Home sweet film location: What it’s like when your home becomes a movie star

Guest post by Sherry Miller

You saw her home full of flamingos and guilt, but did you also know that Sherry’s home has also been full of film crews? This is what you should know about making your house a movie star…

By: willmx – CC BY 2.0
By: willmxCC BY 2.0

In the last three years approximately 10 film crews have been in and out of my house making art — from music videos to promotional spots to short films, hair cut abstracts, and webisodes. I had a woman “murdered” in my basement, vampires in my backyard, a creepy, creepy doll come to life and stalk people, a bomb detonated (special effects, not an actual bomb) in my garage, even a model sequestered away in the basement just for haircuts.

I love being able to help local artists in any way possible. I’m lousy on film, can barely manage my own hair and makeup, but I can provide a location! It’s been a fun experience for me, and luckily all positive. I trust the two directors I’ve worked with, and they’ve both been really, really great about treating my house with respect — cleaning up after themselves, and (knock on wood) so far there has been no damage or long term problems stemming from the shoots. (Well, one mild paranormal happening, but white sage cleared that up).

That said, if you’re interested in opening your home to the bright lights and cameras, there’s a few ways to prepare…

1. Be flexible

Call times change, crews run late, it can take longer than expected to get the shot. Some shoots seem to go well, but don’t turn out on film and need to be re-shot. I try, as much as possible, to leave while the crews are working, but it can be difficult to be away from home all day, especially if I need to take the dog. I’ve learned to save as many errands as possible for shoot days, or have other plans arranged (great time for a spa day). BE WARNED: aimless wandering and shopping can be very dangerous. My personal movie collection has been greatly increased in size (and my checking account decreased in size) after too much time browsing box store movie sections to kill time.

2. Be prepared for mess

The crews have been great cleaning up after themselves, but there are always, always little things — bits of fake blood that got overlooked, dirt tracked up from the basement, furniture rearranged and not quite back where it started, left behind scripts, or chargers, or coffins. If you stay on set during a shoot be prepared to see everything topsy turvy. If you’re particular, or don’t like things touched/moved, it’s probably not a good idea to open your home. If you’re like me and don’t mind the chaos, and enjoy watching the creative process, then find a crew and invite them in.

3. Communicate!

We have a shoot coming up that will be a late night. I have a kiddo that needs to be in bed by eight. The director and I have been in contact about what will be shot, which rooms, the noise level, all the parts involved. I don’t want to screw up his film schedule by springing restrictions on him at the last minute, and he is very respectful that we’re a family and this is our home/routine. Let the crews know if there are areas off-limits. Let them know if it’s okay to break things: Light bulbs for effect — yes. Windows or walls — no. Let them know if it’s okay to rearrange furniture, move lamps, use props. Is it okay to have catering in the kitchen? Can hair/make up use the bathrooms?

4. Shit happens

For example… No one could have predicted that a pentagram made with flour and a goat skull in the basement could actually cause paranormal activity. After all the people in and out of the basement, one finally found a stray nail with his shoe/foot. Bumps, bruises, spills are bound to happen. I’ve learned to keep white sage and a first aid kit handy.

5. Support

Without support, the film festivals and competitions will disappear. It’s a blast to attend the festivals and screenings. It only takes a few minutes to go online and watch a clip and vote in a competition. For me, it’s energizing to see other people’s creativity and vision come together in a finished project. It’s also a great way to meet more creative people and expand networks.

One final bonus to all this:

Having film crews use my house has been a kick in the rear to get me moving. I battle depression and it’s way too easy to sit on my couch and do nothing some days. Knowing a film crew is coming makes me get the dishes done, get the stacks of paper and mail and mess cleaned up, laundry piles out of the bathroom. It gives me the desire to tackle home projects like patching/painting walls, decorating empty rooms, painting and updating the front porch. If my house is going to be on film forever, I’m totally vain and want it to look good! It forces me out of the house when I’d rather hide, it sparks my creativity and writing seeing what others are doing. It’s been as beneficial to me as it has been (I hope) to the crews. They don’t pay me, I don’t ask for money; what we both get is much more valuable in the end.

To get involved:

Attend film festivals or screenings in your area — go where the creators are. There’s location registries online as well, and some talent agencies keep lists of locations (or make up, hair, support staff) to offer to directors.

