‘Nigella Lawson uses our kitchen to film shows – and we pocket the cash’

spratts factory
Elisabeth and Aldo Ciarrocchi bought a converted factory in east London and quickly realised it would be a perfect film location - Debbie Bragg
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When Elisabeth and Aldo Ciarrocchi bought their converted factory in Poplar, east London, in 2010 they knew it was something a bit special – 3,000 sq ft of industrial chic, lit by huge arched windows, and with a central, double-height living space.

The property was bought as a family home for the couple and their two daughters, now aged 13 and 15.

But Elisabeth decided to see if it might also work as a location for shoots and filming.

“It started as a hobby,” she says. “I contacted a couple of location agencies and we got a few jobs, but it was very sporadic, perhaps three or four in that first year.”

Those early experiences were positive and Elisabeth, 47, and Aldo, 54, who run online reclamation company www.encorereclamation.co.uk, enjoyed the influx of creative energy coming through their doors.

“Over time we built up a relationship with the agencies we worked with, as people they knew were reliable and trustworthy,” says Elisabeth. That reputation has since brought A-list stars to Poplar.

The industrial chic character of the Ciarrocchis’ 3,000 sq ft property drew the attention of location agencies - Savills

It has also become the basis of what is rapidly evolving into a full-time career for Elisabeth. She and Aldo have even invested in a second property bought specifically to use as a base for shoots outside London.

How to rent out your home for photoshoots and movies

Renting out your home for photography and film shoots has become an increasingly popular option for people keen to monetise their main asset, especially since the cost of living crisis has gathered pace.

Every week Georgia Brown, location manager at Amazing Spaces, a website which matches owners with creatives keen to use their space, estimates she receives 50 to 100 applications per week – she accepts about half.

But the good news is that you don’t need to own a showpiece home – Highclere Castle, which was immortalised as Downton Abbey, or the funky chalet style home in Herefordshire, which featured in the Netflix series Sex Education – to get in on the action.

Myles Waud, a partner at Locations London, said there is also a lot of interest in slightly lived-in looking family homes, with a bit of a 70s or 80s twist. “The sort of thing a supermarket might use for its Christmas advert,” he says. “They are looking for standard family homes, not too flashy, with a sort of retro look.”

The Hitman's Bodyguard
The factory appeared in The Hitman’s Bodyguard, a feature film starring Samuel L Jackson and Ryan Reynolds - Jack English/Lionsgate

Over the past decade Elisabeth and Aldo’s factory has appeared in hundreds of shoots, including The Hitman’s Bodyguard, a feature film starring Samuel L Jackson and Ryan Reynolds, a Marks & Spencer advertisement featuring model David Gandy, and a BT advertisement with Willem Dafoe for which the house was styled as a hip advertising agency.

“That one never even aired, said Elisabeth. “But it was nice having Willem Dafoe in the house.”

By 2018 the couple were booking in around 100 shoots each year and felt they needed to set some boundaries.

They decided to stop doing the larger shoots, which put pressure on local parking spaces, and tend to be more chaotic than smaller operations.

“The number of people involved is directly related to the level of risk involved,” explains Elisabeth. With a family to consider, Elisabeth and Aldo also turn down long-term bookings which would entail them moving out.

“There are certainly lots of clients out there who want to book a location for six weeks, for a reality TV show or something like that, but it is not for us,” says Elisabeth.

Even for the smaller jobs they do accept, daily fees range from between around £400 for a photoshoot to around £1,500 for a catalogue shoot.

And Elisabeth says that, back when they still did feature films, homeowners could get between £1,000 and £2,000 per day.

‘Would I rent it as a holiday home? No way’

This kind of income encouraged the couple to broaden their horizons. Three years ago Elisabeth and Aldo bought a second property, a converted village hall in Terrington St Clement, Norfolk.

They recently finished renovating the property and their plan is to use it as a hybrid – part family bolthole, part business. Elisabeth isn’t sure how much interest there will be in a property 110 miles from central London, but is keeping her fingers crossed.

