What Should a Film Location Agreement Include?

by Ariel Penn

When people are new to renting their property as a film location, they can be intimidated by figuring out the contracts. But there are some basic guidelines that should protect your rights as well as the production company’s.

So what should a film location agreement or contract include? Basically, a location agreement should include all rental details (dates, times, rental fees) and confirmation of the owner’s right to rent.

Here’s the run down:

  1. Confirmation that the signee can legally rent the property to the company.
  2. Rental dates and times including prep and strike days and  additional dates in case of rain or scheduling problems.
  3. The rental fee for both film days and prep/strike days.
  4. Clause to indemnify the owners of any damages from use of premises and any losses or third-party claims incurred during the production.
  5. Ability of company to present the location in filmed project for distribution worldwide including to its licensees.
  6. Approval of owners to allow company to make any alterations to the property.
  7. Provision for a walk through and damage deposit.
  8. Language that indicates that the filmmaker is under no obligation to use the footage obtained of the property.
  9. Clause for third-party intellectual property.  If a production company films art work or other copyrighted material, this clause requires them to seek third-party permission.

If a film company is interested in filming your property, they will most likely present you with a location agreement vetted by their legal team.  You should vet this agreement with your own attorney.  What we cover here are some basic guidelines on what to expect and the implications of different provisions from our perspective.  This is not meant to take the place of the advice of an attorney.

1. Confirmation that the signee can legally rent the property to the company.

I’ve seen film shoots fall apart because the wrong person signed the location agreement.  And I’ve seen them fall apart right in the middle of a film day when the rightful owner of the  property suddenly appeared and informed the production that whoever signed the location agreement had no authority to do so on the owner’s behalf. Then I’ve watched the owner tell an entire production to pack up their things and leave their location immediately.

It might seem unimaginable that anyone but the owner would be signing the location agreement but this happens more often than you would think.  I’ve experienced tenants signing for filming thinking they had the authority since they were the current renters of the property.  I’ve seen managers sign for a commercial property such as a diner or clothing store believing their position as manager gave them the authority to do so.

I’ve also seen older children or adult children sign on behalf of their parents even though they weren’t the legal owners or had power of attorney. 

A good rule of thumb?  If they’re not listed on the Grant Deed, they probably can’t sign unless they can prove they have power of attorney to sign on behalf of the owner.   And if the wrong person signs the agreement and the company is asked to leave, this could expose the signee for damages, especially if the company loses a day of filming and all of the costs for personnel.

2. Rental dates and times including prep and strike days and  additional dates in case of rain or scheduling problems.

The film company will probably ask to place you under contract for the largest range of dates they can in anticipation of scheduling or weather delays.  Frequently, the language will list specific prep, film and strike days and then a month or a couple of weeks as back up if the original dates become impossible.  If you host a lot of filming, you may want to add language indicating the company will work with you  if another company wishes to film during the back up weather or scheduling days.

3. The rental fee for both film days and prep/strike days.

So there is no confusion around payment or fees, this should be included in the contract.  All fees should be listed for the various activities.  Prep and strike is usually charged at 50% of the actual film day fee and should be listed as well.

4. Clause to indemnify the owners of any damages from use of premises and any losses or third-party claims incurred during the production.

This helps protect the owner from any third- party claims such as a crew member claiming they were injured due to a loose step or tripping on a freshly waxed floor etc.  Also, it prevents the company from claiming they did damage due to some inferior condition at the property.

5. Ability of company to present the location in filmed project for distribution worldwide including to its licensees.

I’ve occasionally run into owners that are nervous about granting use of footage to the filmmakers.  Most production companies will walk away and not use a location unless they are granted the right to use the footage as they see fit.  They need to be confident that any film they shoot at someone’s property has been cleared by the owner for use in the project and for distribution however they wish.

For owners that are ambivalent about this, it usually has to do with script approval.  They want to be sure their property isn’t presented in a bad light. Or sometimes, the owners want script approval if they are part of a religious institution and want to ensure the project is in line with their faith.  If this is something that concerns you regarding your property, it’s better to discuss this upfront with the location manager and request to see the script in advance than to try  enforce this on the back end in the contract by refusing the right to use the footage. 

Not granting the right to use footage is a non-starter for most companies.

6. Approval of owners to allow company to make any alterations to the property.

It doesn’t hurt to include language about the specific alterations (if any) to be made at the film location property.  This can be referred to during the prep process should an art department person start taking liberties and making alterations that were never agreed to in the first place. 

7. Provision for a walk through and damage deposit.

Any good location manager or producer should be approaching you to do a walkthrough prior to filming.  This protects the interests of both parties. The company wants to be sure they’re not on the hook for any damages they never did.  And the property owner wants to ensure pre-filming conditions are documented in case there is damage.  If you wish to have immediate monies to draw down on in the event of damage, you should indicate the cost of a damage deposit and when and how it should be provided.

8. Language that indicates that the filmmaker is under no obligation to use the footage obtained of the property.

Through the years, I’ve talked to more than one disappointed filming host who went to see a film they hosted only to find the footage of their property nowhere to be found.  This happens a significant percentage of the time.  Things change in the edit room. A film has too many scenes and needs to fit within a certain number of minutes. 

The biggest thing I tell these owners is not to take it personally.  It was a creative or economic decision.  And as long as they got a check for their rental, all should be well.

9. Clause for third-party intellectual property.  If a production company films art work or other copyrighted material, this clause requires them to seek third-party permission.

While you may be able to grant permission for filming as the owner of a property, you are not able to grant the right to film any artwork or copyrighted material within your space.  For instance, an artist may have sold you a painting granting you the right to display the piece however you see fit.  The artist still retains the original copyright for its reproduction by any means including on film.  Adding this third-0arty intellectual property provision requires the company to get permission to film the artwork from the artist aka copyright owner.  This clarifies in any dispute which party was obligated to get these clearances