12 Surprising Tips About Film Location Rentals

by Ariel Penn

During my 25 years dealing with film  locations, I received calls from hundreds of filming hosts. Many were surprised by some aspect or another  of renting their place for filming. Usually, they were caught off guard by one of the following twelve things.

1. You need to be available within a moment’s notice to show a film company around.

The industry can move at lightning speed, especially if you’re dealing with commercials or smaller productions.  Feature films usually have longer lead times, but most other productions, including tv series, don’t.  A film company could call  you on  a Monday and want to see your property for the first time that afternoon.  And then they’ll plan to shoot on a Wednesday or Thursday that same week.

They will expect you to drop what you’re doing so they can stop by for an hour (or more) to tour your property.  If you have a full-time job, this could be a problem if you can’t get away.

To increase your chances of hosting filming, you may want to plan for the ability to leave at a moment’s notice.  This includes making arrangements with a family member to assist or with your boss so you can leave early.

Are you unable to show them around? That’s one film job you won’t get

2. They will visit your property at least a couple of time before they make a final decision.

Assuming they have more time, the company will want to tour your property at least two times before they make a final decision to rent it.  The first tour will be with a location scout or manager. They’ll  show up with a camera taking photos to present to their director, producer, and production designer.

If their photos hook the director and/or producer, they will want to return. They’ll bring the director and   the  production designer.  The location scout will use the second tour to determine if the property will work for their needs.

3. Don’t take it personally if no one calls you back. If they’re serious about renting your property, the company will contact you again.

After showing the company around once (and most likely twice), you may never hear from them  again. The rule of thumb in the industry is ‘If you don’t hear back, you didn’t get the job.’  They only call back if they are interested in renting your property.  Otherwise, it’s ‘Don’t call us; we’ll call you!’  Frequently, companies are under such tight deadlines that they don’t have time to get back to every property they’ve toured.  Don’t take it personally.

4. You are not competing for a job with your neighbors.

A location scout calls you and informs you they’re looking for a Tudor house.  You look across your street with envy realizing your neighbor has a Tudor house too. It’s very similar to yours.  Are you in competition with your neighbor?  The short answer to this is “No!”  Scouts are looking  at a variety of factors beyond a simple architectural match.  Frequently, they’re trying to complete work for more than one scene at a  location.  And they need to be efficient with both time (scheduling) and money.

They may want a Tudor house exterior but also require  a scene that same day in a wood-paneled study,  next to a garden or swimming pool.  The Tudor house that  has the wood-paneled study, the garden or swimming pool wins the job.

5. Neighbors can be a big problem if you don’t give them fair warning and listen to their concerns.

When a film company approaches you, your first thoughts will be how their production will affect you. That’s only natural.  Once a property owner is confident their issues are addressed, they move on. They may not  realize how a production will affect their neighbors.

Productions bring a huge amount of activity to an area. A normally quiet residential street will suddenly be packed with 10 semis and a crew of 75.  Precious street parking will disappear after the  big trucks arrive. A huge contingent of cast and crew will be wandering the neighborhood. And they bring with them lots of equipment, catering, and lighting. They make strange noises with cranes  and trucks that beep when backing up.

It’s wise to check in with your immediate neighbors at least a  couple of days prior to the production.   See if they have any special concerns.  Are they planning a major renovation  on the day of your filming? Or do they  have a luncheon planned that day for their local alumni chapter?

No matter what  you have planned on your property, your  goal is not to surprise your neighbors.  Most people will forgive anything, but not being taken off guard. It’s just human nature to hate surprises,  so check in advance. Encourage  the company to extend any courtesy   (i.e. invite the neighbors to watch the filming, invite them to a meal, for snacks or offer to include them in the activity by renting driveways or backyards for catering).

A company should know if they’ll impact your closest neighbors. Will they take away  all street parking? Or bother your neighbors with hustle and bustle of a crew being on location for hours at time, a long shoot day?  Will it affect your neighbors plans to have construction, host a party, etc.? Perhaps the company will need to offer compensation to your impacted neighbors if they affect them in some specific way. Or they may alter their production plans so your neighbor can conduct their activities too. The company may also want to send gift baskets to thank them for their hospitality.

You should feel positive and encourage these overtures between the production and your neighbors.

6. You should do an inventory of items you would need to remove and have stored in event of filming.

A lot of first time filming hosts can panic.  This is especially true when they realize how a production will occupy their property. This  includes moving heavy equipment in and out of an area.  They realize that the expensive painting Aunt Sally bought them is in the line of the filming  activity as well as a china cabinet with rare artifacts from Africa.

Prior to hosting your first shoot, you should take an inventory of all the items on your property. What  would be irreplaceable or expensive if they were lost or damaged?  You must identify these items for  the location manager. Show them prior to the first prep or film day. Guarantee that  you or the company will safely remove and store these items.

Through the years, I received a number of calls from filming hosts who never considered This. They never identified the   precious items  in their environment.  And they called me after it was too late and things were already damaged or lost.

7. The glamour and money of the film industry can bring out a filming host’s shadiest tendencies.

Be on your best and most amenable behavior. The  filming location scout community is super small, and they all talk.  You’ll be blacklisted if one of them had a bad experience.

Through the years, I received hundreds of calls from producers and location scouts complaining about shady (or sometimes incompetent) business practices by filming hosts or their agents.

Number one on their list was  last minute changes to a rental price.  I define this  as  shady behavior vs  incompetence.  In this shady practice,  a filming host waits until the day before a contracted shoot on their property and decides to back out. That is  unless the film company provides them with a substantial increase in their rental price.

