How to put your house in the movies

Register your house with a location agency and it could have a starring screen role – as well as netting you a profit, says Graham Norwood

Wednesday 25 March 2009 01:00

When it comes to entertaining house guests, Elspeth Grace is not content with mere neighbours or long-standing friends – instead, she has top chef Jamie Oliver and presenters Ant and Dec at her Milton Keynes home for days at a time. Accountant Zulfiqar Tanwir is the same, except in his case it's Dame Judi Dench and Daniel Craig visiting his central London apartment.

The reason? They are among a rapidly growing band of people whose homes are used for shooting sequences for TV programmes and cinema films. Elspeth's brush with fame came last October when Jamie Oliver and Ant and Dec filmed a sequence of Sainsbury's Christmas TV adverts in her kitchen. Her large Victorian house was chosen by a location scout who knocked on the door having spotted its open-plan interior. The spacious kitchen, arched doorways and wide corridors proved ideal for the large cast and multiple film crews.

From 7am on a Monday a production team – 70 strong at one point, using 30 vehicles parked in the driveway and along the road outside – cleared Elspeth's belongings, fitted lighting gantries and camera tracks, brought in Jamie's festive food, and dressed the ground floor of the property as if it was Christmas. Tuesday and Wednesday involved 16-hour days as the ads were shot and the production team restored the house to its original pristine condition. Elspeth got £1,500 a day in expenses for the shoot – and loved every minute.

"It takes over everything and no one can ever imagine the scale of the disruption nor the number of people who are involved. It was like someone pressed a pause button on my life on Monday, then pressed 'play' again late on Wednesday," she says.

Zulfiqar's movie debut came, perhaps a little unceremoniously, when the corridor outside his fourth-floor apartment just off Edgware Road was used for a scene in the latest James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. Judi Dench, playing "M", looked wistfully through a window on to Daniel Craig's Bond in the car park below.

"The production team spent two days setting up. On day three the filming was done in the morning and by lunchtime everyone had gone. I haven't seen the film but I've had texts from friends saying they spotted my place," he says. Now he and his estate agent are using its claim to fame in the property details for the sale of the apartment (£595,000 from Cluttons, 020-7262 2226).

Nowadays there are thousands of homes used each year for similar work, and the number of willing volunteers has soared because of the credit crunch.

"TV and film production hasn't so far been hit significantly by the recession but we've had a 40 per cent rise in people registering their homes. A lot of developers can't sell new homes so register with us and ordinary owners feeling the pinch hope they can get extra income" says Kay Jones, commercial manager of Sarah Eastel Locations, which finds suitable property for production companies.

It is free to register with the firm (01225 858100;, which only charges the homeowner if the property is used for a fee-paying shoot. The rewards can be substantial – £500 for a half-day's fashion photography, up to £2,000 a day for big-budget commercials, and between £1,000 and £5,000 a day for movies.

And it is not just the biggest and the poshest homes that are used. British films and TV series are increasingly gritty, "and we're often asked to find council houses that can be used for scene," explains Kay. Modern cameras are small so modest-sized properties are just as likely to be chosen as spacious piles.

Location managers favour the Home Counties because many crew members live near the Hertfordshire studios, which make everything from the new Minder TV series to the Batman movie franchise. But gradually that's changing as Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and even the Isle of Man have growing production centres.

Most shoots are arranged when location scouts consult databases of potential properties held by agencies like Sarah Eastel, but occasionally there are cold calls as in the case of Elspeth Grace. Either way, a location manager will visit the property in person to see if it is suitable and then, if it fits the bill, negotiate a fee and a schedule.

Some owners whose homes are regularly used employ estate agents to negotiate deals and keep an eye on the large production teams and equipment involved. Up-market estate agencies have standard contracts to cover most requests of this kind.

Then, with the paperwork out of the way, it's time for the stardust to be sprinkled as the celebrities arrive and filming begins. "It's magical really, an experience I'll dine out on forever. I'd do it again in a second," says an enthusiastic Elspeth Grace. "But oh, the disruption! If there's a next time I think I'll go away."

Get set: Location information

* Most production location shooting goes without a hitch but experts suggest you get the following points sorted before filming begins:

* What's the fee and when will you get it?

* What are the security issues for equipment left in your home overnight?

* How long will the filming take and are there penalty payments for over-runs?

* What liability and insurance arrangements have been organised?

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

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

Source: Savills estate agency

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