Anyone else have homes that are movie stars? What are your tips for opening up your home to camera crews?

Comments on Home sweet film location: What it’s like when your home becomes a movie star

  1. … I think we need to hear more about this paranormal activity!

    (Great article overall as well!)

    • The paranormal activity- let’s just say when there’s only two people in the house and one of them is sleeping it’s a BIT scary to hear someone outside your shower say “…I can’t talk right now.”

      Things were moved around (round fake plug style earrings moved and set on end/stood up), books tipped over on their spines on shelves, general paranormal shenannigans.

      Then one day kiddo came home from school to an open front door and a mess all over the house. Official police report says “interrupted robbery” (nothing missing) but I don’t know of any robbers that open your silverware drawer, flip the plastic tray over, spill JUST the spoons on the floor in a circle with a broken glass (from an upper cabinet) in the center.

      Did a white sage smudge of the whole house and property after that and personally smudged the front and back door and haven’t had any more goings on.

      Told the director I adore him and he obviously did a fantastic job if it actually stirred up something, but maybe next time don’t be quite so good at his job.

      • This is so intriguing, yet so horrifying.

        I’d be down to read more about haunted houses on OBH 😉

    • Neither really. I knew people via friends of friends and when they mentioned they needed a space I offered mine and that’s how it all started.

      I am actually in the process of getting listed with one of the main location directors that works on the bigger films/tv series that come to town. I’m a little nervous at branching out to people I don’t know personally, but it’s part of the experience!

    • There are a bunch of sites where you can list your spAce as available for scouting and filming. If you get in with a particular scout, your place will get recommended a lot. Things that tend to help are a specific look/period, convenient location with parking, being in a major metropolitan area, etc.

  2. So, re the guy with the nail in his foot; do you have to get insurance for things like that so you don’t get sued? Or does the crew sign contracts? I’m curious because of the laws about people being injured on your property regardless of fault.

    • I have basic homeowners insurance that I *think* would cover small things (haven’t checked honestly) but beyond that nothing. I warn everyone before they come over (especially if they’re working in the basement) it’s 114 years old. I KNOW there’s gross stuff in the walls, I’ve opened a few up during renovation. I have NO CLUE what’s in the dirt in the basement. I know there have been mice which means droppings, I’m sure at some point in the last 114 years there was lead paint or asbestos or WHO KNOWS WHAT. Because there’s no fee or money changing hands it’s basically (to me at least) a film at your own risk. VERY FORTUNATELY there have been no serious issues so far.

      • Noooooo!!! Pleeeeease make sure the shoot has proper insurance for every day of the shoot (every film or even a short needs to have a temporary insurance policy), and check it to make sure it covers liability (ask to have a copy, as they can and often do lie about these things, even if they are otherwise great).

        If you really want to do it as “film at your own risk”, which a lawyer could probably still get around pretty easily, make sure you have every single crew, actor, craft services, buddy of the crew, etc person who enters your house sign a release of liability.

        Please also make sure they have the appropriate permits if your area requires them (especially if they are shooting any exteriors) you don’t want to end up with a city ticket due to lack of permit.

        The higher the shoot budget, the more they’ll appreciate your stuff (they’ll have someone on hand to make sure your own stuff ends up specifically where it belongs).

        • This this this. I would be surprised if basic homeowners covers this, particularly if you’re accepting any sort of payment for use of your space. When doing commercial still shoots, we always had to provide the venue with a certificate of insurance that listed them for any days of shooting. It’s an expected part of shooting. Please consult with your insurance agent to see what you need to do on your end for liability insurance, and talk to a lawyer about covering your hiney with an agreement. As crew, we usually all had to sign something saying we wouldn’t sue the venue if injured, etc.

  3. Back in the day I was part of a film crew. My boyfriend at the time was the writer/producer and his friends the director and director of photography/head of lighting. I filled in as necessary basically I was the make-up artist, head of costuming, props, script girl, and head of craft services. Most of our films were in my boyfriend’s apartment (luckily he moved a few times during all of this). We only used someone else’s home once and it didn’t go very well, mostly because we underestimated how long it would take and they didn’t know what to expect. Communication in this area is key. We also used my boyfriend’s apartment as a set for another film crew once. They were making rather odd soft-core porn which I had a lot of fun watching as it was being made but I have a feeling it didn’t really get finished. But for that matter most of what we created didn’t either.

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