Suburban homes wanted for TV, film projects
Last summer, there was snow on the ground at Terri Dieter's home in Naperville.
With help from Chicago location scout Kate Levinson, Kmart chose Dieter's Jefferson Estates home for its winter holiday ad photo shoot.
On 48 hours notice, a 30-person crew showed up at Dieter's door and stayed for six straight days, sometimes working until 4:15 a.m. They made it look like December, covering the yard in fake snow and hanging Christmas lights. The crew filled Dieter's garage with equipment, set up bright lights in the front and backyards, and mulled outside the house at all hours.
The compensation for the Dieter's sacrifices? A check for $12,000 -- $2,000 a day -- handed to them the first morning the crew showed up.
"It was such a great experience," Dieter said. "And if you saw any type of print ad for Kmart, and you saw any type of house or shrub in the background, that was our house."
Directors of Hollywood movies, TV shows, commercials and national print ads regularly use suburban homes as locations for filming and photo shoots. Just a few weeks ago, scenes from the movie "Precious Mettle," starring Paul Sorvino and Fiona Dourif, were shot at homes in Naperville and Aurora.
This year is on pace to match 2012, which was a record year for movies and TV shows in Illinois.
According to the Illinois Film Office, the film industry generated $184 million in spending statewide last year. Four TV shows alone -- "Boss," "Chicago Fire," "The Mob Doctor" and "Underemployed" -- accounted for roughly half of it, according to the office.
While those shows were largely shot in the city, the boom provided jobs for suburban actors, crew members, and other industry-related businesses, said Illinois Film Office Managing Director Betsy Steinberg.
Directors are attracted to the Chicago area for its diverse scenery and home styles. Within a one-hour drive, a director can find everything from rundown urban housing to a lakefront estate, or scenery that ranges from farmland to the city's skyline.
They're also lured by the state's generous 30 percent tax credit on production spending, which includes salaries.
"It's always about the bottom line," Steinberg said. "Producers know they're going to get a good deal when they come here ... and the suburbs are really popular."
So how do you get your home or business featured, either on the big screen, the small screen, or in commercials and print ads?
Industry experts say the first thing to do is send photos of your home to a reputable location scout and also post them on the Illinois Film Office's website,
They will add the photos to their online database and show them to prospective directors. Because they have thousands of homes in their database, the odds of being chosen are slim. But you never know what a director is looking for, and there's growing demand for suburban-styled homes, said longtime location scout Oryna Schiffman, based in Elmhurst.
"Since the recession started, I've been getting less and less requests for your typical North Shore mansions. They say, 'I want real people who live in real houses,'" said Schiffman, who accepts photos at firstname.lastname@example.org. "You never know what they're going to ask for next."
There is no cost to submit photos to reputable location scouts, like Schiffman and Levinson, and the photos are not available for public viewing.
After many years in the business, Levinson says she knows exactly what a director is looking for and sometimes scouts places herself, putting fliers in mailboxes of homes that have potential and asking them to call her.
"Locations are picked for many different reasons. It's a lot of luck," said Timothy Tiedje, of Inverness, a veteran prop master who's worked on dozens of movies ranging from "Risky Business" to "Spider-Man 2."
The biggest benefit to homeowners is usually the money -- it's possible to make thousands of dollars a day, depending on the scope and length of the project. Plus, there's the prestige of seeing your place on the screen.
"Even if it costs them $10,000 ... for them, that's still cheaper than building a set," Tiedje said. "And if you have someone who's willing to let you use their property, that's so much easier for them."
If the movie turns out to be a hit, it could make your home or business more marketable to potential buyers. The famous "Home Alone" house or the Ferris Bueller house on the North Shore were marketed as such when put up for sale.
However, there is a downside to offering up your home. Filming and photo shoots can disrupt your routine, your sleep, and possibly your neighborhood. Movie crews, especially, tend to completely take over an area with trailers and equipment. Homeowners usually get short notice about the shoots and need to hastily sign off on the legal paperwork.
While most film crews are respectful of people's property (and often contractually obligated to return it to its original condition), paint sometimes gets chipped and things get broken or banged up. That's why it's important to get things in writing before the filming begins.
"The first thing you ask is do they have insurance and to name you as an 'additionally insured.' If they have that, you can start talking to them," said Schiffman, who worked on movies like "Public Eye" and "Men Don't Leave" but also does national commercial work.
Plus, it's possible the footage or photos could end up on the cutting room floor, which can be a disappointment.
"In the end, I think most people will look back and say they're glad they did it," Tiedje said. "People should try. The more homes we have to choose from in the Illinois pool, the better and stronger Illinois is for future filming."
When DreamWorks came to the suburbs in 2001 to film "Road to Perdition," Jolie's Hair Salon in West Dundee was used for one of the opening scenes.
Business co-owner Julie Meyer said it was stunning to see how quickly -- and with such attention to detail -- they transformed her salon space. The floors, walls, fixtures, furniture and even the front window were converted into the Prohibition-era "Peerless Pharmacy" seen at the beginning of the film.
"It was kind of sad when they started scraping our name off the window," she said. "But they were very professional, courteous and did everything to be in and out as quickly as possible. They put it all back ... and hired the same artist to put our name back on the window."
The salon had to operate for three weeks from a sink-equipped trailer provided by the studio. For two days, they couldn't work at all because of the filming.
The building owner might have been paid, but Meyer said the salon owners were just compensated for lost wages. She didn't mind, saying it was a positive experience and generated a lot of excitement among the customers.
"They wanted our space, so we weren't going to turn them down," Meyer said. "For us, it was the excitement of having a movie coming down and being filmed ... it's just amazing that they did all that work for one minute in the film."
Movies filmed in the suburbsHere's a list of a few of the movies that have been filmed in the suburbs:
Ÿ "Precious Mettle" (to be released in 2014), filmed recently at homes in Naperville and Aurora.
Ÿ "Contagion" (2011), filmed at the old Sherman Hospital in Elgin, at the Tellabs building in Naperville, and in other spots in Skokie and Waukegan.
Ÿ "Road to Perdition" (2002), filmed in downtown West Dundee, at a home on Sutton Road in Barrington Hills and on State Street in downtown Geneva.
Ÿ Reception scenes from "My Best Friend's Wedding" (1997), filmed at Cuneo Museum & Gardens in Vernon Hills.
Ÿ "Groundhog Day" (1993), filmed in Woodstock.
Ÿ "Wayne's World" (1992), filmed in Aurora and Berwyn.
Ÿ "The Breakfast Club" (1985), filmed in the since-shuttered Maine North High School in Des Plaines.
Ÿ The beach scenes in "The Blues Brothers" (1980), shot at Bangs Lake in Wauconda.
Ÿ Between 1983-1990, many North Shore homes were featured in movies, including "Home Alone," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Risky Business," "Ordinary People," "Weird Science," "Sixteen Candles," "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" and "She's Having a Baby."