The Perks of Renting Your House to Film Productions

The Perks of Renting Your House to Film Productions

  • LA Luxuries
  • 02/4/14

What do Nightmare on Elm Street, American Horror Story, Home Alone, The Descendants, Scarface, Driving Miss Daisy, The Godfather, Charlie’s Angels, 500 Days of Summer, 13 Going On 30, Dan In Real Life, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Something’s Gotta Give, Before Midnight and Argo (the list goes on) ... all have in common?

This melting pot of films share one special link. They all have rented real homes or businesses to use as filming locations.

Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, most of the movies were filmed on soundstages. Today, producers and filmmakers want to shoot on location as much as possible for the sake of authenticity. Even when logistics or budget doesn’t allow a production to film entirely on location, they would still like to film at least the exterior scenes at the real location and recreate the interiors in the studios.

As the number of distribution channels increase to include more television channels and online video channels, filmmakers continue to search for more locations to film in. The most in-demand locations are private homes. Almost every character in any film or television show lives in a home, so producers are constantly looking for more homes to film in than any other buildings.

To capitalize on this need for film locations, many homeowners have listed their private residences, vacation properties, or businesses for rent to film productions. If you’re on the fence about whether this is a venture you’d like to take on, here are eight simple reasons to help you decide.

1. Good Extra Income

If you often wonder how much your home or place of business can earn you income as a film production, the quick and general answer is between $1000 to $5000 per day.

How to arrive at that number? The industry rate per day is generally your monthly mortage payment. For example, if your monthly mortgage is $2000, then you rental income as a film location is $2,000 per day. Other factors such as production size, how long the film crew need to be in your house, whether filming occurs outside or inside your home, your property’s ZIP code, etc., may even bump up the earnings for you.

“For some people, their life is wrapped around the income they can make from their house.”
— Nancy Haecker, Vice President of The Location Managers Guild of America

Grace Verzosa Ambat
, owner of a Los Angeles house that caught the attention of Argo‘s location scouts, made over $50,000 when she rented her house to be used as a film location for Argo. The extra income helped pay for her son’s education at a music institute.

“I never thought about anything like this, but it was a big fortune,”  said Ms. Ambat, who works in business development for nursing homes. In Argo, her house takes on the role of the Canadian ambassador’s residence, the temporary refuge of six Americans.

Across the country in Potomac, Maryland, Diane Conway and her husband earned $6,000 when their house was used for four days in the movie Philomena, a British movie with Dame Judi Dench.

The majority of the filming took place by the fireplace in the den, around the existing furniture of the owners, and in the garden. The production replaced the couple’s art and personal photos with older photos and artwork from the 1980’s.

“I never thought about anything like this, but it was a big fortune.”
— Grace Verzosa Ambat, on renting her Los Angeles house to the Argo production for filming.

Ms. Conway was very happy with the entire experience. She used the money earned to repaint the front hall and kitchen.

“For some people, their life is wrapped around the income they can make from their house,” said Nancy Haecker, vice president of The Location Managers Guild of America. Renting your house to film productions can be a smart and fun way to earn extra income with your property.

2. Tax-Free Earnings

What’s better than making additional income without having to do much on your part? Not having to pay taxes on it at all. If the house you’re renting is your personal residence and you rent it for less than two weeks a year, you may not have to pay federal taxes on the additional income - depending on the current tax law. In many states, including California, homeowners don’t have to pay state taxes either.

3. Unexpected Home Improvement

Industry regulations demand that production companies treat your property with care. They should leave the rental site in the same condition as when they found it. If not the property should be properly reimbursed monetarily.

Often than not, filmmakers leave the film location in even better condition than before. Depending on the director’s visions, the production may needs to make structural changes to your home. If they do, they most likely will leave you with a fresh coat of paint, new landscaping, even a new kitchen or bathroom. Basically, any changes the director deems necessary to accommodate the authentic look of the film.

