Self-storage is used by all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons, so it’s only natural that our facilities would occasionally appear in movies and TV shows. Producers, screenwriters and filmmakers are discovering the value of these unique properties as settings for their plots. If the opportunity presents itself, offering your site to be used for filming might be a great way to earn public attention, promote your business and generate a bit of revenue.
That said, there are factors to consider before you jump onto the big screen. I address some of them below, and provide tips for those of you who are ready for the lights, camera and action!
Storage on Screen
Unless you’ve been living in a bomb shelter, you’ve likely seen the film “Silence of the Lambs,” in which character Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster, finds herself crawling into a self-storage unit as part of an FBI investigation. Though the scene doesn’t last long, it’s a classic moment in movie history.
Storage units also appeared in the first episode of TV sitcom “Brooklyn 99,” when an escaped criminal is confronted by detectives at the facility. Our industry has also been featured in “Big Bang Theory,” “Breaking Bad,” “True Detective” and other productions. The list goes on.
If you’re interested in gaining some on-screen exposure for your own storage operation, a good first step is to sponsor or become a part of the Location Managers Guild International (LMGI), a global organization that supports strong relationships between production and government agencies, businesses and communities. Its members serve as location scouts for films, TV shows, commercials, music videos and print advertising.
Their primary job is to find the settings that best match the visual concept desired by producers, directors and production designers. Using a blend of research, photography, intuition and knowledge, they determine which settings best advance and enhance a story and character development.
Once filming starts, these scouts manage the location, ensuring everyone in the cast and crew knows how to get there. They negotiate parking, noise reduction, power sources, catering requirements and any official permissions that may be needed with the site’s management or owner.
Factors to Consider
Whether it’s worth having a film crew on your self-storage site depends on how well your business is performing. If you’re in lease-up, this type of opportunity isn’t only promotional, it can serve as an alternative, short-term revenue stream, as the production company will compensate you for use of the property. It’s also customary for them to pick up a portion of the power fees and any property alterations needed for the shoot (maybe even upgrades), depending on the vision of the filmmaking team.
There are self-storage facilities in Southern California that actually pitch their locations for filming right on their websites. Some state self-storage associations have similar web pages with properties offered up by members, rules for a potential set and so on. The bottom line is that storage facilities are now recognized as a position production location. It really comes down to how aggressively you want to pursue this type of business.
Here’s something to keep in mind: The film industry spends millions of dollars a day creating sets on soundstages. The inside of a self-storage facility is easily and cheaply replicated. Thus, the unique appeal of a property to location managers is the exterior. If a scout expresses interest in your site, they’ll gladly work with you to arrange the necessary logistics.
Finally, geography is irrelevant. The beauty for most self-storage operators is that wherever your facility is located, you can miraculously become part of a different landscape through production. For example, in the TV series “Dexter,” a storage facility that was depicted as being in the heart of Miami, Florida, was actually in Long Beach, California. The magic of the screen makes this all possible.
If you’re going to offer up your self-storage facility as a filming set, insurance is key. Every production company, large or small, should ensure that the cast, crew, film equipment, etc., are all properly insured and provide you with a certificate to that effect.
As to payment, determining the level of fee you should expect is difficult. It really depends on the amount of use, exposure and promotion your facility receives through the production. The producers could attempt to offset the payout for these intangibles. At that point, it becomes a business decision. There’s no standard, basic or minimum fee for using a location; however, most productions will accommodate a “no loss” policy, which states that, at a minimum, the business will not incur a loss of revenue.
In most instances, film crews will go out of their way to film during off hours or when your self-storage facility is closed. This eliminates the possibility of tenants or other guests wandering near the filming, which benefits you as well as the production company. In cases when this isn’t feasible, it’s a matter of consideration between the parties to negotiate an acceptable fee for business disruption.
Be Your Own Producer
A surefire way to get your self-storage facility on screen is to become an executive producer of a movie and hire a screenwriter to develop a script. While that may sound difficult, LinkedIn hosts several profiles of working screenwriters and producers. There are also websites that serve as work-for-hire platforms, such as screenwritingstaffing.com and scriptrevolution.com.
When interviewing a screenwriter, you want to know they’ve written material that’s been produced. They should be willing to share their credentials and writing samples with you. After that, it’s really a matter of trusting your instincts.
Script commissions are usually based on the anticipated budget of a production. In your prospective role as movie producer, this could be up to you. While major motion pictures work in budgets of tens of millions of dollars, most independent films are produced for well under $1 million. Scripts are usually budgeted at 4% or 5% of the film budget.
Lights, Camera, Action
Self-storage presents unique opportunities to tell stories that a wide audience can appreciate. There are plenty of examples in which film stars have roamed around storage sites on screen. Now, you’ll be prepared if opportunity knocks!
If you have a story you believe would play well on screen, then there are ways within your control to make that happen. You could be the next self-storage operator turned movie producer!
Rick Hansberry is director of acquisitions for Moove In Self Storage, which operates more than 50 locations in eight states. He’s also an award-winning screenwriter, director and producer, with more than 25 years of industry experience. His credits include the Emmy-winning documentary “An Irish Story: This Is My Home.” He offers creative services through Oscar’s Trailer LLC. To reach him, email [email protected].