BURN NOTICE Behind-the-Scenes: Meet Valerie Schields

By: Amrie Cunningham [My Take on TV]

“He was like really a bad singer, and he was a luna(tic)” – find out who Valerie Schields, Locations Manager from BURN NOTICE, is talking about and why she loves shooting in Miami.

Valerie: Our job is when we get a script, then we take a look at what the locations are supposed to be, then we present options to the director and the production designer. And then they make the final choice. But it’s a really creative job. The most fun part of the job is the scouting because that is, it’s adding, we’re adding, we’re contributing. Even though the final choice is the director’s, we’re contributing to the look of the show. Then it moves onto the business. Once they‘ve picked everything then all the logistics start and we have to sign the contracts and organize the police and the fire department and the parking and the catering and the everything. Actually, the location manager, once the locations are found is the liaison between the community, the real world, as we call it, and the crew. Because the crew actually is a very efficient machine that’s run. Everybody knows their job, but what we need to do is to facilitate the crew to do what they need to do to get their job done and yet interface with the community and make it happen so that everybody’s happy. When we film in private properties or office buildings or restaurants, then also what we do is we have to get the crew to abide by what we promised. So we’re the liaison also for the location and representative of the crew.

I’ve been curious ever since I’ve seen it, the house that Michael and his family squat in. How much does it cost to rent it?
Which house was it?

The one in the finale….Yeah, Nate was squatting and he brought Madeline and Michael into it. He said it was a foreclosure on the show. It looks like it’s on Star Island, well I thought it was, but it might be Palm Island….I think it was episode 10 last year.
I don’t remember. I really don’t remember where it was. It probably was on Star. Was it a mansion?

It was, it was a huge house. I was wondering, and also, like in the pilot, too, of, Season 1, there was also another large house with a pool that kind of extends off to the end.
Yeah, that one I can tell you. That was on Star Island.
?Are all the large nice houses mostly on Star Island?
Star Island, Palm Island, and North Bay Road in Miami Beach have a lot of really huge mansions that are very film friendly. Actually that house that you were talking about in the pilot, they had, at first, they said, oh no, filming only, exterior only, we won’t let anyone in our house, except that they let us in this little guest house. They had so much fun on the show that they called back and said we really want you to come film inside our house. We’ve had really good experiences. One thing I wanted to tell you is about how much fun I’ve had working on this show. I’ve lived in Miami for 30 years, and I’ve been a location manager for 20; actually more, but I don’t want to say that. [everyone laughs]. Too scary to think about. It’s really been fun. The very first season, because I worked last season also, the first season, at the beginning, when I would talk to people about locations, I would explain the show. It’s a comedy action and it’s about a CIA operative and I explained the whole premise and but then I would tell them the most important thing is that this is the first television series since MIAMI VICE in the 1980s that we’re filming the entire television series here. Because I worked on the pilot for shows that are supposed to be in Miami. I worked on CSI: Miami, I worked on Dexter, the pilot of Dexter that they say that it’s in Miami. And I’ve worked on other television shows that just didn’t make it past the first six episodes. But on CSI: Miami, they filmed the whole pilot there, so it looks great, so it got sold, and then now they’re filming it in Los Angeles. You can tell. I can’t even watch the show. Because it’s there will be a shot where there’s hills in the background, and I’m like “oh please” and it just doesn’t look great because it’s not Miami, it’s LA. So that show is really not about the locations really, it’s plot driven. So I had been telling people that, and they start to get really excited. And I said, you know, this is Miami looks amazing in this show, and you really have to watch it. S o people really started watching it, and I would say half way through the very first season, that’s when it became a hit, and it got really great reviews, and the audience level went way up. Now my job is so much easier because now I just go in and you know I went into like this very, very dodgy, seedy neighborhood liquor store where we’re going to film, and the owner was like, I said, “it’s Burn Notice”, (excited, as the shop owner) “BURN NOTICE! It’s my favorite show!” and then I went to a lawyer’s office, really huge, upscale, mega million dollar office and I said to the lawyer, “we’d like to take over your offices and film here, and the show is Burn Notice.” (excited, as the lawyer) “BURN NOTICE! I’m hooked on it!” So everyone says they get hooked on the show. It’s been actually really fun, because I’m just getting this vibe right now that people in Miami aren’t doing it just for the location fee, you know, when I work on, I’ve worked on many other shows in the past, they’re just not as excited, it’s actually probably more about the money. Now, sometimes I feel like, “Yeah, I want to be part of it” and they forget to like even care about that they’re going to be paid.

