I call it “Feeding the Beast.” Currently, ever more film and photography productions are happening in and around New York in search of ever more locations.
Maybe you know someone who had “The OG” or "Law and Order" shoot at their home. Or a friend’s brownstone was featured in the Design Within Reach catalog. Or your cousin’s loft was used for a tv commercial for Stella Artois. That’s my job -- to provide background locations for all the hungry productions happening in the New York area -- not just Manhattan and Brooklyn, but Long Island, Connecticut, Westchester and the Catskills.
This beast is hungry. And looking for your spaces!
What is a location agent?
I was a contributing editor to Martha Stewart Living and was married to a photographer who shot a lot on location. So I knew locations. The week we moved to Bedford, 23 years ago, I took my first walk on our new street, Guard Hill Road. I said to my husband, “boy, I bet there are a lot of beautiful locations here. I should become a location agent!”
The next day I printed business cards, and the day after I asked a few new friends if I could photograph their homes. Back then I shot houses on film, printed the pictures at a CVS, and scotch-taped them to manilla folders that would go in binders. So analog.
Producers would CALL— on the land line!--to describe a location they envisioned. I’d put the few appropriate locations I had in a binder and race to Fed Ex to overnight the binder. It was, needless to say, slow-going. Eventually, thanks to digital photography, I started one of the first location websites, and word spread, thanks to some happy customers and some features in the New York Times Real Estate section.
What I love about repping locations is first and foremost THE HOUSES. I love a humble suburban house as much as I love a sleek loft. And I love being part of a creative team that helps a producer manifest a vision (within the budget of course). Just as the right casting, photography, script, lighting, and wardrobe are all part of telling the story, the location is as critical a character as the actors portrayals. Let’s now answer some of your burning questions.
What type of person rents their homes out for shoots?
One needs an open nature to be part of this business. You will need need to feel comfortable with strangers working in their house -- strangers, yes, but they’re highly professional and very used to working in peoples’ homes and avoiding damage. And there are rules!
Our homeowners are hedge fund people, fishmongers, architects, children’s book authors, graphic designers and bicycle sellers. One triplex penthouse owner in Tribeca gives all her income from shoots to Wolf Conservation. Most homeowners typically plow the money back into home projects, or, say, pay for their kid’s college.
What can you realistically expect in terms of fees?
Fees range from $2000/day on the low end to $15k/day at the high end.
Our homeowners are hedge fund people, fishmongers, architects, children’s book authors, graphic designers and bicycle sellers.
How does this process work? Should you be intimidated?
It’s actually fairly simple! A location agent can shoot your space, or perhaps you have a really nice existing photos -- the more the better -- as photographers and film folks want to see as much of the space as possible, including creepy basements, laundry rooms, and big closets! Each location and image gets key worded so they are searchable by all kinds of criteria.
When we get a query, I first refer to the massive image file in my brain, and then use the site’s search engine to create a portfolio of appropriate spaces. After culling through all the locations, the client and photographer or director all have a say in the final selections.
If they like a space, we check with homeowners about their interest and availability. Be aware that a production is likely looking a number of spaces and will put a “first hold” on their final choices.
Usually the producer or a location scout will want to visit your space ahead of any shoot. If it’s a go, we confirm the shoot!
The key documents you will want to collect are:
• A certificate of Insurance: the usual amount is for $1 million. The producers will handle this for you. Do not proceed without one!
• A signed and thorough agreement in which all the rules and parameters are spelled out. No shoes? Use of bathrooms? Only certain rooms? All these things need to be in the contract. Location agents really help with this.
• Payment! Most productions are prepared to pay up front these days.
And now, Don’t worry! Your space will be well looked after, as we are dealing with professionals and some of the best photographers and filmmakers in the business! For the rare producer who is unprofessional, I won’t continue to work with them. There is also a loose collective of location agents who share notes on particularly egregious producers or homeowners.
How long do shoots last? And where do I stay?
Shoots last anywhere from one 10 hour day to a tv or movie shoot for that can last 2 weeks. If that sounds like a nightmare to you, so be it. It does take a particular personality to welcome strangers into their home that will rearrange the furniture, maybe ask to paint a wall, or build a faux wall (none of the preceding would happen without your knowing about it in advance!).
If you are unable to use your bedroom during a shoot, the production will pay for a hotel as needed. If anything is damaged or broken, it gets taken care of, or replaced. I will tell you that 99 times out of 100, my homeowners reach out at the end of a shoot day to tell me how much they LOVED the crew, and they didn’t want them to leave.
Architects and interior designers, put your projects to work earning some income for you or your previous clients. They will love you for the referrals. Note that income from renting out a primary residence for 14 days or fewer is not taxable income!
Like the old lottery commercial used to say, "you’ve gotta be in it to win it." Only by being listed on a location agent’s site can you be found by the people who look for locations for a shoot. And you know the expression there’s no such thing as a free lunch? The homeowner on site is always invited to partake of the catered breakfast or lunch!