Is Your Modern Home Ready for its Close-Up?

This month I’m going to talk about two things. First is a new web series I’m working on that will feature mid-century modern homes, and second is how you could actually make some money renting your house out through location scouts to be used in photo shoots or shoots for TV shows or movies.

Part 1: The Modern Home Show

Last year I was fortunate to list Dennis Blair’s spectacular Schell House in Long Grove. The incredible home was cantilevered out over the terrain, adjacent to a vast nature preserve, and my clients had created a prairie-style landscape that flowed naturally into the nature preserve. Inside, they had decorated with period-appropriate furnishings and artwork that presented amazingly well. Combined with a carefully-planned marketing program, we were able to get the house under contract the day before it officially went on the market, and the house sold soon after that.

One component of the marketing program was a video that I had produced to showcase the home and it’s beautiful architecture, setting and decor. That video has gone on to rack up nearly 400,000 views on YouTube as of this writing, confirming what many of us already knew: Mid-Century Modern homes are not only hot, but people LOVE to look at them.

As a result, I’m currently working on a series of short videos to showcase various mid-century modern homes.

Which Homes Make the Best Subjects?

Dennis Blair's Schell House - Long Grove, IL
Dennis Blair’s Schell House – Long Grove, IL

If your home is both mid-century modern, and is furnished and decorated with MCM-appropriate furnishings and decor, it may be an excellent candidate to be featured on The Modern Home Show. The size of the house isn’t as important as its architecture and decor. This includes furniture, artwork and even lighting and other decor items. Your home should be in relatively good condition, with no obvious signs of major issues such as leaks in the roof that have caused damage to the ceiling or other parts of the home. Landscaping and outdoor details should match the rest of the house in terms of overall style to make for the best subjects.

Your home does NOT need to be in “original” mid-century condition – even if the house has been updated with a new kitchen and baths, for instance, so long as those updates are in character with the home’s architecture, it could be a good candidate.

What About Timing? 

The best time to have your home featured on The Modern Home Show is well in advance of when you might consider listing your home for sale. In fact, if you think you may never sell your home, that’s just fine. The idea is to showcase mid-century modern homes that are beautiful and decorated beautifully & in-character. It’s not designed to promote homes that are for sale. If you think your home would make a good subject, please don’t wait to contact me until just before you want to sell your home. Send an email to me at lou@modernil.com or fill out the form at the bottom of this page if you think your home should be featured.

An MCM home designed by Richard J. Stromberg
An MCM home designed by Richard J. Stromberg

The great thing about having your home featured when you’re NOT thinking about selling is that it’ll give the home exposure, an audience and “credibility” for if and when you decide to sell at some point down the road.

I know many people are concerned about privacy, so on a case-by-case basis I’m happy to discuss options for how to describe where your home is. Whether you want it limited to the town or even something as generic as “the Chicago suburbs” is fine (for example).

Part 2: Location Shoots

From time to time I’m contacted by location scouts looking for a modern home for a client. Their clients aren’t in the market to buy a home, but they ARE looking for a home where they can hold a photo, video or film shoot. Sometimes it’s for a catalog for a company that makes or sells furniture. Other times it might be for a TV show or a movie.

In addition to possibly having your home featured in a catalog or on TV / at the movies, the clients pay for the use of your home. I spoke with two local location scouts about the process, in order to give you a better understanding of what’s involved and what to expect.

Jennie Frake is a location scout who woks with Kate Levinson of Levinson Locations. “As a location scout and manager, ultimately my job is to find and secure the perfect locations for print and film productions,” she says, “as well as any other event or project seeking our locations expertise. When a client reaches out with a concept, I find as many locations as possible that align with their vision aesthetically and are production-friendly. Once I know my client’s favorite locations, I negotiate with property owners and municipalities to ensure that the scope of the project is agreeable on all ends, and once the final selects are chosen, I manage the booking process (executing contracts, securing permits, coordinating logistics, etc.) so that all location-related details are established in advance of the shoot.”

I asked Jennie how often her clients look for locations that are specifically modern. “I would say that modern homes make up roughly 25% of the residential asks we get.”

Stu Berberich, an independant location scout based out of Chicago, also says that modern homes are a popular request. “It all depends on the script and the creative vision of the Production Designer” he says, “but modern homes consistently are of interest because they tend to have striking features that always seem to show well on camera. We like to think that a strong location is a character in the story. ”

Having a photography crew or film crew set up camp in your home may seem daunting, so I wanted to get an idea of what the process is like to share with you. 

“My goal is for any home we shoot in to be left in the condition in which it was found upon a shoot’s wrap,” says Jennie. “No matter the number of people, length of time, or temporary modifications made to the home, the production company is responsible for ensuring that the home is restored to its original state. This is included in the location agreement, and we require that productions issue a certificate of insurance for the property in advance as a precaution. Date(s), times, and areas of use are pre-determined, and most shoots are one to two 12-14 hour days. Occasionally we have shoots that only need a half day (5-6 hours) in a home, and catalogues can rent homes for up to a week. Once on set, productions may move furniture, remove lighting fixtures, and bring in their own props and equipment to ‘dress’ the location and shoot it.”

Stu’s description of the process is similar: 

“When a scene requires interior filming, this will involve much more planning than an exterior-only scene. A good Location Manager should always be upfront with the expectations,” he says. “I always paint a detailed picture of what to expect from prepping, filming and restoration. Many times, we will love a house but want to add our own creative elements to it. That can be anything from custom window treatments, new paint, changing out the furniture, etc. The process is done with the permission of the homeowner. Some instances, we will provide a hotel and per diem to the homeowner if we feel the impact requires it. At the completion of filming and once the house has been restored to its original condition by the crew, I always facilitate a walk through with the owner to finalize our wrap out/restoration.”

Ok, so by this point, you’re probably wondering how much such a project would pay to use your home.

“The fees depend on the budget and size of the production.” says Stu. “Not every production has the same budget. With larger scale productions, fees can be negotiated.” And again, Stu’s clients are mostly TV shows and theatrical films, whereas Levinson Locations works primarily in the advertising industry.

“Homeowners are typically paid anywhere from $1500 – $3000 per day, depending on the size, scope, and budget of the production,” says Jennie. “Photo shoots tend to be smaller and less impactful overall (less people, equipment, time, modifications to the home necessary) and are therefore usually on the lower end of this range, while tv commercials tend to be a bit more impactful and therefore are usually budgeted to offer a higher rate.”

Stu tells me that one of the things that makes a shoot go well is when the homeowner is really enthusiastic about the project. “Location Managers love working with excited homeowners that can be open minded to this,” he says. “We work hard to make it run smoothly not just for the filming location but for the community as well. We always want to be invited back.”

If you’re on the fence about it, maybe Jennie’s final words will help sway you. “Do it!” she says emphatically. “Renting your home for photo and film opportunities is a unique way to make some tax-free side income (Publication 527, Tax Topic 415) and it’s an interesting experience to see your home as part of someone else’s creative vision. We love meeting new homeowners and are so appreciative of everyone who shares their space with us.”

Now, unlike what I wrote about for The Modern Home Show in Part 1 above, your furnishings and decor don’t matter as much when considering having your home used as a photography or filming location because as Jennie and Stu explained, their clients will bring in pieces, paint spaces, etc. If you’d like your home to be considered for The Modern Home Show, or you’d like me to keep your house in mind when I’m contacted by a location scout next time, fill in the form below. I’ll contact you, we’ll set up a time for me to visit your home, and we’ll go from there.

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