Open House

Step aside, Snooki. Jersey homes are the Garden State’s REAL TV Stars, thanks to the hundreds of commercials shot here every year. (Photos by Glenn Schuster)

Imagine some 40 strangers in multiple trucks pulling into your driveway at dawn, unloading dozens of cases of equipment and props, bubble-wrapping your grand piano, laying craft paper over your hardwood floors, eating a catered lunch on your kitchen counter, milling about in your backyard with massive lights and screens—and then packing up at the end of the day, leaving everything precisely the way it was when you woke up that morning. Except you’re about $2,500 richer. You’ve just gotten a taste of what it’s like to have a commercial shot in your home.

Glenn Schuster knows the drill. Various parts of his Montclair home have been featured in shoots over the years, including his front door for a Pizza Hut commercial, his laundry room for a Tide spot, and his kitchen in a familiar AT&T wireless ad—the one in which the mother and daughter talk “text speak,” with the line, “my bff Jill.”

Schuster, a filmmaker and location scout when he’s not renting out his own home, gets a kick out of seeing his house on television or, better yet, on the big screen. “My daughter saw her own room at the movies,” he says. “That was a big thrill.”

One Clifton women—we’ll call her Gloria—saw her house on TV while vacationing in North Carolina. Months earlier she had rented out her sprawling brick ranch to a production company for a telecom commercial. “When they first approached me, I was skeptical, but I’ve had nothing but good experiences,” she says of the three commercials she’s now had shot there. In one instance, “they totally moved the entire contents of my house into trucks down the street. They packed everything up and brought in their own furniture.” But at the end of a long, long day, everything was put back exactly where it belonged—just as promised.

So how does it happen?

Advertising agencies work with production companies that use location scouts to find the right spot for a shoot. “They may be looking for moldings or the size of the rooms, for a fireplace with a marble mantel,” says Schuster. “Sometimes it’s just about the light. For example, a big window facing west could let in nice sunlight.”

“It’s not necessarily about the biggest house,” says Mitchell Brozinsky, a freelance location scout and manager for film productions who has handled shoots all over the state. “The ad agency or director gives [the production company] a storyboard or a layout with all their specific requests. It may be an Archie Bunker kind of house, or a loft that looks like a bunch of 20-year-olds live in it.”

Or, adds Schuster, “they might just need the right setting for a guy to mow his lawn in front of a blue-collar house.”

There are some general parameters. Because so much of the commercial work is generated by New York City advertising agencies, “the first rule of thumb is it should be within a 25-mile radius of Columbus Circle,” says Brozinsky. “You lose money if you have to travel further than that zone.” Also, it’s important to have enough open area—a large driveway or open cul-de-sac—to park a number of vehicles. That makes an urban location like Hoboken “do-able but difficult,” Brozinsky adds.

Gloria speculates that her house is a favorite because it sits high on the property at the end of a dead-end street and has “really big rooms and lots of light.”

Film-friendly towns

Despite the proximity rule, Brozinsky has managed commercial shoots as far south as Cape May. It comes down to the film-friendliest town. Most scouts agree Montclair is tops in New Jersey. “Montclair is the friendliest town by far,” says Brozinsky. “It’s easy to get a permit, and that’s the prerequisite. Some towns are a pain about that.” Oradell, for instance, has a very high fee, “so no one goes to Oradell.”

Montclair, he adds, has lots of large classic and colonial homes, plus it’s very close to the city and attracts lots of media people. The town itself is media savvy and open to having shoots for the economic rewards. “First, the town gets a permit fee,” says Schuster. “If cops are hired, then it’s employing a number of police officers.” Then there are the ancillary purchases that the production makes in the course of the shoot. There are often runs to the local hardware store for supplies and to a coffee shop for refreshments and snacks.

Lunch often comes from a local caterer, and if the shoot runs late, they’ll order 40 pizzas for the crew’s dinner.

“In one instance, they had to replace a child model at the last minute, and the new one was a different size,” says Schuster. “So they went to a local children’s store to buy new clothes. When you add it up, it’s a good shot in the arm.”

Hosting a film shoot can be a hassle for the neighbors, admits Schuster. Trucks are parked up and down the block, and the neighbors might have trouble navigating in and out of their driveways. But most neighbors are excited about the production and don’t mind the interruption for one day. It’s much worse for feature-film shoots, “which can take up the entire block for weeks,” says Schuster.

“My neighbors peered out their windows watching the action,” adds Gloria. “They had a good time with it.”

The bottom line

Rental fees vary, but homeowners can get from $2,500 to $4,000 a day for a commercial shoot. And there’s often overtime. “The crew might arrive at 7 am and not be out of the house until 10 at night. You can make some handsome money with that scenario,” says Schuster. The income is tax free, provided the home is rented fewer than fifteen days per year.

Is it worth is? “That’s a trick question,” he says. “With a typical commercial, there are definitely hassles involved. Obviously, there are a lot of people in your home. Then, there’s a lot of equipment: lighting, cameras, TV monitors, electrical tables, food and drink, props, and more.”

He continues, “It depends on the person. No one is going to get rich from renting out their home, but you can make a decent amount of money for a day’s work. For most people it’s an exciting, unique experience.”
Gloria says she redecorated her living room and finished her basement with the money she made from three commercial shoots. “I would do it again tomorrow,” she says. “The money is great, and I felt glamorous, like a movie star.”


Does your home have what it takes?

There are a number of factors location scouts look for in a home:

Size: Most productions prefer large rooms with high ceilings and enough extra space that the crew isn’t tripping over one another.

Accessibility: Is it easy to get to? “Homes on a cliff are generally out,” says freelance location scout Mitchell Brozinsky. Is there room to park a number of vehicles? If it’s an apartment or condo, is there a freight elevator?

Daylight: Natural light is important, so filmmakers look for rooms with plenty of windows. If additional lighting is required, filmmakers will shine their equipment through those same windows.

Character: Remember, they’re not renting a studio with four white walls; they’re renting visual character, be it a wood-paneled rec room, a marble fireplace, or intricate molding.

Proximity to New York City: Most production companies are located in New York and prefer to limit travel time, especially if it’s a union shoot.

For a complete guide to renting your home for film and photography shoots, check out


Garden State Slowdown

Long before The Sopranos and Jersey Shore, the Garden State was the setting for dozens of classic movies, including On the Waterfront, War of the Worlds, and The Miracle Worker. So why are so few movies currently in production here?

According to David Schoner, Jr., associate director at the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission, there are no active tax incentives to attract Hollywood directors. “Filmmakers aren’t going to…shoot a movie here, at least not right now,” he says. The state recently suspended its tax credit—20 percent of production expenses to any qualified productions shooting a minimum of 60 percent in the state—until June 2011.

Not to worry. “We are the reality-show capital of the country,” Schoner points out, with Cake Boss, Jersey Couture, Real Housewives of New Jersey, and a plethora of HGTV and DIY Network shows shooting here. “We are not arbiters of taste,” laughs Schoner. “At the end of the day, they’re spending money here, and it stays here, so any shooting is good.”

Read more Home & Style, Jersey Living articles.

By submitting comments you grant permission for all or part of those comments to appear in the print edition of New Jersey Monthly.

Required not shown
Required not shown