How to turn your home into a star of the movies

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The Independent Online
Vacating your home for film crews while trying to gear up for Christmas may sound crazy. But, says Clare Garner, there is good money in this madness.

It is the equivalent of a winter Wimbledon. Just as owners of properties in SW19 cash in on the championships, people can magic a bonus by renting out their home to film companies and advertising agencies in the run-up to Christmas.

Getting your house on the books of a locations agency can be a nice little earner whatever the time of year, but for those willing to put up with the inconvenience of lights, cameras and action in December, it will wipe out any seasonal overdraft at a stroke.

There is, of course, a risk that your home won't look quite the same afterwards. Take Caroline Cooper, an interior designer, who let her house in Blackheath, south-east-London, to be used as a set for The Knock a year ago. "The carpet had to be relaid because fake blood was put all over it when Dennis Waterman was killed on our landing," she said. "Only this week a new carpet was fitted and it still does not look right."

But Mrs Cooper is not deterred. Last Friday she was called up by an agency looking for a location for a British Airways advertisement to be filmed this morning. She agreed - and is pounds 400 the richer as a result. "You have to put up with the hassle and inconvenience," she said. "That's what you get paid for ... It's nice to have a little bonus you weren't expecting."

Mrs Cooper's house is called Pagoda and looks very much like one. The Chinese features mean it is in demand about once a month, but there are no set rules about what film companies are looking for. James Lindsay, location manager at Location Works, said: "Requirements are very varied. We're not always looking for properties like Chatsworth ... Sometimes people come to us and say: `We're looking for a grotty little semi to shoot something that would be found in a a grotty little semi'. It would be no use sending them off to Buckingham Palace."

Size is often the main consideration and unique features - such as peculiar shaped windows, outrageous decor and impressive views - help, too. Fees vary according to the scale of the invasion and the length of time the job takes, but owners can earn up to pounds 1,500-a-day for a feature film. From the film company's point of view it works out far cheaper than hiring a studio and building a set, and the effect is more authentic.

Sometimes the location owners can end up with more than they bargained for. Tony Relph, a 35-year-old carpenter, registers his loft apartment in Clerkenwell, London, with an agency called Amazing Space. When an advertising agency came to check out his home for a Dulux commercial, it ended up filming not only the location but its owner.

Tiffany Parish, who owns Amazing Space, negotiated royalty and location hire fees for Mr Relph, who was flown to Spain for four days' filming, as well as acting in his own home. His girlfriend, Sharon, a make-up artist, was signed up to do the hair and make-up - turning what should have been a morning's filming into a triple whammy, totting up more than pounds 4,000.