There's a steady need for unique locations for film, TV and print jobs, and for nearly 30 years Valerie Bulinski has been filling that need.
As owner of Chicago-based Location Consultants, Bulinski brings together directors, production companies and homeowners whose property has that picture-perfect look. She has worked on such projects as "The Fugitive," "E.R." and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."
"A homeowner may ask, 'Is this the type of property someone might use?' " Bulinski said. "Well, yes, because you never know what a director's vision is. It could be a small bungalow or a McMansion or a monochromatic modern house. If it's advertising, maybe they're selling a product geared toward a person who'd live in that house. And maybe they're looking for someplace a particular character would live."
Bulinski said the list could include a garage, a gas station, a street or a cafe. Typically, commercials, films and photo shoots are done in private residences.
Filmmakers are looking for spacious homes with character, Bulinski said.
"If it's tight and there's not a lot of light, it's probably not a lot of interest to a filmmaker who's looking for light because it's all about the images," she said. "A still shoot doesn't matter. They're just in one spot in the house. But a commercial or film has to be spacious."
Leslie Glazier has had magazine layouts and TV commercials shot at her home. The residential real estate sales and leasing agent worked with the Chicago Film Office in the 1990s, finding short-term housing for cast and crew members working in the area. She found herself on the flip side after buying her Lincoln Park home.
"When we first moved in, I put an ad on Craigslist for a piece of furniture we couldn't get upstairs," she said. "A woman came the next day (to look at it) and said our house should be in Playboy. It turned out she was a scout for Playboy. The next day a rep came out, and Playboy ended up shooting for playboy.com every few months."
Glazier contacted the film office to see what other opportunities were available to use her property in a starring role. The Illinois Lottery, Under Armour and Chicago Home & Garden magazine have since used her home for photo shoots.
She declined to reveal the location fees, but a lot of the compensation depends on the length of the shoot and the film company's budget.
Cyndee Keiser, a North Shore real estate broker, got hooked on the idea of renting her Georgia Colonial in Evanston to the film industry after seeing a neighbor's residence used in a movie about 10 years ago.
After meeting with a location scout, the shoots soon started, mostly print ads, but a couple of films as well, including the 2009 comedy "Baby On Board."
"I loved it," she said. "Easy money. They come to your door, shoot the ad, clean up and leave. And they hand you a check."
Her home's spacious interior with neutral decor and pleasing curb appeal make her home attractive to directors, she said. Keiser is also willing to fully turn the house over to the director.
The film industry may seem glamorous until a small army invades your property. Here are some important issues to consider:
Who are all these people? The number of members of a cast and crew will depend on what's being shot. A still shoot (a department store ad, for example) typically will involve three to 10 people and usually takes a day. A commercial might bring 20 to 60 people to the location and last a couple of days. A movie could mean 60 to 300 actors and crew members for days or weeks.
What if something gets broken? The crews are professional and careful, but accidents such as nicked walls can happen. Keiser said a homeowner should get a certificate of insurance from the production company in case any claims for damage need to be filed.
Who cleans up? The upkeep is the production company's responsibility. "You'd never know they were in your house," Glazier said. "They'll come in with 40 people while I'm at work and you'd never know. Sometimes they take over the street for a day, or put a tent in the yard for the crew to eat, but when they leave everything is spotless."
Will there be changes to my property? There may be alterations to your property based on the needs of the shoot. Construction personnel might need to mend cracks in walls or plant new landscaping.
"If they want curtains and you don't have curtains, they put them up for the day and take them down," Keiser said. "They have stagers who come in and supply vases and flowers and knickknacks if they don't like yours. Whatever fits the scene. Then they take them away and put your things back."
Glazier said she barely recognized her home in a commercial. "There was a TV above the fireplace; we don't have that. There was different furniture. The only way you recognized it is maybe a back wall," she said.
Is this a one-shot deal? Bulinski said that if a home is used once, people in the industry take note and are not averse to a return engagement. "If somebody liked it, somebody else will like it," she said.
Do I get paid? Yes, and it could be a lucrative. The amount depends on the scope of the project. "(The fee) varies greatly," depending on the project's budget, Bulinski said.
Other sources said a couple of hours for a print ad can bring $500, with a full day possibly reaching $3,000; an eight- to 12-hour catalog shoot can bring a minimum of $1,000, and a full day of use for a commercial can be worth $1,500 to $5,000. A large-scale film could bring much more.
There are other perks as well. Keiser says she was once out of her home for a week during filming. The production company put her up at a hotel, paid for valet parking and included a food allowance.
"If I could do it every day, I really could," Keiser said. "Some people have hobbies; this would be my hobby."
Who's in charge? In Chicago, location scouts double as location managers. They not only find the properties for the production companies, but also make sure things run smoothly. That means getting permits, setting up security and notifying neighbors of what is going on. They also welcome questions from the homeowners. "I think the key is the location scouts," Keiser said. "You need somebody who will tell you exactly what's going to happen, someone who'll be there during the shoot to make sure everything is going along to their satisfaction, a hands-on location scout. If you get people like that, it's all good."
Turning your home into a movie set
The Illinois Film Office offers these tips on things to remember when working with filmmakers.
Ask how many days and what hours the firm will be in your town, building or site. Find out what's being filmed.
How many people can you expect to be involved with the production? Will there be an advance group coming in to prepare the site for the film crew?
Is a staging area required for equipment or personnel? Where will the production vehicles park? How much security will be required? What is the best point of access for the filmmakers and their equipment? Where will the cast and crew be fed their meals?
Will an extra power source be used for lighting, or will access to an internal source be required?
Will there be alterations to property? How soon will things be restored if need be? Will any areas be closed to the public?
Regarding insurance, ask to see proof of third-party property damage, personal injury and liability, a hold harmless agreement and comprehensive general liability. You can put riders on the contract too. Feel free to take photos of the area to be used for filming before the company comes to use as a reference later if needed.
Let the company know of any restrictions at the initial meeting.
Try to be flexible with the production companies and realize that schedule changes are not uncommon.
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