What do Woody Allen, Sex and the City, and Law and Order have in common? Answer: all use New York City building sites as backdrops for their movie and television productions. If you are on the board of a cooperative or condominium that is being considered as a site for a film production, what should you think about and how should you react?
First, you must understand that the use of your building for a film or television production presents a financial opportunity to license your property for this, so don’t even think of allowing free use of your building. Second, using your property for a film or television production presents many important concerns that you should resolve through a written agreement. These include issues of resident privacy and security, disruption of daily routines, legal liability for injury or property damage, insurance, construction, alteration, restoration, removal of refuse, access to utilities and intellectual property, to name a few.
The “windfall” that you dream about receiving if you are selected as a movie or television site often may not be worth the aggravation and invasion of privacy that inevitably flows from having “outsiders” use your building. If, however, the length of time desired for the shoot is reasonable, the compensation fair, and the disruption can be controlled, there is good reason to enter into a film or television location license agreement with the producers.
Lights, Camera, Deal!
Let’s assume that the board is interested in the business deal presented. Some production facilities may pay thousands of dollars per day for the privilege of filming at your building. The amount paid for the license fee can be negotiated, especially if your building offers some unique advantages. You will need to negotiate a per-day fee, as shoots can last several days and may also exceed the original schedule. You have to be prepared for this possibility and determine the outside number of days that you will permit filming to occur. Next, you will have to determine exactly what parts of your building will be used for the production. Is it the exterior only? The lobby or common areas? Will an apartment also be used? You must pin down the areas where filming will be allowed and areas where the production crews may not go. If an apartment is to be used, you will need to have the owner join in the license agreement.
The producers will let you know if there are any alterations required to your building or to your furniture and decorating scheme. If there are, you must consider whether the producer will have to restore the property to its original condition or whether you will work with the producer to design a change that you may want to keep after the filming is over. Your license agreement will have to provide for complete restoration of the property if that is your choice.
Film and television productions can require prodigious amounts of electricity. You will need to consider whether the film or television company can use the building utilities or if they need to make separate arrangements with Con Edison or the local service provider. Similarly, make sure that the production crew is providing its own restroom facilities. Depending on the scope of the production, you will want to require one or more security guards to be paid for by the production company and that all employees of the production crew carry photo identification. Unless there is strict security, most residents will not want strangers to have access to residential areas of the building. You may also want to obtain reimbursement for any overtime or other building staff time required to supervise the production crew.
Any license agreement should contain language requiring the production company to take good care of your building and/or its contents and to restore any damage and there must be broad indemnification language protecting the cooperative or condominium and its agents against claims or liability arising from the production. Likewise, there should be substantial liability insurance naming the building owner as an additional insured against any claims for personal injury or property damage. Do not let any filming begin until you have received certificates of insurance showing that the required coverage is in place.
You also should consider forbidding your building’s image from being used in connection with x-rated or pornographic movies, photographs, or recordings in any medium. The producers will want you to assure them that they have full rights in this area, so make sure that this limit is in the agreement. You also may wish to prevent your building’s name or address from being used in the film or television show and reserve the right to refuse to permit any objectionable fictitious name from being used.
Once all of the terms are agreed upon, you should advise your residents of the future filming that is to occur. You may want to enlist their support so that they do not feel overrun by the production crews when the time to film arrives. The overall experience can be lots of fun for residents and the board if it is properly handled. More to the point, it might also be satisfyingly lucrative.