Does it Pay to Loan Your Property as a Movie Location?
By Sally Helppie
More and more films and television programs are shooting in North Texas. With increased production comes a growing need for locations. While it can be fun to be “on set” in one’s own home, what should a property owner be aware of before signing on the dotted line? And is it possible to add an onscreen appearance?
Setting the Scene.
A script calls for an elegant home—or a weed-choked yard—and the next thing you know a location scout is knocking on your client’s door. Your client calls you for advice. Step one is to determine the nature of the production. If it is a porn film—and your client would not support that—then the answer is “no.” Although you may be tempted, it is not customary to review the script before allowing use of a location. It is, however, appropriate to require a representation that the movie does not include specific elements that your client would find offensive.
A location scout is charged with finding locations that fit the director’s vision for a scene as well as the production company’s budget. Many location scouts also work as location managers, running logistics at each location during the actual shoot—including figuring out where equipment can be set up, where vehicles can be parked, etc.
Assuming your client is amenable to having a crew and actors on his property, you should negotiate specific terms for a written agreement. Although this article cannot cover the whole story, some key points to consider are set forth below.
A location scout must confirm who has authority to allow the property to be used. That is typically the owner, but it could be a property manager. Expect the written contract to include a representation and warranty by your client that she has the right to enter into the agreement and that no other authorization is required.
The contract will define the property to be used. Look closely at what is included: Exteriors only? Certain interior rooms? Personal furnishings? Parking spaces? Decide if any areas are off limits.
The production company might want to alter the property by, for example, painting a room or hanging a sign. This is not unusual and a proper location agreement will require the production company to return everything to its prior condition unless the property owner prefers to retain the changes.
Production schedules frequently shift so be sure the dates of contracted use are clear. Expect there to be set-up and take-down time. Customarily, a location agreement provides for the right to return to a location for pick-up shots if needed at a later date. Decide if you want any limits on this. At a minimum, require advance notice and a right of reasonable refusal.
Related to the period of use, there usually will be a provision prohibiting the owner from moving props or otherwise touching the “hot set” —particularly if the shoot lasts more than a day. This could present a challenge if the shooting location is the main part of a client’s business.
Not surprisingly, a standard location agreement will spell out that the location may be portrayed as something other than what it is. Similarly, the agreement will provide that events depicted at the location may be fictionalized. If your client is concerned that his store or home will be the site of a brutal movie murder, then set parameters in the location agreement about how the property can be represented.
Make sure there is insurance in place to cover any damage or injuries and insist that your client be named as an additional insured.
The Climax (a/k/a Compensation).
Your client will not get rich from a location agreement, though a fee typically is paid. The amount varies widely depending on the budget of the production, the importance of the location, the length of time needed, etc.
But there are other forms of compensation. Is the producer willing to include your client’s individual or business name onscreen (such as thanking him in the end credits)? Maybe your client has always wanted to appear in a movie. Even in a union production, the Screen Actors Guild does not cover extras (a/k/a “background performers”) in Texas. Thus, “amateurs” may have small non-speaking parts. So if a scene calls for someone to walk by—or be brutally murdered— perhaps your client can seize his 15 minutes of fame.
Sally Helppie practices entertainment law and litigation at Vincent Lopez Serafino Jenevein, P.C. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.