Imagine Meryl Streep making herself at home in your kitchen, or Pierce Brosnan doing a love scene in your bedroom. Perhaps Brad Pitt is more to your liking…or the lovely pop singer, Beyonce Knowles.
Now that the economy’s in a slump, maybe it’s time to bring in some extra cash.
Ravenscroft in Llewellyn Park. Photo: Peter Edberg
Welcome to the exciting world of “location homes” where you could be renting out your property – by the day, week or longer – as a backdrop for famous directors or photographers. The need is stronger than ever in an industry that’s virtually recession proof.
Consider this: According to the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission, 970 projects were shot in the Garden State last year, including 95 feature films, 416 commercials and still photo shoots, 35 music videos and 183 television series and spots.
And over the years, besides the abovementioned actors, dozens of celebrities have worked here, including Anjelica Houston, Robin Williams, Gwyneth Paltrow, Christopher Walken and George Clooney.
The obvious glamour of having “beautiful people” in your home just sweetens the financial rewards, which range from $1,000+ a day for a simple photo shoot to $5,000 and up for more elaborate film and video work.
The demand is so great that on one day this spring CBS was taping the soap, “Guiding Light” in Peapack-Gladstone while “Dancing with the Stars” was in Bergenfield, a Chuck E. Cheese commercial was being shot in Glen Ridge, a film about bluesman Muddy Waters was headquartered in Harrison, “Lymelife,” a comedy-drama with Alec Baldwin and Cynthia Nixon, was on location in Ho-Ho-Kus, another film landed in Dover and a dental commercial was being shot in Montclair.
The New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission has literally thousands of locations already on file, as do a handful of professional location scouts working the New Jersey scene.
“All houses have potential,” says Isabelle Kostic of Site4View, which lists sites all over the world. Directors and photographers want to be in authentic locations, she notes. “We do a lot in New Jersey because the houses there are great.”
She says you never know what might strike a particular director’s eye, for example, even an unusual doorway. Or a 1950s home with lots of glass or a classy old Victorian. Everything from tenements to castles are in demand. And thanks to New Jersey’s large pharmaceutical presence, there’s also a need for offices, warehouses and stores.
Properties closer to midtown Manhattan are more popular, however, directors and photographers are willing to go farther out for the right look. “As the World Turns,” a soap opera, is doing a lot of shooting in western New Jersey’s Hunterdon County, where there’s more of a rural feel.
Closer to the city, Morristown was the setting for “One True Thing,” with Meryl Streep, RenŽe Zellweger and William Hurt, where filming reportedly went on for months. Bergen County, with its proximity to the city, is particularly desirable. “I’ve heard it said more than once that Bergen County is America’s kitchen,” says New Jersey-based location scout Richard Hobbs, noting that many homes there have kitchens that are interchangeable with those around the country.
“You could pick them up and put them down in Michigan, Illinois or Oklahoma,” he notes. Hobbs’ Web site (www.nyc.locationscout.us) has a wealth of information for anyone who’s thinking about getting their home into show biz, including a map with a 25-mile radius from Columbus Circle in Manhattan. The site also lists tips for photographing your home to make it more marketable to location scouts.
Larger homes are especially good for film crews because there’s more elbow room to accommodate the occasional 50 to 60 people who may even set up tents on your lawn. Nat Singer, who owns “Ravenscroft” in West Orange’s Llewellyn Park, knows all about big productions. His 14,000-square-foot home was the setting for a recent season of “Makeover Manor” TV series, where people undergo extreme transformations.
According to Singer, filmmakers and photographers particularly like working in Llewellyn Park because there’s plenty of space for trucks and trailers, among other things. His home, greenhouse or swimming pool have been used several times a year for photo shoots or commercial productions, including Claritin Clear, James River, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Burlington Coat Factory.
His advice: You have to be flexible. “If you’re not easygoing, you would definitely find it too much of an intrusion.” On bigger shoots, the crew starts around 8 a.m. and is rarely out before midnight. The whole time your telephones must be turned off. Singer’s living room once hosted a boom and crane, but the production crews were extremely careful of his property, he says.
Larger shoots often take a whole day to set up. Carpets and walls are covered, and Singer’s grandfather clock once was encased by a hand-built box for protection. The crew is required to have insurance and generally takes photos to make sure everything stays in its original condition.
When “Makeover Manor” was being shot, Singer found himself rooting for the people who were
undergoing transformations to their hair, skin, make-up and wardrobe before their big on-camera “reveal.” “It’s exciting. You feel like you’re part of it.”
Location homes have other benefits, he notes. “I think it’s a great thing for resale. It’s free advertising.”
So how does someone get into the biz? “Contact everybody who is related to location housing,” according to Kostic, including the Association of Location Scouts and Managers (www.alsam.net). Check individual Web sites before calling because many have detailed instructions on how to submit your property for consideration.
The New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission is also there to help out, such as facilitating the proper municipal permits. Expect the unexpected, according to Steven Gorelick, executive director, noting that film crews are “going to sort of take over your house while you’re there. If you’re a control freak, this isn’t for you.”
But on the other hand, “It can be very exciting to have famous people in your home…You have to have the right attitude.”
New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission