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News02 - Aug - 2023

Bloomin marvellous...on set with a Location Manager

Chris Reynolds Location Manager Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

Screen NSW recently caught up with Sydney location manager Chris Reynolds to talk about The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, the international bestseller now a seven-part miniseries, starring Sigourney Weaver and Alycia Debnam-Carey.

Supported by the Made in NSW fund and the NSW PDV Rebate, the popular Australian novel was adapted for the screen by series showrunner Sarah Lambert, with all seven episodes directed by Glendyn Ivin for producers Made Up Stories, Amazon Studios and Fifth Season.

Following a young girl whose violent childhood casts a dark shadow over her adult life, Lost Flowers also stars Frankie Adams, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Alexander England, Asher Keddie, Leah Purcell, and Charlie Vickers.

Spanning 20 years and set between sugar cane fields by the sea, a native Australian flower farm and a celestial crater in the central desert, the series was shot across New South Wales and the Northern Territory from late 2021 to early 2022.

Reynolds first started searching for the main house ‘Thornfield’ four months out from the first day of shooting but had just 8 weeks of pre-production to scout the 25 locations featured in the series.

“While the story itself was loosely set in South-East Queensland in Holly Ringland’s novel, many of the required landscapes also exist here in NSW,” Reynolds said.

“For example, when Alice is young, she lives in her family home which is surrounded by sugar cane which only grows along the eastern seaboard from the Northern Rivers of NSW to Far North Queensland. So, I started the scout for this house around Grafton and continued north towards the border with Queensland.”

Despite closed borders due to the pandemic, a team member with COVID and the short timeframe for finding and permitting each location, the biggest challenge for Reynolds was the sheer distance between them. With key NSW locations in Scone, Grafton, Sydney and Bargo, the small four person locations team was very stretched across the 97-day shoot.

“I think a lot of the crew don’t fully understand the role we play in a production, and the balancing act that is required to get a crew into a location,” he said.

“We are one of the first on a production, working with the key creatives to establish the look of a production. We then start working closely with the 1st AD to get everything to work to a desired schedule. Finally, the crew get thrust upon us and we have to manage all the logistical requirements to ensure the shoot days go smoothly.”

Another challenge production faced was dealing with the unpredictable weather conditions that almost put stop to plans for a fiery conclusion.

“Our director and DOP had previously filmed sugar cane burning for a TVC and were really taken with how cinematic it looked,” Reynolds said.

“Alice grew up on a sugar cane farm and fire is a key theme throughout the show, so I saw why it was important for us to try and achieve this scene, but you can’t just go out and ask a farmer to burn his crop when it suits the production, unless you have an exorbitant location fee available.

“The farmers work closely with the local sugar cane mill to burn and harvest their crops to ensure a constant supply to the mill throughout the growing season.”

Adding to the complex nature of the shoot was the fact that they could only burn under favourable weather conditions: too much wind could see the fire get out of control and too much rain could cause the harvesters to get bogged and ruin the next season’s crop.

“The only way to do so was to mobilise a small and nimble second unit team who could get up to Grafton with only 24 hours’ notice from the farmer that the burn was proceeding,” Reynolds added.

“We had two failed attempts where the team arrived ready to go but the conditions changed, and the sugar cane burn was cancelled. Finally on our third attempt the rain cleared, the winds died down and we were on!

“What a magnificent site it was to see all that sugar cane burning at sunset, with our two camera teams racing around the field to catch beautiful images while staying out of harm’s way as the 40 foot flames approached.”

So, what does Reynolds look for when scouting a location?

“I look for the features that tell the story, whether I am scouting for landscapes or house interiors,” he said.

“I photograph everything in detail to try and capture the essence of a location, and then I look to get photographs of the finer, unique and interesting features.”

And his advice for anyone looking to become a location manager?

“Stay inquisitive, develop your photography skills and always look around that next corner,” Reynolds said.

“Watch more movies and shows, take more photos, and travel on your days off to see what is out there.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is showing on Amazon Prime from Friday August 4.


Reynolds’ top NSW locations from The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

The Main House – Thornfield (Scone)

The initial brief for the house was a large ornate Queenslander, ideally with an existing wildflower garden and within two hours of Sydney. As Queenslander style houses are very rare in the Sydney region, we had to think about it differently. Early discussions were had about building the facade of the house alongside an existing wildflower farm and finding the interiors somewhere else. In scouting for this house, I was always looking for a property that had an inherent beauty to it, a property that was memorable in a storybook way. The story of Thornfield was that it had been passed down Alice Hart’s matrilineal line for several generations. When I saw the real estate ad for the property we used, I knew straight away that this was where we needed to film this story. The house had been in the same family for 165 years, and still had 100+ year old wallpaper throughout. When I then took our director Glendyn Ivin to have a look his jaw dropped upon approaching the house. I knew I had to now deliver the location!


Alice’s Childhood Home (Grafton)

We needed an old fibro house completely surrounded by sugar cane and we needed to burn the house down! I contacted the local sugar cane mill, and they were kind enough to send their agronomist out on a scout with me to point out some possibilities. He took me to a totally dilapidated shell of a house, all that remained was a few walls and part of the floor. But it was when I got to that derelict structure that I spotted something else amongst the sugar cane. “Oh, no one has lived in that house for decade,” he responded. As my car pushed through the overgrown sugar cane and the old house revealed itself, I had that ‘bingo’ moment that every location scout knows. This is where we will film. Again, it was Glendyn’s jaw dropping when he saw it that assured me we were at the right house for the story.


The School (Scone)

We filmed Lost Flowers right in the middle of a geographical lockdown for COVID, which meant finding a school that would allow 80 plus strangers and a few tonnes of equipment to come in and film scenes at the school was a very hard ask. All public schools were out, as per the restrictions on non-essential visitors. While the school we used wasn’t exactly what we were originally after, the principal was fantastic, and the whole school community got behind the filming. All our extras were students from the school.


The Hospitals (Macksville)

Like with the schools, getting into a hospital during a pandemic was near impossible. The parents of our assistant location manager Michelle Jones lived in the NSW mid north coast town of Macksville and had told her about the recently closed hospital there. When we finally got in to scout the property, we knew it was perfect, as it still had all the signage up and much of the furniture from when it closed. We needed three different hospitals, and each had scenes set in different decades. The Old Macksville Hospital offered us all that we needed in the one spot, and with no COVID restrictions.


The Coastal House (Avalon)

For the home of Asher Keddie’s character, we wanted a small humble house with immediate ocean views. In the story it is meant to be by the sea in a small coastal town, and the position of the house we used was perfect as you couldn’t see that it was in suburban Sydney. Our fictitious coastal town was loosely based on Yamba, and the house in Avalon had the same tall Norfolk Pines in its backyard that are such a feature of Yamba.