“Would I rent it as a holiday home too? No way,” said Elisabeth. “I am far too nervous of the general public.”

Spratts Factory
Elisabeth says she is ‘far too nervous of the general public’ to offer her home as a holiday let

Brown says that when she is selecting properties for her location library there are no hard-and-fast rules in terms of style or specification. Her only proviso is that, since shoots mean cast, crew and equipment, they do need space.

“Some sort of kitchen living room, plus a couple of bedrooms and a bathroom that the crew can use, would be fine,” said Brown. Parking space is another plus point.

Most of Brown’s clients want property in and around London, although she does take on larger country homes and manor houses for shoots which require a period feel. She recommends signing on with more than one agency, to broaden your exposure. And, once bookings do come in, prepare to be as flexible and helpful as possible.

“You have got to be prepared that a lot of people are going to be coming into your home,” says Brown. “They will move things around, they might repaint a wall, although they will leave everything as it was when they go, and there will be a lot of kit and equipment everywhere.

“If you are very house proud it is probably not a road you should consider. It can be full on – especially for a large feature film.”

‘We’ve had Nigella and some YouTubers I hadn’t heard of’

Nina Divall agrees that location owners need to be laid back to make location shoots work, and she should know. Her Victorian house in Stockwell, south London, has carved out something of a niche for those seeking an aspirational family kitchen.

Nina was aware of the potential for location shoots before she and her husband bought the house, which they share with their two teenage daughters. “I used to do catering for photoshoots, so I was always going to locations,” says Nina. “I knew that there was money to be made.”

And so, after renovating the house, Nina, 50, registered it with some agencies and quickly found that the kitchen was the star attraction. “We’ve had Nigella, which was nice, and also some YouTubers that the kids were terribly excited about but I hadn’t heard of,” she says.

Rio Ferdinand, Claire Balding and Vogue Williams have all also taken part in shoots at the house.

nigella lawson
‘Aspirational’ family kitchens are a frequent backdrop to Nigella Lawson’s programmes - Robin Fox/BBC

On average, Nina gets around three bookings per month, although work rate is unpredictable – a slow month may be followed by a crazy busy one. And because bookings can come in at any moment the house has to look its best at all times; luckily she is naturally tidy.

“Sometimes they will call and ask if someone can come and do a recce today, or tomorrow, and you have to be ready,” she says.

Before a shoot Nina liaises with the client to find out if they need the house to be empty, or if it is OK for the family to remain in situ, avoiding the kitchen of course. If they need to make themselves scarce they just go out.

Most bookings only last a day or two, and the pay makes up for the inconvenience. A still shoot might pay between £500 and £800 per day, while rates for an advertisement jump to around £1,500 to £2,500 per day – less agency commission of around 20pc.

Clearly having teams of strangers converging on your home every couple of weeks causes wear and tear, but Nina said the important thing to remember as a successful location host is that the more relaxed and calm you remain the more likely you are to get booked again and again.

“In the 10 years we have only had two … [clients]… that have caused damage, and it was incredibly minimal,” she says. “A bigger question is probably what have the kids done and what has the shoot done, because the kids always try to blame the shoot.”

Although catalogue shoots and adverts pay good money, the real payday for owners comes if they get booked for a movie or major TV series.

Waud has booked all sorts of properties for these glamorous jobs, from council flats to mansions. Modernist homes and Grand Designs properties always go down well, as do homes with great views of city skylines or water.

Film and TV companies will tend to want to block book the house for several weeks at a time, with the fee depending on the scale and value of the home.

Waud said the owner of a modest two-up two-down could expect to earn £20,000 per month. They will also be given expenses to cover alternative accommodation since they will have to move out for the duration.

Owners of large, grand properties, could expect remuneration worth six figures per month.

“If someone does land a feature film, or a TV show that runs for several seasons, they are very lucky,” says Waud.


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