What Fee Can I Charge to Rent My Film Location?

by Ariel Penn

When I worked as a film commissioner, I received calls every day from would-be filming hosts.  They wanted to host filming but were confused about what to charge. Matter of fact, this was their number one question.

So what fee can I charge to rent my film location?  For noncommercial property, the daily  location rental fee  resides between Zillow’s monthly rental estimate and your monthly mortgage payment.   For commercial property, the film fee, at the least, should cover what you’d make on an average day + staffing costs.

What do I charge filmmakers if I no longer have a mortgage?

To get an idea, look up your property on Zillow.com and page down for their monthly rental estimate of your property. This gives you an idea what your daily film location fee could be. Although keep in mind that the Zillow estimate can be high and only be affordable to the higher budget productions. For instance, Zillow might estimate  your monthly rental at $2,100.  As a result, you may  ask the filmmakers for a fee of $2,100 dollars per filming day.  Prep and strike days are usually charged at 50% of the per filming day rate so $1,050. 

You can also figure out your current monthly mortgage rate based on current home valuation and a 30 year fixed. This will give you a daily fee estimate but keep in mind this may represent the top of the range. You may need to negotiate down from this top rate.

Are there other effective methods for determining my film location rental rate?

One of the most effective is to ask other property owners with similar properties within your geographic area (if they’ll be forthcoming with this information).  You may also ask a location agent  who represents several properties in your area.  In some cases, a film commission or office may offer some ideas.  However, many film commissions (as government-affiliated agencies) may be prohibited by law from offering this information due to legal restrictions around government agencies being directly involved in influencing private enterprise.

How do film companies determine what they can afford to spend to rent each film location?

A location manager has an overall location budget for the whole production.  They break down the number of locations per project and then divide that by their overall budget.  This gives them an estimate of what they can spend per location,  and this might need to include other location expenses such as security, parking lot rentals etc. Sometimes, location managers can obtain additional monies from the production design budget especially if a location can replace  what the art department would need to build on stage.

What are some of the factors that can affect what I charge for film location rentals?

While the Zillow estimate  and your monthly mortgage rate can give you a range, this range can be affected by a number of things if you’re a residential property. Although it should be noted that for commercial properties, there is less flexibility in fee range if a film shoot ultimately shuts down daily operations. Business owners know it’s imperative that they cover their average daily income and costs no matter the production.   One way business owners can work with filmmakers on limited budgets is by allowing filming after normal business hours or on a day they are normally closed.  Both residential and commercial properties may be able to assist filming conducted on behalf of a nonprofit agency (such as the American Heart Association, Jewish Family Services, March of Dimes, etc) and receive an in-kind tax deduction for use of the property (consult with your tax advisor) instead of a daily rental fee. 

Here are some of the considerations which affect the film location fee (especially for residential properties):

  1. Size of production.
  2. Type of production.
  3. Amount of time location is needed.
  4. The foot print of the production.
  5. The budget of the production.

Size of production.  Production sizes can vary a lot these days especially with the availability of new types of cameras and equipment. For instance,  twenty years ago, the typical feature film (and tv series) production would be impossible without substantial equipment and crew sizes.  Many feature films twenty years ago had crews of 75 and above, at least 10 big semis on location and large cameras and lighting rigs.  And conversely, still photography shoots would have around 10 people and a few personal cars.

Now with the advent of sensitive digital cameras such as the Red cameras or even iphones, crew sizes and equipment requirements have plummeted.  It’s possible  now to shoot a good looking feature film with a crew of 15 or under and one standard U-haul sized truck and a couple of transportation vans. These feature crews can match the size a footprint of what used to be still photography shoots only. Large lighting rigs are no longer needed to obtain good clear footage due to the increased sensitivity of digital cameras. 

Many feature films and tv projects are  now shot with what used to be considered still photography style cameras only.  These cameras include the Canon EOS C300, Nikon D850, Panasonic Lumix GH5 (a favorite of documentary filmmakers), and the Black Magic Pocket Camera. Many of these cameras have ISO sensitivities from 64 up to 24,000.  ISO is basically a camera setting that will brighten or darken the picture.  As you increase the ISO number, pictures grow  brighter. 

What this means for impact to your location is that the increased sensitivity to light of these new cameras means less equipment and crew on your property.  And what this means for rental fee is that filmmakers will be more aggressive in negotiating a lower rental rate.  They may also need fewer prep and strike days as well. 

Twenty years ago  productions had fewer cameras and options.  Back then, most cameras required extensive crew and lighting to obtain a well-exposed picture, especially on film.   This meant huge location impacts as large crews would pretty much monopolize a property. 

These days, it’s possible for filmmakers to work smaller, faster and take up less space at a location.  In some cases, they may be able to shoot in a small part of a commercial property while allowing a business to stay completely open to customers for the duration.

Location owners should not be surprised companies will now want to negotiate lower rates due to these advancements. This may take some adjustment for owners who have been hosting filming for a couple of decades. 

But a good rule of thumb is to ask the location manager for the total crew size on the day of production. Also ask them for a list of vehicles (with sizes) that they’ll  be parking near or on the location.   This will give you a better idea of impact and how you feel about any rental fee offers from the company.

Type of production.  The type of production is becoming less and less of a factor these days as it was in years past.  Still photography shoots (typically the smallest type of production) and feature films (usually the largest type of production) can frequently have similar crew sizes now due to the new digital world we live in. 

Amount of time your location is needed.  Your rental fee can vary greatly based on the amount of time a crew will spend at your location.  A typical full filming day is considered to be 15 hours.  Your fee should be adjusted based on the percentage of the day used from when the first truck rolls up to when the last truck leaves.  For instance, if the crew is rolling up at 7a and last truck leaving at 1p, this is 40% of a full (15 hours) filming day.  You may wish to charge them 40% of your standard daily fee.

The footprint of the production.  Does the production need to film a few scenes throughout the entirety of your property or just one corner of an outside garden?  This might affect what a company offers in terms of rental fee and what you agree to charge.  It’s important during the scouting walk throughs that you nail down the areas to be used and how much and how long for each area.

The budget of the production.   Be prepared for great variations in the size of budgets.   Currently, the size of budgets don’t fall into predictable categories as they have going back a couple of decades.  A still photography ad shoot for Nike could potentially have a larger budget than a feature film intended for a theatrical release by a small independent company.  It’s encouraged that you keep an open mind about budgets and always ask the company what they can offer for a particular shoot.  You can use the benchmark of Zillow, your mortgage or your average income from your business to determine if their offer is in the ballpark.  But prepare to negotiate as budgets are all over the map these days.