Los Angeles Residents: Can Your House Make Big Bucks as a Movie Star?

The location manager for America’s Next Top Model and other projects gives the 411 on using your house for a location shoot.

Photo by: Smadar Vaknin This is the Hancock Park house that Los Angeles location scout Smadar Vaknin found for Season 19 of America's Next Top Model. That season was known as the "College Edition," and it turned out to be quite the challenge to find a place that looked like it could be a sorority house at any university in the US.

Anyone who’s spent any time in Los Angeles has driven past fleets of trucks and trailers parked along residential streets, with dozens of people with walkie-talkies and tool belts swarming about. These are sure signs that a film, TV, commercial or print shoot is happening nearby.

The glass-half-full people smile and say, “Woo hoo! Some lucky homeowner is getting a juicy location fee, and film production in L.A. is thriving, which is good for the economy.” The glass-half-empty types curse and grumble about parking, traffic and the fact that their home wasn’t selected.

Photo courtesy of Smadar Vaknin Location manager Smadar Vaknin finds houses around Los Angeles to serve as filming locations for America’s Next Top Model and other commercial projects.

In fact, a location shoot can be an amazingly lucrative gig, with rates running anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 per 12-hour day, depending on location, size and the number of rooms the production company uses. Prep day rates, or the time it takes to prepare the house for the shoot, run at about half that.

Smadar Vaknin is a busy location scout/manager in Los Angeles, who arranges dozens of shoots each year for products ranging from beer to sneakers to cars to Kindles. One of her most consistent gigs is finding homes for America’s Next Top Model, which she’s been doing for the past nine seasons. She gives some useful tips for homeowners who think their house might be ready for a close up.

“Directors have very specific ideas about what they want for a shoot,” says Vaknin, whose mission it is to go out and find the perfect location. For example, each season of America’s Next Top Model has a theme. The latest season had male and female models competing against each other, so they wanted a house with areas where romance could bloom.

One of Vaknin’s biggest challenges was to find a place that looked like a sorority house for their college-themed season. It had to be an older house that looked like it could be at a university anywhere in America, which means no telltale palm trees, which is particularly difficult in Los Angeles.

And like all seasons, it had to be in a neighborhood that is production-friendly, meaning there are few restrictions on parking, shooting hours and days, etc. And it had to be just the right size – a minimum of five bedrooms: two for the contestants to sleep in, an interview room, a confession room and the Tyra suite, a luxurious suite that challenge winners get to inhabit for a day.

Owners have to be willing to vacate for at least two months and have holes drilled in most of their walls, so cameras can be mounted, as the contestants are shot nearly 24/7.

Of course the homeowners are paid a location fee and their relocation expenses for the duration of the shoot are covered, and the production company is obligated to put everything back the way they found it, which could mean re-painting and re-doing the floors.

That’s why, according to Vaknin, the ideal houses are ones that have just been finished and haven’t been lived in yet, or houses that are for sale, and the residents have already moved.

Neighborhoods are important too, according to Vaknin. Hancock Park may have great looking homes in a variety of architectural styles, but there are severe shooting and parking restrictions there. The same goes for upscale neighborhoods like the Beverly Hills flats and Santa Monica.

San Fernando Valley neighborhoods are noted for being more production friendly, especially places like Thousand Oaks and Agoura Hills, where The Bachelor series is shot.

Of course, not all shoots require the owners to move out for long periods of time. Some of the commercial shoots Vaknin works on are shot in a day, and only use the front or back yard. Or maybe they’ll use the living room in one house, and the kitchen in a neighbor’s.

Whatever the case, Vaknin says her first choice is always to use a location service with hundreds of homes and photographs in their database.

If you’re willing to be accommodating and think you have a particularly picturesque home or business that you’d like to put to work for you, Vaknin advises doing a web search for location services in your area. If they think your place has potential, they’ll send a photographer out and put you in their database.

It’s best not to be exclusive with any one service, Vaknin adds. Why not increase your chances?

But she cautions you to run if they try to charge you to be included in their database. Legitimate services usually take 15 percent of the location fee from the production companies once they book a job, and shouldn’t be charging the homeowners a penny just to be listed.

Best case scenario? You get paid to stay in a hotel for a few days, you come back to a freshly painted house and you get to see your home on TV. Nice work if your house can get it.

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