Model releases have taken up a lot of real estate, a lot of ink, in our lectures and writings. Location releases, not so much. Many people think they are not needed, as the consent is “obvious” and/or “assumed”. We’re not going to go into that chestnut about the word, assume.  Some think that those who utilize a property for creative purposes do not “legally” need a location release. But the truth is, it is vitally needed. One protects both the artist (photographer, videographer, filmmaker, illustrator, etc.) as well as the property owner for issues both legal and as you’ll see, otherwise.

For fans of the hit TV series “Breaking Bad’ the mere mention of “throwing pizza on the roof” conjures up a classic TV moment and a phrase that has become part of the vernacular.  For those of you unacquainted with the show, the lead character Walter White, is leaving his home and is shall we say, rather angry. He proceeds to throw a pizza pie on the roof on his home.

Check out this CNN video story that explains it all:

The show was filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The location of the house is well known to locals and especially to tourists.  The show has been off the air since 2013 but that has not stemmed the tide of tourists and fans.  A “Breaking Bad” tour bus brings numerous gawkers to the home daily.

This situation is not unique.  The “Archie Bunker house” used in “All in the Family” was similarly afflicted with a multitude of tourists in Queens for the years during which the show ran and for even more years during the period re-runs were shown.

In the movie, “Deliverance,” there was one memorable, horrifying male rape scene that lasted a little more than four minutes, but has lasted over 4 decades inside the hearts and minds of the people who live there. Despite any negative stereotypes, the Rabun County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau says more than a quarter-million people flock to the area each year to shoot the very same rapids they saw come to life on the big screen with Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty. It’s made tourist dollars flow into Georgia.

What Hollywood built – a baseball field for ghosts in an Iowa cornfield in July 1988 – is one of the top tourist attractions in Iowa. To commercially capitalize on the movie, a “real” Field of Dreams which was built for the movie of the same name was reconstructed in Dyersville Iowa. In that instance the current owners want visitors.

OK, so what if you want to shoot a video on location and the owners are reluctant to rent out their home, business or farm fearing that they will suffer the same fate as the owners of the “Breaking Bad House”?  These fears and problems are easily avoided by the creation of a written, signed location agreement. Ed has done many and the key is always to insert terms that will prevent viewers from identifying the “real” location.

Real life example: First run movie about drug dealing. Studio offers the owner of an NYC building lots of money to use the brownstone type structure for 2 weeks of filming the premise as an upscale “crack den”. Studio sweetens the offer by giving owner a two-week cruise as part of the deal so he has a “place to go during filming”. Typically big film/tv studios provide large amounts of insurance (absolutely necessary, all of the time) and agree to leave the premises in the same condition as they found them. Not good enough for Ed. Citing the Archie Bunker house he suggested to his client and the studio agreed that:

  1. The address on the house would be changed during the shoot;
  2.  The house which was brown, would be painted yellow during filming and repainted brown when filming was complete
  3. The front door would be changed for filming purposes and the steps would “lose their railings”;
  4. Every interior shot would be filmed in a room painted a new color for the filming and then repainted another color of the owner’s choice when filming was complete;
  5. No views from inside the apartment to the street or vice versa would be permitted. So a viewer could not identify the location of the house by seeing anything next to it or across the street;
  6.  No filming outside of the house unless the street was closed to traffic and pedestrians.

The movie came out, was successful and runs on TV frequently now over a decade later. The neighbors who “knew” about the filming at the house, no more wanted tourists on the block than the owner did.  Someone watching that film today could not find the location from anything they can see on the screen.

It appears that the owners of the Breaking Bad House did not take any such precautions, nor did the producers.  In the above example the film studio likely paid just the painters well over $10,000 many years ago. A location agreement disguising the location need not cost any studio “real” money. Address numbers can simply be removed, mail boxes not shown, no street scenes permitted, no shots of burglar alarms or unique large items. Ed did a location agreement for a mansion that had a large lime green grand piano. Dead give away to anybody in show biz at that time as to where the filming took place, so no shots of the piano were permitted.

All of the aggravation and expense being incurred by the couple in Albuquerque could have easily and cheaply been avoided.  The show ran for years and had a huge audience. Repeats are in syndication. Ed confesses that as a fan of the show (and of its prequel now running, “Better Call Saul”), he’d drop by too if he were in the neighborhood. And being a typical New Yorker, more likely to eat his pizza, than to throw it.