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What does it take to turn your home into a film location?

Yesterday, Sarah Eastel of Film Locations was the star of my column in the Independent on Sunday, about how to turn your home into a film location.

Because space is limited in the paper, and because she had so much fascinating stuff to say – as well as fascinating images to illustrate with – here is some more about her job, which – as it involves scouting some of the country's most interesting, dazzling, quirky or stylish properties – sounds pretty much the dream job for anyone interested in other people's homes. Which I'm guessing, as you're here, is you...

Above, just a few of the 2,500 homes on Sarah Eastel's books: categories include, clockwise from top left: "down to earth"; "apartments"; "farmhouses and barn conversions"; "spaces and studios".

Left, Sarah Eastel, via the English Heritage magazine.

Do you need a beautiful house? There's more flexibility on house type within the M25 as it's close to the majority of production companies. Smaller independent films tend to look for the right location wherever it might be, and then often film smaller scenes nearby. Other hot spots? The main media cities (Cardiff, Bristol, Manchester, Glasgow, Leeds and increasingly across the West Midlands), as well as locations near famous beauty spots, say, famous moors, beaches or landmarks and a property in the area may be used as a weather cover option (in case of rain!) or as a production base and occasionally for accommodation.

With this in mind, do you need a beautiful house? We cover the whole range within the M25, from deluxe apartments, mansion houses and contemporary family homes through to normal family homes, run-down apartments and even derelict properties. But beyond the M25 we need to be more realistic: a good indicator is does it have a 'wow' factor? That doesn't mean the value, but perhaps the height of the rooms, that it's full of light, has amazing original features or styling or is eccentric.We took on one place, for example, because it has a collection of old farm equipment in a derelict barn and there are views across undulating countryside. Open plan kitchen/diners and kitchen islands are popular for family type shoots.

Our top earners (away from London) are:
1. Period properties with original features (but contemporary styling) 
2. Modern properties with large open plan spaces 
3. Houses decorated in white/muted tones with large rooms and lots of light, any period
4. Chocolate box properties with pretty gardens
5. Pretty farmhouses with livestock, land (and horses, stables are popular) 
6. Period-specific furnishings – the 50s, 60s and 70s are hugely popular at the moment, as well as, my favourites, the art deco, art nouveau and the arts and crafts periods. 

There's also high interest for the Edwardian period, due to "the Downton effect", it's to do with understated elegance of that time. Whereas, a few years ago, the most popular locations were all about expensive, minimalist interiors, recently it has shifted to more low-key, muted locations: austerity is the buzz word of the moment. 

As a rule of thumb, if your friends or neighbours show signs of property envy – for whatever reason – then your home may have potential as a location.

Above, Eltham Palace, which has been used as a location for Cheryl Cole's ‘Parachute’ video; Florence & The Machine's 'Shake it Out' and the James Franco Gucci TV advert, among others.  

What are your favourite properties? Vernacular architecture sends shivers, as will a styling the owner's achieved. If I do have personal favourites it would be the art deco period (we're very proud to represent the sublime Eltham Palace, above) and then there's the quirky and eccentric. I love clicking on an image and to see that's the property's a bit different – a collection of old dolls prams perhaps (see below), a stuffed in a throne room loo, an abandoned 60s car underneath a collapsed car port (below left). A special house and a lovely owner is the ultimate for us.

How many homes do you have on your books and what are they used for? Around 2,500 – and they get hired for all types of commercial shoots involving a camera – feature films, TV dramas and shows, photoshoots, music videos and corporate - and increasingly for online ads and viral films. Then there are short films, press events, product launches, wedding and corporate events...

What does a shoot involve? Depending on the type of shoot it could include large numbers of crew numbers, actors, contributors, and lots of equipment (perhaps they're planning to import livestock, smoke or snow machines...). Sometimes an element of redecoration may be introduced perhaps or the shoot might be large scale and might involve the owner's neighbours being affected. On larger shoots you can't hide away the vehicles – maybe eight trucks and 30 private cars. We negotiate fees and contracts accordingly.

How much can a home-owner make from it? From £500 - £3000+ per day depending on the scale of the production. This is the filming rate. There may also be preparation days plus additional days to re-instate they property, each charged out at either a third or 50% of the daily filming fee. For small shoots, local power will be used and they'd want to place their lunch in your fridge and use your kettle and tea – and, of course, your loo. Possibly also a room for the models, actors or contributors to change in, as well as another to use as a green room. For larger shoots, they may also want to set up a playback room.

What would you advise people interested in joining your agency? There's nothing to lose. Have it evaluated. From just a few images (exteriors – both front and rear, and the reception room(s) and kitchen) and the geographical location, we can advise whether a property has potential.

It can work best for people who are at home during the day, as notice of a shoot is often short. And to be a  a successful location you need to have a degree of flexibility: they will sometimes make requests you weren't expecting – switching to another room or asking to borrow a chair (or even a child) as a prop or an extra. A degree of humour is also often required and I think those owners interested in the creative process often enjoy themselves more.

Any surprising facts? Last week a pretty farmhouse in Wiltshire won a fashion shoot – not because of its symmetrical Georgian facade but because they had derelict outbuildings (with graffiti). It was the right look for urban street wear and because the photographer lived locally it ticked all the boxes. Another example would be the one bedroomed London apartment used in the feature film 360. The flat was cleared of all furniture, redecorated, re-instated – all for a single day of filming. Last year,  a lovely property in France (more shabby than chic at the time) had half a dozen rooms re-decorated by a top fabric and wallpaper firm for their annual catalogue. The owners chose to keep several of these 'new rooms' and where they weren't personally keen on the design they chose another wallpaper which was subsequently hung for them with the costs covering by the firm. They also received a great fee.

Does it mean you have a fantastic home yourself/permanent house envy? Ha! I would call mine shabby rustic I'm afraid, but it’s a solid family home that needs more attention. Of course I have house envy, but increasingly it's called house respect for the amazing work owners have gone to to personalise their homes. I wouldn’t do this job if I didn’t love property. I'd call myself a happy property voyeur – or perhaps a home matchmaker!

Think your place could be a film or shoot location? Contact one of Sarah's team at Film Locations

See the locations on Sarah's books used for...
Warwick's pre-divorce home in Life's Too Short
Hugh Grant's visit to Julia Roberts' film set in Notting Hill
The series finale of Doctor Who
End-of-series Halloween party in The Only Way is Essex


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  2. Hi Kate,
    I loved reading this piece! Well written! :)

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