At a Twisters restaurant in Albuquerque, Breaking Bad fans can have their picture taken next to the Los Pollos Hermanos logo that still adorns one wall. The building played the part of drug kingpin Gus Fring’s chicken joint in the AMC series, and as a result, the restaurant has become famous — as have numerous other spots throughout the New Mexico city where the show was both set and filmed.
Many of those filming locations are now stops on ABQ Trolley Co.’s popular four-hour, 38-mile BaD Tour, which takes fans past residences and businesses that appeared in the show, including Walter White’s house, Jesse Pinkman’s apartment, and Saul Goodman’s law office. The tour — which has also added a few locations from the prequel series Better Call Saul — even makes a lunch stop at Twisters.
The Location Manager
How does a film or TV production find its locations? That’s the job of a location manager, says Chase Hudson, head of physical production at Penchant Entertainment, an independent development and production company based in Los Angeles. If you’d like to see your house or business in a movie, location managers in the area have to be aware of your property. For interested owners, Hudson says, “The best way to help production is to make sure their property is listed somewhere.” That can be as easy as contacting your local film office or tourism board.
Fees paid to the property owner are negotiated on a case-by-case basis and can range from $0 to $50,000 per day.
The New Mexico Film Office maintains a database of more than 8,000 locations throughout the state, and its website offers detailed instructions for property owners who want to list their home, business, ranch, or other property. The process involves submitting a set of digital images that give specific views of the property and its surroundings, along with information about distinctive features and which uses will be allowed. Owners are encouraged to be aware of practical considerations, such as whether the area has sufficient parking and access for large vehicles: “film and television projects can have a crew of 100 to 200 people, whereas smaller productions such as commercials usually have 30–40,” according to the film office.
With its generous tax incentives and substantial crew base, New Mexico is especially inviting to the film industry. But because filming in California tends to be at least twice as expensive as filming anywhere else, production companies routinely look at many other states for locations.
Once the producers have selected a state, their next step is to contact one or more location managers there. Whether the production company is a small independent or one of the big studios, says Hudson, a location manager who’s already on the ground in the area will do the actual scouting, which involves searching databases, taking pictures and assembling a portfolio of possible locations.
Fees Paid to the Property Owner
The location manager also arranges the fees to be paid to the property owner. Because these are negotiated on a case-by-case basis, they vary enormously. Rebecca Puck Stair, an Albuquerque-based location manager who has worked with Disney, Fox, Netflix, and Amazon as well as independents, says fees can range from $0 to $50,000 per day.
Numerous factors affect the rate, says Stair, including regional differences and how the property will be used, as well as the budget for a particular project. In addition, fees are higher for filming days than for the setup days before filming and the “strike” days after. On a setup day, up to 20 people might work for 14 hours preparing the location, emptying and/or repainting the house, putting the original furnishings in storage and moving in art department furniture. On a strike (or “restore”) day, the crew puts everything back the way it was. If Stair pays $500–$1,000 for a setup or strike day, she typically pays twice that amount for an actual filming day.
“The speed we move at is incredible. … If you wait a couple of hours [to respond], we’ve already found another location.”
Payments are usually split, with the property owner receiving part up front and the rest at the end. Also, payment may not be in cash — or may not be entirely in cash. Fresh carpet or a new coat of paint might be part of a homeowner’s negotiated compensation. In one case, when the owners primarily wanted buzz for their property, Stair arranged a meet-and-greet event with several famous actors at the site.
Stair warns that renting out your home or business as a filming location should not be looked at as a way to make money. No matter what amazing features your property has, if it doesn’t meet the particular needs of the project, it isn’t what the location manager is looking for. But for interested property owners, she has several pieces of advice.
List your property in the database, she says, but also feel free to reach out to location managers directly. Location managers are independent contractors; their listings should appear in the crew directory on your local film office’s website.
Also, if you get a call, respond promptly. “The speed we move at is incredible,” says Stair. “If you wait a couple of hours [to respond], we’ve already found another location.”
There will be a plan going in, and you should understand it. But changes to the timetable and other aspects of the plan always happen, says Stair. If you want your location to get used on a repeat basis, be flexible.
The real-life residents of Walter White’s house finally had enough pizzas thrown onto their roof by fans reenacting an iconic moment from the show.
Make sure you understand everything in the contract, including the schedule and exactly what will happen at your property. Standard practice in the industry is to leave a location in the same condition or better. Every production should have insurance that covers damage to the location, so that the property owner has no liability. Both Hudson and Stair advise making sure your property has been added to the policy as an “additional insured.” Property owners should also feel free to ask for a damage deposit, says Stair. No legitimate production will object to such a request.
You can contact your local film office or tourism board to verify the credentials of a project. The New Mexico Film Office website offers extensive guidelines for interacting with production companies.
Upsides and Downsides
Even without insurance worries, there are potential drawbacks to having your house or business appear in a production. For owners of properties that become famous, the attention can become too much. The real-life residents of Walter White’s house, for instance, have finally had enough pizzas thrown onto their roof by fans reenacting an iconic moment from the show. In 2017, the family erected a six-foot-high fence around the property.
Of course, movie star status can also benefit a property. Film tourism is a large and growing economic factor in many states. In New Mexico, the Tourism Department has partnered with the state’s film office to create “adventures” based on local productions. Businesses that have been affiliated with these productions are invited to participate.
For some property owners, the process itself is the attraction. Stair tells homeowners, even if they’ve lived in their house for 30 years, “I guarantee we will ask you a question about your property to which you don’t know the answer.” For instance, “What’s the slope of your driveway? Can we land a helicopter on it?”
(This story was originally published on Forbes.com.)