Lights, camera, action

As the 77th annual Academy Awards open on Sunday, Graham Norwood asks: has your home got what it takes to feature in the next big blockbuster?
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The Independent Online

Louise Eley and Peter Pelly do not have Oscar statues to keep in the loo or use as doorstops but they have fabulous stories about celebrities visiting their homes. Louise, a bookkeeper, talks of how Roger Moore broke into her London house. For pensioner Peter it's all the more sinister: there were several murders in his country home but he rests easy now that actor John Nettles has solved them.

Louise Eley and Peter Pelly do not have Oscar statues to keep in the loo or use as doorstops but they have fabulous stories about celebrities visiting their homes. Louise, a bookkeeper, talks of how Roger Moore broke into her London house. For pensioner Peter it's all the more sinister: there were several murders in his country home but he rests easy now that actor John Nettles has solved them.

Louise and Peter are two people out of thousands who allow their homes to be used as locations for films, TV programmes and photo-shoots and earn a useful income as a result. Some owners assign their homes to agencies that show them as possible locations to production companies. Others, as with Louise and Peter, are simply in the right house at the right time when a location scout walks by. "I'd just moved near to Michael Winner's house in Kensington and one of his people knocked on my door. Our three-storey house was completely empty at the time, but he said it was ideal for the film Bullseye," says Eley, who now lives in Surrey. "So we lived in the basement for 10 days while a crew of 50 took over the house. We met Roger Moore and Michael Winner and there were wires everywhere. It was a bit of a mess of course, but the crew were delightful and reinstated everything perfectly."

The only problem was the early start. "A catering van came at 5.30am and the crew ate bacon sandwiches until filming started at 7am. It was like having builders for two weeks, but the crew made us endless cups of tea and gave us a big cheque at the end instead of the other way round," she admits.

Peter Pelly realised his Hertfordshire home was being lined up as a crime scene for ITV's rural bloodfest Midsomer Murders when he saw a location scout in his garden. "Four days later 12 people came in a minivan to take pictures and measure up. Then last August the film crew came for three days - one per murder, roughly," he says. They redecorated and refurnished the rooms "so much that I could hardly recognise it as the same house," recalls Peter, who is now selling up (£1.95m, Hamptons, 01494 672969). He, too, praises the team for reinstating everything before they left.

TV and film crews favour properties in the Home Counties. Research by location specialists Filmlink shows 85 per cent of crew members live in or within an hour's drive of Hertfordshire, which has six major studios making everything from EastEnders to the Star Wars saga. There are also 8,500 support companies in the same area. That does not mean production teams won't travel for the best location but it clearly helps if staff and transport costs are minimised.

Ten years ago, period properties were the rage but smaller cameras and a move towards grittier storylines mean anything from council flats to stately homes are routinely used for films, TV and music or corporate videos. For example, an entirely ordinary three-bedroom house built by developer Charles Church in Bracknell and worth about £250,000 in today's market, became 4 Privet Drive, Little Whingeing. This was home to the Dursleys, Harry Potter's relatives in the first of the wizard boy's movies. In some cases a house screams out to be used. The Close, a 13th century property overlooking Winchester Cathedral (currently renting at £4,000 per month, Dreweatt Neate, 01962 842742) looks perfect for a traditional English drama like Heartstones, the Ruth Rendell mystery starring Anthony Andrews, just filmed in the house.

"Loft apartments and bling! bling! properties are popular at the moment" says OIC Locations' Elias Devries, who has found houses for Footballers' Wives, the upcoming Disney film Kinky Boots, and music videos for Kylie Minogue and Daniel Bedingfield. OIC is similar to many agencies. Registering your property is free although if it is used the company charges 10 per cent of the fee. Devries says some owners of good locations get £20,000 a year.

Budgets for productions vary hugely. At one end of the scale, a magazine photo shoot will last just six hours and earn you £300. At the other end, a move will require three days redecorating a room and changing furniture, followed by three days of shooting and then two days returning your home to its original condition. Expect a whopping 50-person crew plus stars for 12 hours a day during shooting, but console yourself that the fee could be £2,000 to £10,000 a day. "An owner makes thousands but remember the house is occupied by 50 people in a rush and doing a job. My advice to owners is to disappear and return when the place is normal again. Otherwise it's like a children's party with a fussy grandmother worried about the walls getting scuffed" advises Devries.

David Grindley, of the property consultancy Savills, travels the country advising people how to handle TV and film crews, and has just worked with Cambridge homeowners on the forthcoming film version of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. He says the key to success is to have a watertight contract.

"Disruption can be substantial but provided you have a well structured agreement drawn up from the outset and you know what you are in for and are prepared to be flexible if circumstances change, then filming can be fun and action packed," he says.

But while you can be reasonably certain your house will return in good condition with a comforting cheque, you cannot guarantee it will win you that Oscar. Time Out describes Winner's Bullseye as a "seriously unfunny comedy" while Louise Eley admits she couldn't watch it all. "I waited until Roger Moore's break-in to my house and that was as much as I could stand. It's a Michael Winner film and it was, well, fairly appalling."

Savills location: 01603 229234

OIC Locations: 020-7419 1949

DO'S AND DONT'S

These issues must be resolved through a formal contract before filming starts:

* What is the fee and when will you get it?

* What are the security issues for technical equipment?

* Confirm the length and hours of filming (penalty clauses for over-runs).

* Will stunts be staged?

* What liability, indemnity and insurance arrangements have the film company set up?

* What will be the exact use of the planned film or TV show?

* Confirm that the crew will return your property to its original condition.

Source: Savills

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