Most film companies view this as out and out extortion.  If an owner suddenly decides to raise their rental price last minute, a company will be unable to find another location in time. They are stuck paying whatever the owner requests or not filming.  This is a big no no and will get you blacklisted faster than any other thing you could do.  The momentary gain will not be worth the lack of filming that might occur in the future.

Another action the companies complain about is changes in access.  You promise the company they can film in the atrium of your building. Then you discover the other tenants or stakeholders cut off access.  Be sure you can deliver whatever you promise to the company.  Check with any other stakeholders in advance to ensure an area will be available on the days of proposed filming.  Let the company know early if there are any changes or modifications.  They hate surprises too.

8. Do a walk through. You’ll be so glad you took the time!

Nothing is worse than a “you said/they said” situation after filming concludes.  You say they damaged your floor.  They claim everything was restored just as they found it.

If you don’t do a walk through with the location manager prior to your film shoot, you may find yourself out of luck. Without proof, they are under no obligation   to repair or restore your property.  Walk with them prior to the shoot day and document everything. Take videos or photos of walls, floors, furniture to document the “before” condition of the property. This will serve as a reference point after filming concludes. It will be proof of an issue when you draw down on the  damage deposit or file a claim with their insurance.

9. The filming property needs to be on the production insurance.

A film company (no matter whether it’s a major feature film or a small student production) should name you as additional insured on their General Liability Policy.   This protects you in the event of an accident or if there’s damage to your property.  In our free course, “Your Property is the Star,” we cover the nitty gritty of production insurance and protecting yourself from liability and damage.

10. The production will take over your film location on the shoot day.

Most first time filming hosts tell me they underestimated how big  the filming impact would  be.  A small crew of even 25 people can look like a mob when they set up in a typical living room or kitchen.  And most bring at least a few large trucks to conduct their activities taking away a large run of street parking.  Emotionally prepare for how large a production can be. Know that crew and equipment will be moving around your place as if they own it. And during the rental time, they do!

If you want to dive in deeper to understanding the filming host world, check out our  free  course on renting your property for filming at our site www.filmlocationowners.com. We cover the following items such as:

  • Marketing your property.
  • Preparing promotional photos.
  • Determining if there’s a demand for film locations in your area.
  • Figuring out what to charge.
  • Handling walk throughs, damage, and insurance.

11.  Filming production is not glamorous.  It’s like watching paint dry.

Most property owners look forward to their first day of filming.  They envision an action packed day with all the excitement and glitter of a red carpet premiere.  They  invite a few selected family and friends by (with the approval of the production) so they can witness their big debut as a film location.

And when the filming day starts, it is  exciting. The company rolls  up to your location and more than a couple dozen people unpack some of the most exotic (and expensive) equipment you’ve ever seen. When they bring everything onto your property, it looks like organized chaos, very similar to hosting a big party and the guests arriving all at once.  Soon after, the actors arrive, and you have that brief sparkle dust moment (especially if they are a celebrity), until everyone settles and begins their work.  

When the camera starts rolling,  everyone on location  (including you and anyone with you) will be asked to be perfectly still and not speak for hours on end.  Set ups (a specific part of a scene where camera is locked in position to get a bit of dialogue) can occur over and  over again. Slight adjustments are made by the directors, actors, and crew. These adjustments can include a   new   delivery from an actor offering a different emotional texture. This gives the director options in the editing room.  It can also involve moving props or lighting to create a slightly different emotional affect.

For  someone observing and looking to be a part of the Hollywood magic, this process can be disappointing and stifling.  The production crews refer  to this as “Hurry up and wait.”  The crew usually has a huge amount of set ups to get through in a day, but they (and you) have to stop and be silent for extended periods to successfully accomplish this. 

12. After all of this, your location may be cut from the film. 

Many filming hosts have told me  how surprised they were by how involved filming is.  Even the smallest shoot takes a team of dedicated professionals or students.  Every function is accounted for including hair and makeup, lighting, camera, electrical even craft service. 

That is  why it is shocking to see the finished film.  A filming host may remember having two or three days of very involved filming on their property, only to see that their location is nowhere to be found in the final cut of the film!

Yes, after all that, the director may cut a location if she/he finds it doesn’t advance the narrative like they thought. Decisions like this can crop up in the editing room as a film is assembled and the pacing of the project becomes apparent.  Or it can be something as simple as making sure the  film times out properly for distributors. Whatever it is, don’t take it personally!  This happens to every film location owner at some point.

Early in my career, this happened to me on a very big shoot I was hosting on the Sunset Strip.  It was for Oliver Stone’s The Doors movie.  Stone required a complete closure of two to three blocks of Sunset Boulevard for five nights straight. 

He requested that all of the businesses in the area have their buildings altered (some dramatically) by his Art Department (including repainting exteriors, removing all interior furniture and merchandise from the stores or clubs). During the five shooting nights, a crew of over 100, 350 extras and 175 picture cars crowded the Strip for many elaborate set ups.  Coordinating this production on behalf of the City of West Hollywood was the most complex shoot I hosted in my 25 year career.

When you see the actual film, most of the street scenes were  cut except for a close up of Val Kilmer on a sidewalk as Jim Morrison.  None of the street scenes with the extras, the transformation of two blocks of Sunset back to the last 60’s (including the billboards), little of this is seen in the final cut.

THE WRAP:  It’s Fun and Worth It!

Despite some of the surprising aspects of being a filming host, it can be lucrative and fun, giving you bragging rights for years. Feel free to explore this world at our site www.filmlocationowners.com.  Take our free course and learn more about renting your property for filming. We will help you get started on your road to success.

copyright, all rights reserved. March 14, 2019.