One Woman's Mission to Bring Film Production to Rockaway, Queens
It's been a while since I shared an industry interview, but I think this latest talk is worth the wait. Last week I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Claudia Bloom, the owner, and principal of Rock Locations one of New York City's top location agencies based out of Rockaway, Queens. Claudia and I enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation covering our mutual experiences living and surfing in Venice Beach, her career as a Hollywood actor, the reasons behind her moving back East, and the exciting growth of the filming location market in New York City and the outer boroughs.
Below is an excerpt of our 2-hour long conversation:
Reagan Cook: Claudia, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I'm well aware of the hectic work pace in New York and it means a lot that you were willing to take time out of your schedule. The first question I have for you: How would you describe your job role?
Claudia Bloom: Thanks Reagan and I’m always happy to chat. And you're right about New York, I grew up here, but since moving back here from Los Angeles, I've definitely had to re-adjust to a very different working atmosphere and pace of life. Personally, I've always preferred the laid-back beach lifestyle, and that's one of the reasons I was always hesitant to make the move to the east coast. However, when I discovered the community of Rockaway I knew there was a place in the city that I could call home. It has a lot of similarities to Venice - a bit rough around the edges - but with so much personality and charm, and of course, great surf. To answer your question about my job role, I would describe myself as a business owner and freelance consultant.
I am the owner of Rock Locations, a location agency dedicated to putting Rockaways, New York on the map as a location destination for film, TV and commercials. Aside from that, if I have any free time, I also work as an audition coach and as a magazine editor.
Reagan: Would you describe yourself as a location agent?
Claudia: That's a fair way of describing my role, but personally, I prefer to describe myself as a Location Representative for Rockaway. The word "agent" just reminds me too much of Hollywood - it just seems too corporate for what I do. I actually live in the same community as my owners. I see them all the time at a yoga class, at the gym, going out for dinner - it really changes the working dynamic. For me, my relationship with my owners and properties isn't about clients and inventory, it's about building a mutually beneficial relationship with my neighbors and friends.
Reagan: So, what does your average day look like?
Claudia: Well, as you know, the production world is unpredictable and ever changing. Before founding Rock Locations I worked for several years as a film and television actress (Claudia's credits include Law & Order: SVU and Beverly Hills, 90210), so I was always well aware of the pace and pressures involved in the entertainment industry. Coordinating locations is a pre-production role, and so there is a little bit more breathing room than on set, but not much. Even large budget productions often only lock down property a week or so in advance, and so it can be a very hectic process ensuring they have the location they need and that the property owner is getting the compensation they deserve. I'll typically have a handful of shoots lined up in a given week, and it's my responsibility to coordinate every detail between the renter and host, from budget negotiations and rules to the scheduling of scouts and shoots. Because most of my jobs are local to Rockaway, I also end up spending a lot of time on set, greeting the production teams on arrival and ensuring they have everything they need to make the shoot a success. Beyond the everyday grind of booking locations, I'm also always hustling to promote the business, whether that's PR and press opportunities or cold-calling brands and production houses.
Reagan: So how long have you been involved in the location industry and how did you get your start?
Claudia: I founded Rock Locations in January of 2016, so guess it's been 3 years! It's really been a bit of a late career epiphany. Even though I've worked in production most of my career getting into the locations industry just sort of happened accidentally. When I moved back to New York , I was actually working as a casting consultant for several media companies and print magazines based out of Manhattan. I settled in The Rockaways and I'm pretty much loving life - the only thing I wasn't loving was the commute. I kept asking myself: "how can I use my skillset without having to leave my local community?" One day I was exploring my neighborhood and wandered into this local surf shop, and I just fell in love. I'm a creative person and I've always had a passion for art and creativity and this surf shop just struck me as being so cool, and really, so cinematic. Without thinking about it, I just asked the shop owner directly: "Has this place ever been in any commercials?" and he said, "No, it hasn't", and that kicked off a long conversation, which, by the end, resulted in an agreement that I would try my best to try and help him find production bookings. That surf shop, like so many places in the Rockaways, had so much charm and personality that I was convinced it would be a popular filming location... I just needed to figure out how to promote it. In the beginning, I didn't have a company, and I just reached out to my network to let them know about the spaces. Over the following weeks and months, as I began talking with more property owners and producers I realized that there was a really exciting business opportunity sitting right in front of me.
Reagan: So how exactly did you build your location inventory and how many locations do you currently represent?
Claudia: Well, as I said, it's been really organic. In the early days I literally just walked down the street and went into different shops and restaurants that I thought were interesting and asked them: can I represent your location for film and photo productions, and pretty much without fail everyone told me to go for it. After a while, word got out about the company and then I had homeowners starting to reach out to me and ask if I'd be willing to represent them. I always told the owners, I can't guarantee that I'll be able to bring you bookings but I'll try my best, and I think for a lot of the community it was just a fun idea - you know, imagining your house in a big movie. I think I had around 30 properties before I started to really generate much interest from photographers and directors. Getting bookings was exciting, I was able to land some really cool high-end fashion stuff and the property owners were excited. A few properties in particular really started to generate buzz. At the same time, I still wanted to ensure that I was able to deliver value for all of my owners, and that's one of the reasons I've tried to keep a very curated inventory without too much overlap in terms of the types of properties I rep. In terms of my total inventory I have around 80 locations and pretty much all of them are in Rockaway. I'm considering branching out to Brooklyn but I think I need to hire more people before that happens.
Reagan: You've talked a lot about your relationship with your owners. How would you describe your work with the production teams who are actually renting properties and how do you increase your chances of landing a deal?
Claudia: My owners are easy - a lot of my work these days is dealing with potential clients, getting on phone calls, sending emails, sharing photos and scheduling scouting opportunities. I understand the mindset - in addition to being an actress, I spent over 15 years working in the casting world. There are a lot of similarities with locations and I always try to use that as reference point, when it comes to going above and beyond for a client. When it comes to negotiating rates, I always try to come up with creative solutions, especially if it's an independent project. I know how media budgets work, and I know if it's a fair deal. Unlike other agencies, most of my owners are new to filming and only list their properties with me, so they have really entrusted me with determining a payout that's appropriate. I make a percentage of the booking amount so I'm always incentivized to get as much as possible - but at the same time, what's really important to me is that is production team has a great experience and will become an advocate for shooting in the Rockaways.
Reagan: My last question is not so much about you, but about your community. How would you describe the potential impact of bringing film and photoshoots to the Rockaways?
Claudia: Rockaway, Queens has a long and fascinating history, with a lot of ups and a lot of downs. Like many working-class neighborhoods in the outer boroughs, it's seen some tough times over the last several decades. There are definitely similarities to the California beach communities, where I used to live, but it's got a long way to go to become an East-Coast Venice. That said, it's still has so much potential and it's really enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. There are new businesses and shops popping up and lots of creative and interesting people moving into the community. I think attracting the interest of the production industry has been a natural next step. Since starting Rock Locations back in 2016, I've seen a huge amount of growth in the numbers of bookings and inquiries. In addition to putting money back into the pockets of local property owners, the impact of catering, set design and repairs, and other expenses make on-site production a great boost to the local economy.