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Everything You Need to Know to Get Your Property in the Movies

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Chicago's film industry has pumped more than $2B into the local economy. And a chunk of that money has been spent on securing the perfect locations for movies like Batman, series like Chicago Fire, and countless smaller productions and ad shoots. Because there's always a need for more cool locations to put on film, Bisnow has asked some of the city's busiest location scouts (who make a living prowling the region for the next camera-ready penthouse apartment, hotel ballroom or cozy diner) to tell us what makes a great film location. Here's what you need to know to get your property in the movies.

Size: Depending on the size of the production, a location might need to hold as many as 100 people, and all of their filming and production equipment, too. That rules out most 1k SF apartments, says Nick Jamison, a Chicago-based location scout and manager who location credits include Chicago PD, Transformers and Divergent.

Architecture: One of the keys to filming a scene is depth. Directors are not going to want to shoot against a blank wall, says location manager Patrick Muldoon, when they can have a visually compelling space with depth. (Patrick's location credits include Jupiter Ascending and Dark Knight.) That means the best rooms have an open layout, minimal dividing walls, big windows and high ceilings. The more the director can see, the better.

Neighborhood: The less strict your city or village is about having film productions on the block, the better. Location scouts are careful not to suggest properties that would be inaccessible for large trucks or crew members. “It's like the circus comes to town,” Patrick says, but crews have to be able to leave as quickly as they came. That means properties in areas with strict rules about filming are no good; the same is true for properties across the street from schools and other establishments that get a lot of through-traffic and short-term parking.

Style: Beyond being visually interesting, a property’s decor should be up-to-date, according to Kate Levinson, a location scout and manager and the owner of Levinson Locations. Kate, who frequently works with advertisers and retailers such as Crate and Barrel on catalog shoots. She's particularly on the look-out for spaces that have white walls, uncarpeted floors and lots of natural light. “Nobody ever wants carpet, and nobody ever wants brightly colored walls,” she says. “Wallpaper is long gone.” That said, tastes change all the time. 

Be unique—but not too extraordinary: For many of Kate's clients, who are often looking for homes or offices to shoot, the best locations look exquisite, but are not over-the-top—meaning the most unusual-looking houses do not work, even if they're visually stunning. But every director’s needs are different. When it comes to restaurants, for example, people could be looking for a diner one day, and then Alinea the next, she says.

Nick, on the other hand, wants to see locations that really stand out. “Show me something different,” he says.

Timing: Once a location has been scouted, most crews want to move fast. “If you're not willing to get back to me within a day, I've completely moved on,” Nick says. And if it will take more than a few days to get the permits to film somewhere, Kate adds, then your property is probably a no-go. That's because most ad directors who work with her don't plan their shoots more than five days in advance. 

Attitude: Property owners have to be enthusiastic about the film and embrace the shooting process, Nick says. That’s because the money property owners and managers make from the filming usually doesn't make up for the inconveniences of having a massive production crew overturn your home, office, hotel or restaurant. A typical crew may need to visit a location three or four times before filming, Nick says, in order to add furniture, replace light bulbs, black out windows, and possibly repaint the walls. Then, it can take days to undo all of that work afterward. Revenues a property owner can bring in from partnering with a film crew can vary dramatically depending on the location and time demands of the production. For ad shoots, Kate says fees usually begin at $1k and go up from there depending on the producers' budget. For big-budget film shoots, a property owner could make over $5k a day in location fees.

Get on a location scout’s radar: If you think your property is ready for the big screen, then start taking some photos and get in touch with a local location scout. Kate, Patrick and Nick each keep extensive files of would-be film locations so that they have a stockpile of options to share with directors. The Illinois Film Office also keeps records of potential sites, and welcomes submissions from property owners. Send detailed photos of your property, including information on its surrounding location and area film permit rules to individual location scouts and the Illinois Film Office.