D.C. area residents lend houses for film, TV shoots


Diana Conway and her daughter Alexandra, 15, in front of their Potomac, Md., home, which was used for several scenes in the Oscar-nominated movie “Philomena.” (Ricky Carioti/Post)
February 26

D.C. area residents lend houses for film, TV shoots

The home had to have a driveway but also feel rural. Maybe there would be some horses on the property. So Carol Flaisher spent a rainy Sunday morning driving around Montgomery County until she spotted Bill and Diana Conway’s large colonial farmhouse just off River Road in Potomac.

Then she parked her car and knocked on the front door.

Bill answered. “I’m not a crazy lady,” Flaisher said, before quickly explaining she was scouting homes for a film starring Judi Dench. Bill was sold — he’s a big fan of Dench.

A few conversations and piles of paperwork later, the Conways were officially on the “Philomena” payroll.

Flaisher has been a location scout in the Washington area for the past three decades. “Philomena,” which is nominated for Best Picture at Sunday’s Academy Awards, is just the latest film she’s helped out with. It’s Flaisher’s job to approach strangers and ask them whether they would mind moving out of their house for a few days so a film crew can take over. Oh, and some A-list actors might need to use the bathroom between takes.

She’s gone from downtown Washington (“White House Down”) to Annapolis (“Body of Lies”) to the suburbs (“True Lies,” “National Treasure: Book of Secrets”) to the ends of the Eastern Shore (“Wedding Crashers”) to find homes for productions. She has found, perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of homeowners are generally excited about the offer when they learn the details.

“Once they find out what it is, very few people say no,” Flaisher said. “Because it’s fun! It’s different. It’s something to talk about.”

What’s already a regular practice in New York and Los Angeles is becoming increasingly common here as more films and TV shows are set in the Washington area. When a filmmaker wants a scene featuring a classic D.C. rowhouse or the authenticity of fall colors only found on trees in the mid-Atlantic region, a Hollywood studio lot won’t cut it.

Total transformation

When a room in a house is picked for filming, it almost always gets a complete overhaul. The furniture is swapped out, and the walls are painted. The crew takes pictures of the original setup and contracts are signed ensuring that, after production, things will look exactly as they did before filming.

Producers take that promise very seriously, as Tom Dann of Chevy Chase learned in 2007 when the “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” crew set up shop in his house to film a scene. “If you had been there on day one and come back on day seven, you would not be able to tell that anything had ever happened there,” Dann marvels. Flaisher found Dann’s house for director Jon Turteltaub, who loved the area’s beautiful, tree-lined street near Chevy Chase Village, and especially the home’s living room — it was an excellent size to run all sorts of cables and wires for equipment.

Philomena Lee’s son was taken away from her, but she never traveled to the U.S. with Sixsmith. (The Washington Post)

Attention to detail was precise. To make sure the living room walls were repainted the exact same shade at the end of filming, a colorist from Los Angeles matched oxidized paint and had colors specially mixed. After all the chaos of filming, the scene wound up on the cutting room floor. Dann didn’t mind; the family’s Christmas cards that year pictured his four kids sitting in “National Treasure” director’s chairs.

“Philomena” was a much bigger production for the Conways. For several days, the film crew transformed their Potomac abode into the home of character Pete Olsson (Peter Hermann), the lover of Philomena Lee’s (played by Dench) long-lost son.

“You have no idea you’re 30 feet from River Road and the state highway with all these cars and trucks whizzing by,” Diana Conway said, describing the first scene in which Dench and co-star Steve Coogan drive up to the house. “I don’t know how they did that, but they made you feel like you’re just coming around this little country barn.”

The Conways’ vegetable garden was the location for home movie scenes that Dench’s character watches. The family dog, Athena, was running around outside during filming and made it into the scene. That was just one of the perks, in addition to meeting actors Dench, Hermann and Coogan and director Stephen Frears. In addition to getting paid, the Conways got their home repainted as a token of gratitude.

The price of production

So how much does one get paid for this sort of thing?

That’s the first question that everyone asks when they find out that “renting your home to a movie studio” is a thing, Flaisher said. The answer can vary. First of all, it depends on how much work must be put into the house (landscaping, painting) and basically, “How much time am I going to be bothering this family?”