To that end, it’s not surprising that there are some homeowners who are uneasy with handing their homes over to strangers.

“You’re signing away control of the interiors of your house, or the exteriors, and you’ve got to be OK with it,” said Banks McClintock, whose Lower Garden District Greek Revival home in New Orleans served as the interior of the Epps mansion in 12 Years A Slave. “You’ve got to be OK with mistakes being made. Things are going to happen.”

Cyndee Keiser
, a North Shore real estate broker in Chicago, became interested in renting her Georgia Colonial in Evanston to the film industry after seeing her neighbor’s home used in a movie 10 years ago.

She met with a location scout and not soon after the filming started. Her home was in several print ads and also a couple of films, including the 2009 comedy Baby On Board.

“I loved it,” said Keiser in a Chicago Tribune article . “Easy money. They come to your door, shoot the ad, clean up and leave. And they hand you a check.”

“I loved it. Easy money. They come to your door, shoot the ad, clean up and leave. And they hand you a check.”
— Cyndee Keiser, on renting her Georgia Colonial house to film productions.

In addiiton to the extra income, Keiser is also pleased with the condition of her home when the filming is done. “You’d never know they were in your house,” Glazier said. “They’ll come in with 40 people while I’m at work and you’d never know. Sometimes they take over the street for a day, or put a tent in the yard for the crew to eat, but when they leave everything is spotless.”

4. Free Hotel Stay

When a production is filming in your house, you need another place to stay for the duration of the filming.  If there are no other viable alternatives, a hotel stay is often included in the rental contract.

Because of a film production working at her house, Keiser was once out of her home for a week during the filming.  The production company paid for her hotel stay, paid for valet parking and also included a food allowance.

“If I could do it every day, I really could,” Keiser said. “Some people have hobbies; this would be my hobby.”

Madi Nassiri,
owner of a middle-class home in McLean, Virginia (located near the Central Intelligence Agency) collected more than $1,000 per day when Argo used her house as the film location for Mr. Affleck’s fictional wife and son. During the filming period, The Nassiri family stayed at the Ritz-Carlton nearby - a cost that the studio fully paid for.

“The money they were offering made sense for us,” said Nassiri, a technology consultant. “But it’s an invasion. They completely took over the backyard, the kitchen and the living room. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

5. Continued Source of Income

Once your property is used as a film location and the experience is a smooth one for all parties involved, it won’t be long until another production comes calling. If the crew and filmmakers like you, they most likely will recommend your place to other industry professionals. This in turn can attract more film bookings for your home or business.

“If somebody liked it,  somebody else will like it,” said Chicago location consultant Valerie Bulinski in a Chicago Tribune article.

Not only is Barney Greengrass, a restaurant/deli in New York City, well-known for the freshest smoked and cured fish in town, it also has hosted numerous movies and television shows in its establishment during the past few decades. Its reputation for being an accommodated host has made Barney Greengrass one of New York’s most popular film locations.

Among the productions filmed at the deli are You’ve Got Mail, Revolutionary Road, Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud, and Seinfeld. Having big huge windows as its storefront also helps since filming needs lots of natural light.

In addition to continued rental business, being a starring location can also boost the resale value of your property.

6. The Cool Factor

Yes. Cool! How impressed would your friends be when you tell them that your house was in the uber-popular series Twilight or an Oscar-nominated film such as 12 Years a Slave or Argo?

Imagine being famous for owning the house where Walter White and his family live. Fran and Louie Padilla have lived in their Albuquerque home since 1973 and said they would never sell it, even with the thousands of visitors their house gets each month.

“With all the homes in Albuquerque, they picked ours.”
— Fran and Louie Padilla, on renting their Albuquerque home to be a film location for Breaking Bad.

The Padillas will never forget the moment that the Breaking Bad location scout knocked on their door. It was like “winning the lottery.”

“With all the homes in Albuquerque, they picked ours,” said Padilla in a New York Times article. The Padillas love their home’s claim to fame ... “the Breaking Bad house.”

