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Location, location! Your house can be a movie star

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You may not own a grand, turreted mansion like ‘Ash Park’, the stately home that is a star in its own right in the TV drama A Place to Call Home, but your house or apartment might still be just what’s needed for a commercial, TV series, photo shoot, music video or even a full-scale film.

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Here’ s how it works

In most cases you can register your property online – for no cost – with a specialist location company, and supply digital images so that it becomes part of an agency’s database.

When the company is looking for a specific project and your property looks a possibility, they will contact you and a photographer or scout will check out the site in person and take photos. If it’s suitable, the agency negotiates a fee to be paid by the production company, discusses any special requests, timing, checks the location agreement, public liability insurance and so on.

Australian Film Locations (AFL), for example, cover Australia and the South Pacific, providing locations for film, television and photographic industries. They scout locations for about 150 commercials a year, as well as large-scale film productions.

What are they looking for?

Not all houses have to be luxurious to be on television, as seen in the 70s period locations in Puberty Blues.
Not all houses have to be luxurious to be on television, as seen in the 70s period locations in Puberty Blues.

It’s not all high-end. As Morgan Supple from AFL explains: “We’re not just looking for penthouses and swimming pools. Sometimes we might need a shack or a house that’s almost falling down.”

A recent series that Supple worked on was Puberty Blues, so he was scouting typical 1970s houses in a Sydney beachside suburb.

“It’s hard to find authentic houses sometimes, because everyone has renovated their kitchen,” he says. Of course, only parts of a house might be used and the final may be a composite of more than one property.

Period houses (such as Victorian-era, Edwardian and Californian Bungalow) are often in demand, and houses that are spacious and light are good for filming and for film crews with all their equipment. Further pluses are if the area is quiet (no planes flying over) and, ideally, if there’s plenty of parking. Some local councils are more amenable when it comes to road closures and additional parking permits, so that might also be taken in to consideration.

Sydney-based Bighouse maintains a residential database that is mainly focused on the Sydney area, though they also list locations Australia-wide and their clients have included Baz Lurhmann. Not all locations are for films or commercials. The agency increasingly sources properties for web content and for events and product launches for companies such as French fashion house Hermes.

This classic family house was leased for five days by Australian Radio Network.
This classic family house was leased for five days by Australian Radio Network.

One of Bighouse’s recent locations was a classic two-storey family house in the Sydney suburb of Burwood, which was leased for FIVE days and fitted out as a pop-up ‘home cinema’ for Australian Radio Network. The production team created a cinema inside the house, including turning the kitchen into the Snack Bar, to promote movie-streaming service Presto. The owners were happy with the deal and as well as being paid, they spent the weekend in a luxury five-star hotel.

Anna Deakins from Bighouse explains that sometimes “there’s a leap of faith on the part of homeowners letting their house for a location … We’ve sourced houses for an insurance company where the film crew has had to flood the kitchen, or otherwise show an insurance emergency”.

Jo Lyons, who has let her house in Sydney’s Willoughby over the last three years for clients as diverse as Australia Post, Panadol and Autism Australia, for both still shots and commercials, says “everyone has been incredible in making sure the place has been returned to its original condition. They move everything but they move it right back”.

If you are in Queensland you might list your property with Queensland Film Locations, where anything from a classic Queenslander to an executive apartment with river views and a run-down farmhouse are on the books. Recent assignments have included finding houses with just the right feeling for a series of family-friendly RACQ ads.

State film companies, such as Film Victoria and Screen NSW, also keep a database of locations used for national and international films.

How much do they pay?

Rates vary, from project to project, from city to city even. If your property has the right credentials it could earn from a few hundred dollars for a few hours to $1000–$2000 a day for a one-day television commercial. Of course, an army of trucks and a large team will be turning up soon after dawn and will occupy the site for 12 hours of more.

Jo Lyons says: “You can’t live off it, but it’s a nice little bit of extra income towards a holiday or a something special.”

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