Community associations across the country—and individual homeowners—are offering up locations for film shoots. Know what you’re getting into before Hollywood arrives at your front door.
A car scene filmed in a mid-rise condominium garage in downtown Los Angeles for the Fox television thriller “24” went off without a hitch. A seemingly innocuous HGTV room makeover in a Santa Clarita Valley, Calif., homeowners association became a major headache.
Jasmine Fisher, a senior associate with Adams Kessler law firm in Los Angeles, has seen the good, the bad and the ugly of community association filming contracts.
“It kind of defies logic which ones are going to go really well and which ones turn out to be complete catastrophes,” she says.
As movie, TV and advertising production has spread from Southern California and New York City to myriad states offering film tax credits and incentives, more associations are fielding requests to use common areas for shoots. In other cases, owners are approached directly. Allowing production companies to film inside your association can infuse coffers with much needed cash, help gain exposure for your community—a plus for people looking to sell—and give residents the opportunity to see a movie being made and even hobnob with actors.
But allowing filming in your community shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are legal concerns, insurance issues and potential drawbacks. It can be a massive intrusion as crews descend with large box trucks, humming generators, glaring klieg lights, electrical wires snaking across properties and craft service trucks providing food. Projects often take longer than expected and crews can damage property.
“Traffic problems in the morning and all the noise and lights can literally upset the natural biorhythm of a community,” Fisher says. “It’s really a big deal when film crews come into your community. Unless you’ve lived through one, you don’t really appreciate what it takes (to film a production); it takes a village.”
Associations should have legal counsel prepare or review agreements to address filming dates and times, protection of the association’s name and image, potential damage and injuries, hold-harmless and indemnity provisions, and insurance. Boards also should proactively notify residents about schedules and what to expect.
Show Me the Money (and More)
Michael Rome, a community association attorney with Rome & Associates in Marietta, Ga., who also practices entertainment law, has negotiated several agreements. He says they should address:
- How much will the association be paid? Fees vary with production size and time. Associations can expect “a couple thousand dollars up to $5,000 or $10,000” depending on the number of days film crews will be on site.
- What if the shoot runs over? They often do. Contracts should spell out how much extra money the association will get and if there are restrictions on how many extra days will be allowed.
- The contract should include a copy of the production company’s current liability insurance declaration page. You’ll also want to check with your association underwriter to ensure that if, say, a resident got injured, your policy would cover it too.
Rating and credits. What’s the anticipated movie rating? Is the rating acceptable? If the association requests it, will credits include a “thank you” to the association and residents?
- Allowing a crew to film doesn’t normally require a homeowner vote, but it’s imperative to let residents know when filming will happen and whether streets will be blocked or common elements unavailable. It’s also a good time to inform residents what the movie is about.
Communication is paramount, according to Fisher. That’s why the “24” filming—coordinated through the association from the start—worked, and the HGTV filming in a resident’s home—which the association was initially unaware was going to happen—didn’t.
While backlash for blocking parts of a garage in auto-obsessed L.A. for two days could have been significant, the association and production company coordinated the shoot “seamlessly,” Fisher says. Designated point people within both organizations, ample signage and e-mails to residents all contributed to a trouble-free experience.
Fisher declined to say what the association was paid, but says it was a worthwhile exchange. “The (residents) weren’t angry at the conclusion of this,” she says.
The HGTV filming in Stetson Ranch in Santa Clarita had a couple things working against it.
At first, the homeowner worked directly with the show to arrange the filming. Initially, the association was “not kept in the loop” and was unaware crews would be on its property. Fisher says it was a violation of the community’s governing documents for the owner to permit a commercial shoot in his home without written consent from the association. Making matters worse, the relatively new community of 264 single-family homes never had a large film crew on site before.
The association eventually hired Fisher to draw up a production agreement, but damage had already been done.
“The production crews in general created a nightmare for the community by taking up much of the available street parking and operating loud generators and floodlights past what many felt was an appropriate hour,” she says.
The association and its residents also thought it was getting money for nothing, Fisher recalls. “They didn’t know what it was like to suffer through a film production.”
Stetson Ranch has since adopted rules that stress the need for owners to obtain permission for a commercial shoot and tightened its production agreements.
Regulations vary from association to association. While most don’t have rules regarding commercial film shoots within a resident’s home, Rome says it’s likely there are restrictions about conducting commercial or business activities that impact the neighborhood, such as having numerous large vehicles parked on the street or violating rights to quiet enjoyment.
Hey, You’re Famous!
Filming for larger productions can cover common areas and residents’ homes, which sometimes are converted for use as green rooms for actors between shoots. That was the case in 2010 when Fox filmed part of “The Watch”—a movie starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade—in several Atlanta locations. In the film, four men form a neighborhood watch to escape their day-to-day family routines and find themselves defending the Earth from an alien invasion.
Denise Hindes, owner of All-In-One Community Management in Powder Springs, Ga., lives in Echo Mill, a community with 527 single-family homes in West Cobb, where “The Watch” filming took place. She served on the association board during negotiations. Hindes says Fox executives provided an overview of the script, and initially, some board members were concerned the film was R-rated.
Nonetheless, they drew up a schedule that included six shooting days spread over three weeks for a $5,000 fee. Crews filmed primarily in common areas: community parks, in the street, in front of homes and by the community pool. Resident Lisa Maricondo allowed crews to film her home and use part of it as a green room for an undisclosed fee. She had catering tents in the backyard and makeup and production crews in the garage.