Prices vary wildly from project to project: Flaisher says a family can earn up to $10,000 total for the use of their home, but that’s rare. Other scouts say $1,000 to $2,000 per filming day is a good estimate. Sometimes, if the producers need only to shoot exteriors, the price goes way down.

Even when things go smoothly, the process can be overwhelming for homeowners and their neighbors. Madi Nassiri opened his Cape Cod-style house in McLean to Oscar-winning “Argo” several years ago (used for the home where Ben Affleck goes at the end of the movie), and there were some hassles. Small things around Nassiri’s home were damaged, such as a satellite dish that was taken off the house and not reinstalled correctly. Although Nassiri called it a positive experience, he remembered being surprised by the sheer number of crew members involved.

“The house will really get invaded, for better or worse, by people who will take control of it whether you will like or not,” Nassiri said. “So really, you must feel comfortable leaving your property in someone else’s hands.” Still, when the movie won Best Picture at last year’s Oscars, Nassiri couldn’t help but feel a little proud: “I think our house made the movie, what can I say?” he joked. “We should have put a clause in that if you get an Oscar, you have to pay us more.”

Other people get the benefits without much hassle. Sarah Henry’s brick, flat-front rowhouse in Capitol Hill has caught the eye of several location scouts over the years, purely for the exterior view. Although Henry is admittedly proud of her “cute house,” she credits the location as making it an irresistible filming spot. Near Stanton Park, the house is on a pretty, oak tree-lined block with many historical homes. Best of all, it has a lovely view of the Capitol, making it quintessential Washington.

The house has been used twice: Once in 2002 thriller “Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story,” which wound up going straight to DVD. Then last year, location scout Peggy Pridemore (who also worked on “Argo”) knocked on Henry’s door to ask about filming the outside of her home for “Alpha House,” Amazon’s flagship original series about four Republican senators who are roommates in Capitol Hill.

Expand the map a little more and there are even more examples. Location scout Patrick Burn estimates that Netflix’s “House of Cards” has filmed in 20 Baltimore area houses; and Andrea Erda’s Westover Plantation home in Virginia is a frequent spot for productions, including a recent stint for AMC’s upcoming drama, “Turn.”

Meanwhile, Washington continues to be a fruitful place for producers to scan for homes. Not only are Washingtonians often more open than seasoned house-lenders in New York and Los Angeles, but, says industry veteran Flaisher, when it comes to the right home for a production, “there’s nothing like the real thing.”

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by Emily Yahr

The home had to have a driveway but also feel rural. Maybe there would be some horses on the property. So Carol Flaisher spent a rainy Sunday morning driving around Montgomery County until she spotted Bill and Diana Conway’s large colonial farmhouse just off River Road in Potomac.

Then she parked her car and knocked on the front door.

Bill answered. “I’m not a crazy lady,” Flaisher said, before quickly explaining she was scouting homes for a film starring Judi Dench. Bill was sold — he’s a big fan of Dench.

A few conversations and piles of paperwork later, the Conways were officially on the “Philomena” payroll.

Flaisher has been a location scout in the Washington area for the past three decades. “Philomena,” which is nominated for Best Picture at Sunday’s Academy Awards, is just the latest film she’s helped out with. It’s Flaisher’s job to approach strangers and ask them whether they would mind moving out of their house for a few days so a film crew can take over. Oh, and some A-list actors might need to use the bathroom between takes.

She’s gone from downtown Washington (“White House Down”) to Annapolis (“Body of Lies”) to the suburbs (“True Lies,” “National Treasure: Book of Secrets”) to the ends of the Eastern Shore (“Wedding Crashers”) to find homes for productions. She has found, perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of homeowners are generally excited about the offer when they learn the details.

“Once they find out what it is, very few people say no,” Flaisher said. “Because it’s fun! It’s different. It’s something to talk about.”

What’s already a regular practice in New York and Los Angeles is becoming increasingly common here as more films and TV shows are set in the Washington area. When a filmmaker wants a scene featuring a classic D.C. rowhouse or the authenticity of fall colors only found on trees in the mid-Atlantic region, a Hollywood studio lot won’t cut it.

Total transformation

When a room in a house is picked for filming, it almost always gets a complete overhaul. The furniture is swapped out, and the walls are painted. The crew takes pictures of the original setup and contracts are signed ensuring that, after production, things will look exactly as they did before filming.

