To step inside Merele Williams-Adkins’s deliciously restored Clinton Hill brownstone is to enter a world of 15-foot ceilings, white marble mantels and fabulous art. You feel as though you have sauntered into pages of an elegant furniture catalog, or onto the set of a quirky independent film. And in a sense, you have.
Ms. Williams-Adkins and her husband, Terry Adkins, have rented out their home several times in the past year as a location for film and print advertising shoots. Their brownstone can be seen in the movie “Friends With Kids,” the forthcoming “Bachelorette,” a Design Within Reach catalog and in another for West Elm, which has not yet been released.
And like all serious talent, the home is represented by an agent.
“My specialty is really residential,” said the agent, [redacted]. “A talent agent has his or her stable of actors and actresses. My cast is houses and places.”
If a script calls for a desolate stretch of road where a villain can dump a gun, or a street corner that can be gussied up to look like it is 1955, a location scout can go out and find the perfect spot. But where their job gets tricky, scouts and agents say, is getting inside of people’s homes. (Excuse me, we’ve never met, but may I come in to photograph your bedroom and all of your belongings?) And that is where location agents come in.
“If you go knock on doors, it could take all day to get into one place,” said [redacted], a location scout and manager. “So sometimes a scout will call an agent, which narrows their search and makes it easier to get through the front door. If someone has screened you, the house people like you better.
“Truthfully, nobody likes to cold-scout houses.”
While these agents tend to have a bit of everything in their inventory a nice barn here, a classroom over there — their Web sites are filled mostly with houses and lofts, apartments and brownstones, all of them owned by people willing to let strangers stomp through the hallways and move around the furniture. In exchange, the owners receive a fee, which can range from $1,000 to $20,000 per day, depending on the project. The agent’s share varies, but a common arrangement is 25 percent of the homeowner’s fee. Most of the business comes directly from a shoot’s production team, and they are paid only when a deal is done.
“I do it mostly because it’s free money, and because I have two kids who go to Saint Ann’s School,” said Ms. Williams-Adkins, referring to the costly private school in Brooklyn Heights. Her husband, she said, is a fine arts professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and she is a real estate broker at the Corcoran Group.
“Selling houses, you never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “So you’ve got to think outside of the box.”
Outside of that box, their brownstone appears to be a hit. It has garnered four shoots in just about a year and is under consideration for another job right now.
Scouts and agents say this kind of repeat hosting is frequent, especially for print work, which tends to supply most of a location agent’s business. And the clients, they say, don’t seem to care whether a home has been shot before.
“It’s not a question I get that often,” said [redacted]. “One person goes in and shoots it one way. Somebody else shoots it another way. Often my homeowners say, ‘I didn’t even see my house, it was so close up.’ ”
One immaculate Brooklyn Heights brownstone that [redacted] represents drips with both chandeliers and bookings. It has recently played host to shoots for Eileen Fisher, Oil of Olay, More Magazine, Lucky Magazine, Cetaphil, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Bali Bras, Kmart, Chico’s and Huggies.
On Classon Avenue, meanwhile, a beat-up old loft with exposed I-beams and chipping paint served as the location for a College Humor video earlier this month, and was the location for a short film last week.
>The film will introduce a new line of New Balance sports bras. The spandex in the apartment was abundant.
For the shoot, the production company, Homestead Films, called a location agent and scout named Debbie Regan and asked for an urban space that could be used to simulate several different apartments. That way, one actress could bound around in the bathroom and another in the kitchen, and the production company wouldn’t have to build multiple sets.
Corinna Falusi, executive creative director at StrawberryFrog, the advertising agency behind the film, said using an actual, lived-in apartment was not only cheaper than building sets, but it also looked better.
“It feels real,” Ms. Falusi said. “Otherwise you need to have a really good set designer going around putting little pieces of dust everywhere.”
In this loft there was dust aplenty, along with a treacherous-looking staircase leading down to the street and floors that appeared to have been attacked by angry woodpeckers. It was fabulously raw, wide open and airy, but also sort of a mess, in the way that many true lofts, recently used as commercial or industrial spaces, often are.
Nonetheless, certain strict, though vague, house rules were put in place for the crews: don’t go in the off-limits rooms; don’t open anything; try not to touch anything.
But at least no people were forced to take off their shoes. Agents said home shoots requiring everyone to wear little protective booties or go about in stocking feet were not uncommon.
“Don’t sit on the sofa, don’t look at the dog,” Ms. Falusi said, recounting other shoots. “You can have people with white leather sofas and, quote-unquote, ‘real art’ on the walls, and they don’t care. And then you have people who live in a garage and they’re picky about everything.”
A payment of several thousand dollars in exchange for, essentially, staying out of the way, can generally calm the nerves of even the most anxious homeowner — or at least suppress their fears long enough that they manage to say yes.
“It’s like ‘The Cat in the Hat,’ and you are the fish in the fishbowl,” a location scout, [redacted], said of the home-shoot process. “When Mommy leaves, the house turns upside down, things are flying and breaking. But by the time Mommy comes, everything is just where you left it.”
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