“It was a great adventure,” Maricondo says. “One day when I was in my kitchen, Ben Stiller pulled up a bar stool and asked me if he could sit. He started talking to me about how much he loved my backyard, how he just relocated his family from California to Westchester County, N.Y., and about his kids.”
Hindes says the shoot wasn’t without some snafus. The production company hired off-duty Cobb County police to help with traffic, but problems arose when some streets were blocked and the filming attracted gawkers from other neighborhoods.
The biggest glitch came one afternoon when school buses dropping off children met roadblocks; the children had to be dropped off at different spots. “The parents didn’t like that,” Hindes says.
Hindes also wishes the Echo Mill board had negotiated more money. “Although residents enjoyed it, I think the inconvenience deserves more cash,” she says. “We probably could have gotten double that.”
The finished movie was OK, according to Hindes, but perhaps a bit more risqué than expected. Nonetheless, she too enjoyed meeting the actors, and kids in the neighborhood loved seeing how a movie is made. “When the stars first come in, they’re bigger than life,” she says.
In some cases, a community gets cash and a minor facelift.
In 2004, while managing Village Green’s 629-unit homeowners association on a 68-acre park-like setting on the southwest edge of L.A., Jim Altschuler was approached by a broker about shooting a portion of “Guess Who”—a 2005 Sony Pictures comedy starring Bernie Mac, Ashton Kutcher and Zoe Saldana.
The picturesque property, built in 1941, is a designated National Historic Landmark. The association settled on a $10,000 fee for three-and-a-half days, with provisions for more money if the shoot went longer.
The crew filmed primarily inside and outside the office and meeting building. The association considered many issues—impact to office and maintenance staff, availability of common areas during filming, and potential damage to everything from the interior and exterior to the lawns, landscaping and sidewalks.
“Negotiating an appropriate and an all-encompassing contract is paramount to ensuring the protection of the association, its property and, most of all, the residents and staff,” says Altschuler, who is now retired.
The crew replaced some plants around the front of the building and installed a temporary walkway. When the final “Cut!” was called, the crew restored everything to original condition or better—critical given the property’s historic designation. There weren’t any issues, and the project was deemed a success.
“It was an opportunity to benefit the association physically and financially, and the impact was really rather minimal,” Altschuler says.
Claude “C.J.” Klug recommends that associations steer clear of reality shows but admits that in some cases, they might not have any control.
In 2008, Klug was general manager of the CZ Master Association, a gated community in Coto de Caza, Calif., when a producer announced plans to film a Bravo TV reality show there that later became known as “The Real Housewives of Orange County.”
“Reality shows aren’t reality, and very rarely are they done from a positive standpoint,” Klug says.
Board members, fearing the show could harm the community’s image and cause property values to drop, voted to prohibit crews from common areas but couldn’t stop homeowners from allowing crews onto their own properties. The problem, Klug says, is that the show didn’t accurately depict life in the planned-unit development of 3,475 homes ranging from condominiums to large estates.
Initially, some board members urged Klug and the association’s attorney to take legal action to prevent taping in homes. But eventually, they realized that might make them the subject of the next episode. Over time, crews “actually started violating the rules and started filming in common areas,” Klug says, but the board decided not to pursue the issue.
“The attorney and I agreed that an agreement would be almost unenforceable on our part,” Klug says. “The big issue is: Do you want to be part of the story, or do you want to be left alone?”
A large master-planned community in Blaine, Minn., didn’t have any troubles in March 2012 when the WE tv reality show “Bridezillas” filmed a groom’s dinner in the association clubhouse.
The association didn’t even charge a fee; the groom’s mother lives in the community, and residents can rent the clubhouse free of charge, says Jesse Dubuque, CMCA, director of client development for Community Development Inc. in Golden Valley, Minn.
It wasn’t a major production; filming was only scheduled for four hours one night.
The board had the contract reviewed by an attorney and made some minor changes. Since the clubhouse also has an office open until 9 p.m. and a 24-hour fitness center, Dubuque wanted to ensure residents still had access to amenities during the filming. The contract also stipulated that the community name not be mentioned and that it “not be portrayed in a derogatory manner.”
Despite the bride’s histrionics and plenty of on-camera screaming, there were no damages, and everything went as planned.
“The board wasn’t concerned about making money off something like this,” Dubuque says. “It just wanted to make sure our neighborhood wasn’t portrayed badly, knowing what happens on that type of show.”
Associations sometimes receive fees for commercials too.
Harbor Town, a 1,000-unit mixed-use development in Memphis, Tenn., recently was the site for commercials involving Terminix and Saint Francis Medical Partners.
Elizabeth Glasgow, Harbor Town association manager, says the community received $200 for allowing Terminix to film a commercial promoting the pest company’s new uniforms with workers standing by trucks along the association’s leafy streets. Harbor Town also pocketed $500 from Saint Francis Medical Partners, which used the community’s common area, a gazebo and the association office for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon to film an advertisement.
Harbor Town didn’t have a formal production agreement but did require a certificate of insurance naming the association as an additional insured. Glasgow says associations need to be careful to get contact information and telephone numbers for anyone doing a shoot.
While Harbor Town didn’t make a lot of money from the commercials, the fees added a few drops to the budget bucket.
“We’re not a struggling community, but at the same time, every bit helps,” Glasgow says.