Dalton, a single mom, has gotten much-needed help paying her bills by renting out the three-bedroom house as a location for TV productions including Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie,” HBO’s “Entourage,” “Law & Order: SVU” and the upcoming Netflix crime drama “Seven Seconds.”
She makes around $3,000 every time a production crew takes over her property, and she’s used the money to pay for essentials such as plumbing repairs as well as splurges like a swimming pool for her four kids. “The extra money [has] a huge impact on my life,” Dalton said. “It really helps a lot. I would just be week-to-week paying bills. … I’m telling you, it was a godsend.”
Dalton got into the business of renting her house out by chance after location scouts spotted it and put it in the “Nurse Jackie” pilot. Those same scouts later returned when they needed a similar look for HBO’s “Entourage.” Since then she’s gotten steady business, in part because scouts like her house’s “blue-collar look,” she said.
Owning a house is supposed to help you build wealth, but property owners like Dalton are putting a different spin on that adage with this Hollywood-themed side hustle.
Fees vary widely depending on the size of the production, starting at about $2,000 per day on the low end and going up to $10,000 a day if a house has a starring role in a big-budget flick, said Ana Cuadra, a location scout who worked on the upcoming movie “Oceans 8.” With a record-setting number of productions filming in such cities as New York, homeowners are starting to get savvy and demanding more money, Cuadra said. “Now everybody is saying, ‘I’m not going to give you my house for $5,000, because ‘Billions’ or ‘Gotham’ paid me $10,000,’ ” Cuadra said.
‘I really don’t want to take some job that’s beneath the Ph.D. professor in me. Using the house to generate income seemed like a good strategy.’
As side hustles go, renting your house out for film or TV shoots is fairly easy work. The only requirement, besides having a house that strikes a director’s fancy, is having a very relaxed attitude about lots of strangers and equipment in your space.
“I recommend it to everyone,” said Cuadra. “This is a brilliant, beautiful way to make money.”
But pimping out your house to the movies comes with some caveats. The work is sporadic, so you can’t rely on it as a regular source of income. “You have hot years, and years that are more dry,” said Brooklyn homeowner Jonathan Sharp, who makes between $10,000 and $50,000 a year renting his six-bedroom Victorian out for TV ads for the likes of Ruffles potato chips and Verizon VZ, -0.47% VZ, -0.47% , and several “Saturday Night Live” skits. “It’s a nice supplement, but you can’t count on it,” Sharp said.
And if you do it for more than 14 days a year, you’ll have to declare your earnings as business income and you will be taxed on it, said Kevin McAteer, owner of Reel Locations, an online directory where location scouts search for properties.
Tips on getting into the house-as-film-set business:
- Production companies generally like to work with owners, not renters, because there are fewer people involved in those transactions.
- To get into the business, you can list your house on websites such as Reel Locations or Locations Hub. Or you can wait for a location scout to find you — they’ll sometimes leave fliers around the neighborhood. If you see one and you’re interested, call fast, because productions move rapidly.
- Want to get on location scouts’ list of favorite houses? Be relaxed and easy to work with. Make sure you’re emotionally ready for dozens of strangers and large pieces of equipment to invade your house.
- If a production approaches you about filming in your house, do a background check on the company and location scouts by asking for references and previous film or TV credits. If the scout is with the Location Managers Guild International, they are probably legit, McAteer said.
- Being in movies isn’t just for fancy houses like the stunning coastal mansions on HBO’s “Big Little Lies.” Scouts need all kinds of locations, including rundown basements where the bad guy on a crime show will stash a kidnapping victim.
Homeowners sometimes worry that production crews will damage their house during the shoot, but that’s rarely the case, McAteer said, and if they do, they generally compensate the homeowner. (Insurance is the production company’s responsibility, not the homeowner’s.) “Major studios leave the house in good condition, if not better, because they want to maintain their reputation,” he said. Sometimes studios will even make cosmetic changes such as painting a house a new color or fixing crooked shutters; owners can keep the changes if they like them, he said.
Homeowner Caroline Debrovner, who recently finished renting her house out for the first time, said she was amazed at how careful and detail-oriented the crew was. They took photos of all the furniture, books and knickknacks in her four-story Brooklyn mansion before filming, and made sure everything was back in the exact same spot when they were done, she said.
“I would totally do it again,” Debrovner said. “It’s fun. I appreciate my house so much, and it’s nice to be with people who appreciate the house and are respectful of it.”
Debrovner didn’t go looking to put her house in the movies. It happened after she listed the Park Slope brownstone on Airbnb, and the only taker was a filmmaker who wanted it for a set. She made about $3,500 total from three days of shooting — far more than the $550 a night she would have gotten on Airbnb — and hopes it becomes a regular gig.
Her salary as sociology professor doesn’t go far, she said, and she was dealt a serious financial blow after Puerto Rico defaulted because she had many investments there. Debrovner lives alone in her sprawling house, which has a billiards room, study and library. “I really don’t want to take some job that’s beneath the Ph.D. professor in me,” Debrovner said. “Using the house to generate income seemed like a good strategy.”