October 11, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When it comes to shooting video, Jamie Vesay of Omaha is a handler, facilitator, fixer, procurer, and—as his LinkedIn site puts it—“minutia wrangler” and “chaos killer.” He works on television commercials, music videos, and feature films. His location scout credits include Alexander Payne’s Nebraska and Downsizing.

Whether doing logistics or scouting locations, Vesay says he is “a creative collaborator” helping filmmakers “realize their vision.” He also aspires to make his own films from scripts and stories he’s writing.

The Pottsville, Pennsylvania, native worked odd jobs back East when he got an interview for the special effects (FX) crew on a 1989 Baltimore film shoot. Vesay’s experience as a machinist provided the fabrication skills needed in the FX profession. That first gig came on Barry Levinson’s major studio project, Avalon.

More FX feature jobs followed, as did a move to Los Angeles, before the work dried up and he relocated to Omaha. His talents made him in-demand on shoots. He added location scouting to his repertoire on projects near and far. Payne’s frequent location manager, John Latenser V, got Vesay day work on About Schmidt. But it wasn’t until Nebraska that Vesay worked extensively with Payne. Latenser couldn’t join the project at the start, so Vesay took the reins.

“You have to have that ability to bob and weave, change and adapt to the director you’re working with. Alexander is so smart about life, let alone the industry. At his core, he’s a guy who will say to you, ‘What do you think?’ And he’s sincere–he wants to know what you think.”

-Jamie Vesay

Vesay broke down the script’s locations. Having scoured the state for years, he had mental and digital files of countless sites. Since the story revolved around a road trip by father-son protagonists Woody and David, an excursion was in order. Payne, production designer Dennis Washington, and Vesay made the Billings, Montana, to eastern Nebraska trek themselves in an SUV. With steering wheel in one hand, 35-millimeter camera in the other, and legal notepad and pen on his lap, Vesay documented possible locations they came upon. Everyone voiced an opinion.

“My goal is to present options to the director,” Vesay says. “Many things we’ll drive by, Alexander will say, ‘OK, slow down, stop the car–I want to look at this.’ Sometimes you let him discover it. Other times you guide him. As I’m presenting the options, he’s seeing what’s available and saying, ‘Well, maybe it’s that.’ He’s a rare filmmaker willing to change with what’s available and use a location different from his original vision.”

The Nebraska script called for a Wyoming truck stop but Payne didn’t like any. With the SUV’s gas tank nearing empty. Vesay pulled into a combo gas station, bait-tackle shop, and bar that Payne loved. On Downsizing, Payne rejected South Omaha duplexes for one of his old haunts, Dundee.

“You have to have that ability to bob and weave, change and adapt to the director you’re working with,” he says. “Alexander is so smart about life, let alone the industry. At his core, he’s a guy who will say to you, ‘What do you think?’ And he’s sincere–he wants to know what you think.”

Vesay found the abandoned farmhouse the family visits in Nebraska. Payne called it “perfect.”

Instinct and experience help Vesay find things. Besides, he says, “I know where they’re hiding.”

A location’s look might be right, but it must also safely accommodate cast and crew. Access, sight lines, and noise are other considerations.

Choosing locations is just the start. Protocols require filmmakers to secure signed permission from property owners. During production Vesay does owner relations.

Looking to the future, Vesay urges the state to do more to attract film projects that provide steady work to local professionals.

Visit jamievesay.com for more information.

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