The star treatment
SO, you want to be in pictures? Or at least you want your house to be? It helps if you pull the covers up in an architectural view home with lots of glass and sleek lines and have neighbors who frequently vacation.
But Hollywood also needs houses with the Archie Bunker look, the kind real people live in, according to James Perry of West Adams Locations. If your house isn’t too cluttered and has space to accommodate cameras and lights, it may have a promising future in showbiz. If it can pass for a residence in Anywhere U.S.A. -- no stucco or palm trees -- all the better.
“To successfully market your home as a film location, your approach should resemble that of an actor,” said Perry, author of the upcoming book “Opening Your Door to Hollywood: How to Get Rich by Turning Your Property Into a Movie Set.” “Two things all successful actors must have are perseverance and the willingness to work hard.” Not to mention the ability to handle rejection -- you may get a lot of “sorry, maybe next times” before your house gets its big break.
Last year, there were more than 30,000 days of location filming for which permits were pulled in the Los Angeles area. Permits are required for any filming that takes place outside a soundstage or a film studio. About 70% to 80% of location filming in Southern California occurs in private residences.
Here’s what you need to do to make your home a star:
Submit your house as a possible location
Just as movie stars hire publicists, your house needs to be seen if it’s going to land a gig. Encino resident Ramona Hennesy creates brochures showing her house’s best features and sends them off to location scouts all over town. Her efforts have paid off. Several commercials have been filmed in her ranch home. Last year, the house had a featured role in the film “A Lot Like Love.” Both the interior and the backyard were used, and her carport was even transformed into Ashton Kutcher’s bedroom.
Find out how much your house will earn
Everyone has a break-even point -- the point at which the inconvenience and wear and tear on your house become worthwhile. On a big-budget Hollywood film, your house can earn anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 a day. You are also paid for prep days and put up at a hotel if you have to move out during the shoot. And as for Fido -- pets are boarded at the studio’s expense.
The fees you earn from the production company are negotiable, but avoid making unrealistic demands. If you do, you may hear that adage that is all too familiar in Hollywood: “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
The IRS allows you to rent out your house for up to 14 days per year tax free. After that, your earnings will count as income.
Get in touch with your local film commission
Most state governments have set up commissions to encourage filmmakers to shoot there and to help homeowners who would like their residences to be considered as a location. The website for the California Film Commission at www.film.ca.gov contains information on how to market your home and provides a list of regional film offices.
Be prepared for what you’re getting into
Are you the kind of person who flips out if the cleaning lady moves a vase on your carefully composed coffee table? Do you ask your friends to remove their shoes before they walk on your parquet floors? Does the thought of 50 to 100 strangers in your home cause you to hyperventilate? If so, getting your house in the movies may not be for you. You can have the most respectful crew in the history of Hollywood and there will still be occasional nicks and scuffs.
Cameron Kelley and Jim Grace recently rented out their 100-year-old home in Koreatown for a film being directed by Christopher Nolan (“Memento,” “Batman Begins”). Kelley and Grace were amazed to see their elegant home, a registered cultural landmark, transformed into a seedy, late 19th century London slum -- “residences” of the stars of “The Prestige,” Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale.
Their home’s rich woodwork was aged and made to look like it was cracking and peeling. The beautifully plastered walls were covered with decaying wallpaper, and dusty antique props filled every nook and cranny.
This was the first time Kelley and Grace had rented out their beloved home for a film shoot, and they found the experience to be an emotional rollercoaster.
“If you’re a control freak or a neat freak, don’t do it,” Kelley warned.
“We knew they’d restore everything to its original condition, but it was still nerve-wracking to see what they were doing to our house,” Grace said. “Next time, we might leave the country for the duration!”
Hennesy’s comfort level with film crews traipsing through her home may be due to her gene pool. Her sister is actress Barbara Rush, star of classic films such as “Bigger Than Life,” “When Worlds Collide” and “The Young Lions”; her daughter Carolyn is a film and TV actress; and her late husband, Dale, was the Academy Award-winning art director of “Fantastic Voyage,” “In Like Flint,” “Young Frankenstein” and other films.
