Lights, Camera, Action
Opening your house to a film crew
Two summers ago, 22 strangers descended on our home for three days. The only trace they left behind was six quarts of strawberries—and a nice-sized check. Last year, two days before Christmas, 15 strangers spent the day here. They left a box of Dunkin’ Donuts, and another check. Why? Because our house is listed with several location agencies. In the past few years, a national magazine, a rheumatoid arthritis medication, and a yogurt brand have filmed ads in our kitchen and living room. Our home was also a contender for a feature film scene that required an inn, and several ad agencies, on behalf of their clients, have been interested in our garage, attic, and pantry.
Every year, thousands of television commercials, movies, music videos, and print ads are shot on location, often because it is more cost-efficient than building a set. Renting your home out for a shoot can be lucrative and fun. Your house doesn’t have to be a showplace, although it helps if it is reasonably uncluttered.
“The properties we list include mobile homes to multi-million dollar estates,” says Debbie Regan, owner of Debbie Regan Locations (debbiereganlocations.com), based in New York City and Long Island. She has booked homes for everything from movies like The Bourne Legacy and Something Borrowed, to TV commercials and print ads from Tommy Hilfiger and Imodium AD to music videos for Busta Rhymes and 50 Cent.
To get your house listed, Regan suggests emailing photographs to location agencies. Adds Mina Ibarguen, the owner of AKA Locations (akalocations.com), another New York City-based company, “I’ve never turned a house away. You never know what a production company might be looking for. Depending on the project, they may want a sleek modern house, a dated ’70s colonial or a rundown ranch.”
When a production company needs a property, they contact location agencies with their specifications. “If they ask for a white Pottery Barn-style kitchen, we’ll show them houses from our listings that meet the criteria,” explains Ibarguen. “After they narrow the selections down, they may send their scout to take more photographs and cull further.” The location agency contacts the homeowners on the short list to check availabilities. “If you’re receiving a phone call, you’ve already survived several cuts,” notes Regan. Location agencies represent the homeowner; they make sure the production company provides proof of insurance and a signed contract before the shoot starts.
“This protects the homeowner in the event of any problems or damages,” says Ibarguen.
If necessary, the rental agreement will give the production company permission to make physical changes, such as painting a room a different color. “They will repaint it to its original color, but I’ve had homeowners decide to keep the new shade,” says Regan. Production companies usually bring their own props, but they may also use the homeowner’s furnishings. They often take photographs of a room before they start moving things around, because, reassures Ibarguen, “They are conscientious about cleaning up after themselves and putting everything back in its place.”
Rental fees range from $1,000 a day for a print shoot to over $5,000 a day for a movie. “It depends on the type of production, and how many people are involved,” explains Regan. A Tommy Hilfiger commercial shot at one of her listings involved a crew of over 125 people, including models, wardrobe, hair and make-up stylists, production crew, and Hilfiger staffers. “If you don’t like strangers in your house, you may not have the right personality for this. And if a location scout needs to take more photographs, you need to be flexible and available, because they’re usually on a tight schedule,” she adds. Some owners of multi-million dollar homes list with location agencies simply because they want to hobnob with bold-faced names. “I have one owner who only rents his house if a celebrity is involved,” admits Regan.
Location shoots come with other perks. Homeowners can watch the action; occasionally, a family member may end up in the picture. Regan’s son was asked to be in a Justin Timberlake print shoot, and several owners’ dogs have also been invited in front of the camera. And then there are the gourmet meals. “A caterer for one movie production prepared a seafood extravaganza for the crew; the owner enjoyed leftover crab legs and lobster tail for dinner,” says Regan. Lobster tails, a four-figure check, and a possible cameo. Now that’s a wrap.