
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Carol Flaisher and actress Judi Dench aren’t exactly friends, but Dench—or her name, at least—once did Flaisher a big favor. When Flaisher, a movie location manager, was hunting for a house for Philomena four years ago, she was driving up Bradley Boulevard on a rainy Sunday morning when her eyes drifted to a home on the left. “I slammed on my brakes and drove into the driveway,” she says. “The house had everything. I looked like hell, but I rang the bell anyway. The woman who answered the door seemed reluctant. Then I mentioned Judi Dench was in the film. [She said,] ‘Judi Dench is going to be in my house?’ We were in.”
It’s Flaisher’s job to find the perfect room, house, building or neighborhood for movies that are shooting in the Washington, D.C., area. Location, location, location is not just a mantra in real estate; it is essential to movies, too. “Generally, I get a call from a producer and make a deal,” Flaisher says. “They send me the script and most often they put me in touch with the director or the designer who gives the film the ‘look’ and lets me know what they want.”
At 70, Flaisher is a movie buff’s dream date. She has an encyclopedic memory of the films she’s worked on, loves to gossip, and tolerates the blathering of other cinephiles. Over the course of working on countless commercials, more than 100 movies—including Body of Lies, Enemy of the State, True Lies and Snowden—and the hit Netflix series House of Cards, Flaisher discovered that her gift of gab was an asset. “I’m a talker,” she says. Once the owner of a home she covets hears her pitch, very few say no, she says, “because it’s fun, it’s different, it’s something for them to talk about.”
As a young girl, Flaisher wanted to be a movie star, but she eventually decided that she’d settle for any job in the business. After graduating from Bethesda’s Walter Johnson High School in 1964, she studied speech pathology at Central Missouri State College (now known as the University of Central Missouri) and then worked in a dental office—two fields that really didn’t interest her. It wasn’t until she was 32, a stay-at-home mom with two young children, that she realized her ambition: She turned a gig as a part-time volunteer on stage and film sets into a job as a location manager, and now has her own company, Flaisher Films. Flaisher’s son, Ari, who was named after Paul Newman’s character in Exodus, has spent time working for film companies, and her daughter, Holly, is a TV producer. (Their father is Carol’s first husband, Meir Flaisher, who owned the Georgetown Metal Plating Co.) Carol Flaisher has been married for 22 years to Murdoch Campbell, who has a film-related lighting business.
“So many people say, ‘Oh, your job sounds like so much fun,’ and, yes, it has its moments of fun and glitter. But it’s a lot of work—and a big commitment,” says Flaisher, who received a Women of Vision Award from D.C.’s Women in Film & Video in 2005. “If you love it, as I do, it’s a life sentence. …It’s like being married to the mob.” Years ago, when she thought she’d misplaced the sole original negative for a film she was working on, Flaisher got out of bed late at night and went to Colorlab in Rockville to find it—in her nightgown.
Bethesda Magazine caught up with Flaisher at her modernist home in Cabin John.
What she does
Movie location manager
How did you get your start?
I was fascinated by movies. But I was in Washington, D.C., not Hollywood. After I volunteered for the Kennedy Center Honors show in 1978, I was bitten, and there was no turning back. With my friend Margaret, who was also crazy about movies, we’d do anything. We’d find props, or extras for commercials. We did a Talking Turkey product commercial in the late ’70s. Here we were, two suburban housewives, and we were willing to do anything to be around film.
DAR Constitution Hall (seen in Jackie). Courtesy of Carol Flaisher
What was the learning curve like?
I’m really a product of on-the-job training. I didn’t even know the difference between film and video when I started. There was no one before me—no location managers I could learn from—so I had no mentors. And I didn’t mind doing the scut work like babysitting, finding props, whatever. I really built a career from scratch.
How do you go about finding the right locations?
First, I always read the script. Then my job is to tell the director or production designer what is possible. If the writer hasn’t done his or her homework and ends up writing in something that doesn’t exist—like the famous Metro station in Georgetown—then my job becomes double the work.
Tell me about a house that eluded you.
This was for Wedding Crashers. We scouted by air, land and sea for a mansion that had a dock. We found a house in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore, but I couldn’t locate the owner. I went to the governor’s office for help. When I found the owner, she told me the reason they had this house on the bay—tucked away—is that they appreciated their privacy. Most times, when someone initially says ‘no, no, no,’ we can get them to say yes. Not with this one.
Do you use actors’ names to close a deal?
Yes. I call Harrison Ford ‘the golden key,’ because his name helps me open doors and get properties. And Clint Eastwood. When we were shooting J. Edgar, I had to find a specific dining room that looked like Hoover’s. Once I mentioned Clint, who was directing, I had what I wanted. He will smile and wave to the crowd. Leo DiCaprio was the opposite. When Body of Lies was shooting in Annapolis, Leo didn’t do any of that. My feeling is that a wave of the arm [to the crowd from a famous actor] doesn’t cost you one second or one penny, and it helps the whole production—especially people like me.
Will a star offer to help you with a homeowner?
We were shooting Along Came a Spider in 2000 on a street off New York Avenue [in Washington, D.C.,] and I needed a house to add to the shot. So I go to the house I want, and an older man answers and we chat for a while and then he says, ‘You know, I’m blind.’ And I say, ‘In that case, I’m a 6-foot-2 gorgeous blonde.’ We both laughed. I promised the man he would meet Morgan Freeman, who was the lead. On the shooting day, I approach Freeman and explain the situation while apologizing for bothering him. I took him to the back of the man’s house and they sat on stools chatting with each other. So now we’re ready to shoot and they’re still talking. Morgan was engrossed. I was really touched by it.