Lights. Camera. Location! (Property Owners Beware)

The film industry in Georgia is booming. The state ranks number one globally in the production of top grossing feature films, followed by the United Kingdom, Canada, California, Louisiana, and New York. The state, with its temperate climate and picturesque landscapes, bolstered by a highly successful tax incentive program, has proved irresistible to Hollywood production companies and filmmakers alike. From Savannah to Decatur, film crews can be seen shooting in public spaces, local businesses, and neighborhood homes on any given day.

Before any such private property may be portrayed on film, however, the filmmakers should secure various rights from the property owner or the owner’s authorized agent. In industry-speak, the right to access, record, and depict privately owned property is secured through a location release agreement. As one might imagine, the length, scope, and complexity of these agreements often vary depending on the needs of the parties, their relative tolerance for risk, and overall transactional sophistication. Since the rise of the film industry in Georgia is a relatively recent phenomenon, many property owners in Georgia have little or no experience regarding location release agreements. This article aims to briefly outline some of the issues that a property owner should consider.

In addition to addressing access and publicity rights, most location release agreement forms originating from the filmmaker’s camp will include a litany of legal concepts designed to favor the filmmaker. Accordingly, it is important for a property owner to appreciate the legal landscape associated with the act of filming and the industry, generally, and to get experienced counsel involved to help re-balance what is likely a one-sided agreement. For example, a business owner seeking to minimize the disruption to his business activities should insist that the agreement specify the precise date(s) and time(s) that filming will occur. Similarly, the property owner will want to protect the condition of the property and be indemnified for any losses arising in connection with the use. In some instances, image-conscious owners may want to consider how the property will be portrayed and restrict any uses that may be deemed embarrassing or defamatory, or simply not in keeping with the character or image of the property. In short, the creativity displayed in some location agreements matches, if not eclipses, the efforts of big-budget Hollywood screenwriters.

The use of a single-family residence will present a bundle of potential issues and concerns that are somewhat unique to a homeowner. Questions like: “Who will take care of my personal property and belongings?” “Do I have to pack anything up and put it away?” and “Will they need to paint or change anything, and if so, will they put it back the way it was? All must be considered before handing over the keys. In contrast, the issues that emerge with the use of a multi-tenant commercial property are somewhat more complex. For example, a landlord might consider: “What do the tenant leases say about this?” “Do I need to inform my mortgagor and/or seek their consent?” “Should I let my insurance carrier or agent know?” “Do I have to use the license fees or rental payments received to reduce or offset operating costs?” “Will this interfere with my tenants’ use of their premises or the common areas?” “Do I want my building’s or project’s name published or displayed in the film?” These examples are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and the issues involved in a location agreement can vary tremendously.

The portrayal of a home, business, or other structure in a feature film, commercial or television show may enhance the intrinsic and monetary value of a property, but could leave the owner with post-production headaches that could have been avoided with a little work on the agreement on the front end. Consequently, the prudent owner should take great care to ensure that both the owner and the owner’s property are adequately protected. That’s a wrap!

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