Producers take that promise very seriously, as Tom Dann of Chevy Chase learned in 2007 when the “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” crew set up shop in his house to film a scene. “If you had been there on day one and come back on day seven, you would not be able to tell that anything had ever happened there,” Dann marvels. Flaisher found Dann’s house for director Jon Turteltaub, who loved the area’s beautiful, tree-lined street near Chevy Chase Village, and especially the home’s living room — it was an excellent size to run all sorts of cables and wires for equipment.

Attention to detail was precise. To make sure the living room walls were repainted the exact same shade at the end of filming, a colorist from Los Angeles matched oxidized paint and had colors specially mixed. After all the chaos of filming, the scene wound up on the cutting room floor. Dann didn’t mind; the family’s Christmas cards that year pictured his four kids sitting in “National Treasure” director’s chairs.

“Philomena” was a much bigger production for the Conways. For several days, the film crew transformed their Potomac abode into the home of character Pete Olsson (Peter Hermann), the lover of Philomena Lee’s (played by Dench) long-lost son.

“You have no idea you’re 30 feet from River Road and the state highway with all these cars and trucks whizzing by,” Diana Conway said, describing the first scene in which Dench and co-star Steve Coogan drive up to the house. “I don’t know how they did that, but they made you feel like you’re just coming around this little country barn.”

The Conways’ vegetable garden was the location for home movie scenes that Dench’s character watches. The family dog, Athena, was running around outside during filming and made it into the scene. That was just one of the perks, in addition to meeting actors Dench, Hermann and Coogan and director Stephen Frears. In addition to getting paid, the Conways got their home repainted as a token of gratitude.

The price of production

So how much does one get paid for this sort of thing?

That’s the first question that everyone asks when they find out that “renting your home to a movie studio” is a thing, Flaisher said. The answer can vary. First of all, it depends on how much work must be put into the house (landscaping, painting) and basically, “How much time am I going to be bothering this family?”

Prices vary wildly from project to project: Flaisher says a family can earn up to $10,000 total for the use of their home, but that’s rare. Other scouts say $1,000 to $2,000 per filming day is a good estimate. Sometimes, if the producers need only to shoot exteriors, the price goes way down.

Even when things go smoothly, the process can be overwhelming for homeowners and their neighbors. Madi Nassiri opened his Cape Cod-style house in McLean to Oscar-winning “Argo” several years ago (used for the home where Ben Affleck goes at the end of the movie), and there were some hassles. Small things around Nassiri’s home were damaged, such as a satellite dish that was taken off the house and not reinstalled correctly. Although Nassiri called it a positive experience, he remembered being surprised by the sheer number of crew members involved.

“The house will really get invaded, for better or worse, by people who will take control of it whether you will like or not,” Nassiri said. “So really, you must feel comfortable leaving your property in someone else’s hands.” Still, when the movie won Best Picture at last year’s Oscars, Nassiri couldn’t help but feel a little proud: “I think our house made the movie, what can I say?” he joked. “We should have put a clause in that if you get an Oscar, you have to pay us more.”

Other people get the benefits without much hassle. Sarah Henry’s brick, flat-front rowhouse in Capitol Hill has caught the eye of several location scouts over the years, purely for the exterior view. Although Henry is admittedly proud of her “cute house,” she credits the location as making it an irresistible filming spot. Near Stanton Park, the house is on a pretty, oak tree-lined block with many historical homes. Best of all, it has a lovely view of the Capitol, making it quintessential Washington.

The house has been used twice: Once in 2002 thriller “Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story,” which wound up going straight to DVD. Then last year, location scout Peggy Pridemore (who also worked on “Argo”) knocked on Henry’s door to ask about filming the outside of her home for “Alpha House,” Amazon’s flagship original series about four Republican senators who are roommates in Capitol Hill.

Expand the map a little more and there are even more examples. Location scout Patrick Burn estimates that Netflix’s “House of Cards” has filmed in 20 Baltimore area houses; and Andrea Erda’s Westover Plantation home in Virginia is a frequent spot for productions, including a recent stint for AMC’s upcoming drama, “Turn.”

Meanwhile, Washington continues to be a fruitful place for producers to scan for homes. Not only are Washingtonians often more open than seasoned house-lenders in New York and Los Angeles, but, says industry veteran Flaisher, when it comes to the right home for a production, “there’s nothing like the real thing.”

Emily Yahr covers pop culture and entertainment for the Post. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyYahr.
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