REEL WOMEN: Valerie Bulinski, Locations Manager

Reel Women

Editor’s Note: They are leaders. They are inspirational. They are mentors. They are visionaries. They are, quite frankly, badasses. They are our 2020 Reel Women During Women’s History Month, you will be able to meet these incredible personalities in Advertising, Entertainment, Media and Production. Get ready.

Prior becoming a Locations Manager and founding Chicago Locations in 1984, Valerie Bulinski was a high school teacher at Chicago Parochial High School and a leading salesperson for Porsche and BMW.  

In 1984 she met her mentor Billy Higgins, a well known Chicago producer, who introduced her to the intricacies and nuances of production. Since that time, Valerie has created an impressive list of films: A Dog’s Journey, Transformer 4, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Express, Dragonfly, Madison, The Fugitive, Rapid Fire, Above the Law, Midnight Run, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Lucas, Weird Science. Television series: Chicago PD, The Chicago Code, The Forgotten, The Tower, Pleading Guilty, The Hitman, Comedy Shorts, ER, Angel Street, Jack and Mike, Lady Blue, Night of Courage. Commercials for brands such as Toyota, Exon, Samsung, Gatorade, New Balance, Lottery, and too many photo-shoots, video games, music videos and events to list.

In 1987, Valerie was invited to join the Directors Guild of America. In 1996, Valerie’s peers elected her to serve as the East Coast AD / UPM Council Member for 1997-1999 and then, again, from 2003-2005.  

Transformers 4

Today, Valerie serves on the Waiver Committee for the Eastern Council and the Chicago Committee for the DGA. 

What did you originally want to be when you grow up?
After watching the television series, The Twilight Zone, I decided to become a storyteller. At the age of ten I clipped out an application for a home study course and mailed it with the hope of following my dream. A few weeks later, my mother answered the doorbell to a salesman asking for me. Despite the fact my mother sent the salesman on his way, I continued to write.

How did you get into the film industry?
 I became one of those rare women selling high-end German cars in 1980. One day, Billy Higgins, came in to buy a BMW. At this time he was a Location Manager on the movie Weird Science.  He came in too many times for me to finally say,  “ Billy you don’t fit in this car, your torso is too long.” We both agreed he should buy a Jeep.  I asked him if I could shadow him and he immediately and kindly said yes.

Who were your mentors?
Billy Higgins was a mentor because he taught me what it takes to be a good Location Manager. He assured me that I already had the creative talent and social skills. He taught me the rules and guided me through the process of large teams of artists collaborating on one project. 

Forrest Futrell gave me my first Assistant Directing position. He showed me through example, leadership skills and the dynamics of being the “center” of the wheel when a film is in production.

What is your greatest achievement?
One of my biggest achievements was taking part in the initial group of Location Managers that organize to become a voice to achieve recognition, as members of the DGA as in the Eastern Region. I was also elected as the Midwest Representative for two terms with the DGA.


What are your biggest pet peeves? 
My biggest pet peeve is when any cast or crewmember thinks that the world revolves around their department. They forget that it takes a team to succeed.

What are your predictions for the film industry over the next decade?
I know the film industry will continue to grow with technology. I am hopeful that woman and minorities will continue to find the hidden paths to positions of influence and creative expression.

Name a job you had that would surprise people.
I was a High School History Teacher for three years. I served an Internship in the TV department at the Jewish Federation during the beginning of my film career. I actually got the opportunity to operate those huge cameras with a headset on. I clearly remember filming an interview with an American General (WWII) who led his soldiers to free the prisoners in a concentration camp. It was the first time he spoke of it in forty years.  I felt the importance of the visual message. 

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Who plays you in your life story?
Katharine Hepburn-independent, followed her own path, spoke her mind, and wore pants when she was told to wear a dress. 

What do you wish you had more time to do?
I wish I had more time to study topics that interest me and time to teach what I have learned to anyone that is interested. 

Do you talk to yourself?
Yes, I do talk to myself. If I stop talking to myself I would be worried. I am my best friend.

What inspires you to be creative?
In film, what inspires me to be creative is “knowing” that a project will be completed.  Also, seeing the end results of hard work and knowing I put my heart and soul into a project’s success is rewarding.