“I just love walking into my living room and finding it totally changed,” Hennesy said, “and it’s fun to meet so many interesting people.”
Make sure you’re protected against mishaps
Homeowners need to sign a location agreement before any filming begins on their property. Many of the details are standard, like establishing the daily length of the shoot and any overtime fees, but special needs should be spelled out.
“It’s important that homeowners get everything in writing,” said Marshall Coben, co-owner of Malibu Locations, an agency that represents more than 4,000 sites in Southern California, including many spectacular beachfront properties. “We obtain a hefty security deposit from the production company that is cashed and in the bank, ready to cover any damages. But in most cases, the impact on the home is negligible.”
The production company will also secure a certificate of insurance that provides coverage for any mishaps. This is essential, since regular homeowner insurance policies do not cover damage that occurs during a film shoot. Riders can be added to any agreement listing additional conditions such as areas of the house that are off-limits, overnight storage of equipment, or even the use of bathrooms in the home.
Occasionally, owners have unusual requests. “I had one client,” location expert Perry said, “who rented out her mansion for a big Tom Cruise movie and decided to waive the $30,000 fee she would have made for the opportunity to walk the red carpet at the film’s premiere. The studio agreed and she had a ball!”
Do what it takes to keep the neighbors happy
Such relations are a key concern during location shoots. In some Los Angeles neighborhoods, movie crews have worn out their welcome. Residents may be tired of the traffic congestion and the noise that accompanies a shoot, or there may be horror stories of damage caused to homes in the area by unprofessional crews.
Last year, the Malibu City Council enacted a provision that prohibits filming after 10 p.m. unless the production company receives unanimous consent from those living within a 500-foot radius of the shoot. Other communities are monitoring the number of film shoots and keeping track of residents’ complaints.
Location managers work to appease neighbors’ concerns, often providing cash stipends for inconveniences. Neighbors can often earn money letting the crew store lights or extra equipment on their property, or serving as a place for the extras to hang out. Donations might also be made to the area community or homeowners association.
The location manager will arrange for all city permits and have signs posted in advance that indicate any parking restrictions during the shoot.
Homeowners who don’t want their first shoot to be their last will do what it takes to stay in the neighbors’ good graces. After a long shoot, Hennesy likes to thank her neighbors for their patience by sending them boxes of See’s Candies with notes of appreciation.
Stand by as your house is transformed
The studio art department will descend on the house to dress it for the production. Clothing designer Melissa Garsen’s house near downtown Los Angeles has been featured on the television shows “Alias,” “The West Wing” and “Six Feet Under,” as well as in many commercials and feature films. She has seen her living room transformed into a hooker’s boudoir, a house in West Africa, and even Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer’s bedroom. “I’m never worried about what a film crew does to my house,” Garsen said. “I admire their professionalism, and I know they’ll put everything back in place after the shoot.”
Laura Meyers is a longtime activist in the historic West Adams district, an area of Los Angeles that sees a lot of film production. Over the years, she has worked to define the important role of site representative. “The site rep acts as a liaison between the homeowner and the production company,” Meyers said. “A good site rep will make sure that the homeowners are comfortable with what’s happening on the set while also making sure that the filming goes smoothly.”
One perk of the process may also pose a risk to homeowners’ waistlines. Film and television shoots often provide lavishly catered meals. Craft services may offer an omelet station on the front lawn in the morning, Cajun shrimp and hot fudge sundaes at noon, and lobster tails or beef tenderloin for dinner.
After shooting is completed, the crew will strike the set and do whatever it takes to restore the house to its pre-filming state. In addition to their fee, homeowners may benefit from upgrades such as refinished woodwork or a new paint job.
In the end, your house may not be the only one to catch the showbiz bug. Garsen’s 5-year-old twins, Lucas and Camille, have seen film crews come and go since they were born. Lucas had barely begun putting sentences together when he ran up to his mother during a shoot and said, “I’m hungry, Mommy, where is craft services?”