“... if you love movies, maybe you get that great experience, and that pays its way,” said McClintock about renting his home to the 12 Years a Slave production. “I personally love the experience. We had a great time with it.”

The Ambats home now has unusual bragging rights: It stars prominently in Argo, the film that took home the best picture Oscar award at the 85th Academy Awards last year.

7. Economic Boost for Local Businesses

When productions come to film in your home, they also eat, shop and possibly even stay in your neighborhood or town. This in turn will have a positive economic impact for the entire communities.

Wilmington, North Carolina, has long been a popular city for Hollywood productions. Television shows such as Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill, Revolution and most currently Under The Dome have rented homes and businesses in town to film in. This in turn has helped boost local business economy.

“We are really, really grateful to the film industry for all the money they spend in our area. We want to tell them thank you - but we also want to draw attention to the continuing influx of money that the industry brings here - to businesses across the spectrum. ”
— Old Books On Front Street, Wilmington, North Carolina

At a time when independent bookstores are struggling, Old Books On Front Street‘s business is booming. “We currently have books out to Revolution, Mary and Martha, Safe Haven and We’re the Millers, which paid our mortgage this month,” said shop owner Gwenyfar Rohler. “And that is incredible for a small business like us.”

For props and set design, the productions rent and sometimes buy their books by the foot. It all started with the classic television show Matlock.  “They were Matlock’s law library,” said Rohler. “Mr. Daughtry, who is the former owner, bought them during the sale at the end of the show.  We rented them to Dawson’s Creek, we rented them to One Tree Hill. Now, they are on Safe Haven.”

Rohler hopes that movies and especially long-running TV shows keep coming to Wilmington. Long-term productions usually prefer to buy her books to maintain a consistent look on set.

Old Books on Front Street has an entire page on their website featuring on how the film industry has been instrumental in keeping the bookstore in booming business:

”. . . we are really, really grateful to the film industry for all the money they spend in our area. We want to tell them thank you - but we also want to draw attention to the continuing influx of money that the industry brings here - to businesses across the spectrum. Chances are that bookstores are probably not the first beneficiary of the Film Incentive Package that you thought of. But for us, the film industry has been instrumental in keeping our doors open.”

Breaking Bad set decorator Michael Flowers visited local antique stores when the production was filming in New Mexico. He even spent $20,000 on scrap metal at a local salvage yard to build the show’s meth-lab set. Mr. Flowers’ philosophy is: “Don’t shop at chains. Go to ma-and-pa stores; keep the money in Albuquerque.”

8. You Get to Meet Ben Affleck and Dame Judi Dench

Renting your home or business to a film production means you occasionally can stop by and watch the filming taking place. That in itself is quite cool. But meeting the cast and crew is even cooler.

When Diane Conway rented her Potomac, Maryland house to be used a film location in Philomena, she had a chance to meet and chat with Dame Judi Dench between takes. They talked about everything from the history of the farmhouse to Dench’s initial interest in making Philomena. The British actress also told Conway that she immediately felt a connection to her house and felt it was “the right house” the minute she walked in. A rare feeling indeed, admitted Dame Judi Dench.

Soon after the Ambats agreed to renting their house to the Argo production,  the location manager came to inspect the property.  On his next visit,  he brought the production designer and four more colleagues. The third time he dropped by, he brought the director himself and so Grace Ambat got to meet Ben Affleck.                                 

My brother said he’d gladly give up his house for any production that involves George Clooney, just to have a chance to shoot the breeze with the actor. For me, if The Gilmore Girls movie is coming, Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel can move in any time while filming in my humble cottage.

If you're interested in earning extra income with your home or property, list your location for filming with LocationsHub today.

For more information on contracts, rates, liability, how to make your property film-friendly, and any other film industry related questions, contact your local film office.

The Perks of Renting Your House to Film Productions
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