In the beginning, how difficult was it to secure locations? It’s it easier now?
I think it’s easier now. And I really think it’s because people want to be a part of it. What I’ve found is that, this whole feeling I get, is that people here claim it as it’s their show. It’s Miami’s show now. A lot of people, when I’m scouting. That’s one of the fun things about my job is that I get to meet all kinds of people very single day. It’s a different place and different people. I’ve heard from a lot of people that they watch the show together with friends and try to guess where the locations are. It’s like “ok now that place was there, right?” It’s been interesting for them to find out. A lot of them ask “where’s that sidewalk café, that Carlito’s Restaurant?” and we say, “oh we built it on stage”. The other thing about it is that, that I’m really proud of, in the locations department, is that I think the show looks amazing. It’s really beautiful and it really showcases Miami. That’s one of things on a personal level that I have problems with about people filming in Los Angeles, their shows, and using Miami, just the name Miami because they think it’s sexy and hot, and it is sexy and hot, but we now, this show, shows the real deal. The beautiful water is blue green, and the blue skies, and the big puffy clouds. The city is getting, I think, even more and more interesting because of the new architecture is adding something. Another thing we’ve been able to do on this show is that um, on MIAMI VICE, I worked on that (sly face of “yep that’s how old I am”) [everyone laughs]. A long time ago. On MIAMI VICE, what they did is they really showcased like the Art Deco and also they went for this like modern kind of a house. There was a lot of that white, you know, stark thing, and it was interesting because there weren’t many houses like that back then, but when MIAMI VICE came out, then people were starting to build that kind of house, just because they….
?…saw it on MIAMI VICE.
Yes saw it on MIAMI VICE. But with this though, because we’re looking for so many different types of locations, we’ve been able to showcase different kind of architecture, like my one that’s called Miami Modern which is architecture that was from the 70s. We found this great, it was like stuck in time, Peace Foundation office building that we turned into a Pakistani Consulate and that’s episode 203. It’s just exquisite. The original doors and the original glass and it’s preserved, it’s almost a historical building. So we’re able to show, from the mansions that you mentioned to different styles of houses, and architecture. It’s a wide range.

How does one get started in this field?
If somebody wanted to do it now, you really don’t have to go to film school. What you have to do is you have to know someone who needs a production assistant. You start off getting paid nothing, and you just need to take direction well, and you just have to learn. If you’re smart and enthusiastic and a team player, then someone will give you the next job and the next job and you just work your way up and it’s not as easy as when I did. What I did, I did it when there wasn’t very much filming in Miami. I was changing careers and I wanted to just do something that was fun. I didn’t want to go to the same office every day and park in the same parking garage every day and know how much my paycheck was going to be in 10 years. So a friend of mine who was a location scout, and there was like maybe like 2, because there wasn’t very much work, he said “well you know, do you want to try this?” so I called a production manger, they mostly did commercials, that was it. Not very many features, not television, except for Flipper, but I’m not that old [everyone laughs], so I got a job in a week, and then I just kept working. So I started off at the bottom, but I very, very quickly because a location manager, because there weren’t any, and then MIAMI VICE.

How different was Miami today from the days when you were filming MIAMI VICE?
Oh my god, it is so different. MIAMI VICE was insane. There was hardly any film permitting going on. It’s like the film permit office was created because on MIAMI VICE, we were running amok. We were just showing up on streets, and just doing whatever the heck we wanted to do. I remember in this Don Johnson music video, did you guys know this, he made this music video that told a story, Heartbeat, and I worked on, so he would come and he would be making this music video which was this story, and he was like really a bad singer, and he was a luna(tic)…and nobody understood what the story was but it went on forever, and we blew up this, they built this, it was supposed to be a Nicaraguan village that he’s running through because he’s I guess the journalist and they come in the helicopter and the bomb the village and I remember that the extras were supposed to be Nicaraguan and they ended up being like Chinese but it didn’t matter, nobody cared. I remember we blew up the whole village and that was the las time anyone was able to film in that park, Day County Nursery. No one ever since. I remember there was a little house in South Beach, I don’t know if any of you guys know South Beach, it’s all built up; at the very end of South beach, like around 2nd street, it wasn’t built up like that, there were funky little houses. And so, I don’t know how, I guess we bought the house or rented it, but we blew it up with a bazooka and nobody had a permit, so it was actually fun. [everybody laughs] But now, there’s a lot of restrictions.

When you’re looking at locations to shoot at, how does the general public come into play? Because like, I know, having seen things shot, in person, people crowd around in a little circle, but you never see that in movies or on shows.
How do we control that?

We have production assistants that are on the set, and police officers and locations assistants and we just very nicely ask people to stand “here” and we welcome people to watch. Everyone is really sensitive to being very polite to everyone because we want to come back. We want people to be happy. Yesterday, we were filming downtown Miami during rush hour where we were holding traffic because we had major police cars in our scene, racing 70 miles an hour, and there’s like buses, people are trying to get to work, and we have to “can you wait one moment”. Nobody honked or got upset. It’s more like a curiosity. Like “oh what are they filming there”. It’s pretty alright. There’s a location we’re going to film at on Monday that they filmed at last week, the other episode. The owner of the restaurant was very angry, because he felt like his business was being interfered with. So what we did on the show, because we want everybody to be happy, is we rented his restaurant. Now we’re going to eat there, so now he’s part of the show. He feels included. That’s it. It’s fun. It’s a great show, Miami looks fabulous. Miami is just a hot sexy city, and we’re having fun, and it’s hot out there!

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  • Tyler

    will there be any filming done of the show on aug. 11-14. I am coming on vaction to the miami area and was just wondering if the show was being filmed anytime during that period?

  • Dan

    Interesting just because I like the show….but, ever hear of a PROOF READER? Was that written by a sixth grader?

  • I LOVE BURN NOTICE IT IS AMAZING I LIVE IN MIAMI OMG I LOVE THIS SHOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • alex

    this show is one of the best i have seen.