Thursday 27 July 2017

Turn your home into a movie star

Home truths

O'Hara and Wayne in a still from the film
O'Hara and Wayne in a still from the film
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

In 1951, Galway farmer Walter Joyce was approached by local landowner Lord Killanin and asked whether he'd be open to allowing his thatched cottage home to be used for some film-making. A princely sum of £25 per week was suggested. But upon meeting the free-wheeling and somewhat gruff film-maker, a Mr John Ford, the deal was immediately reneged upon - Ford thought the price was outrageous and immediately proffered £100 per day.

This was an absolute fortune back in 1951 - today's equivalent of around €3,500 per day. On top of that, Ford had the whole house rethatched, freshly painted, new doors and windows fitted and flower boxes placed on the windows. The Joyces were in clover.

Sixty five years later, there are still Quiet Man tours running in Galway and a smattering of Quiet Man cottages for tourists to visit. Sadly though, the original "White O'Morn" at Tiernakill in Maam was let fall into ruin. Somewhat belatedly, it was listed two years ago as a "protected structure" - despite being little more at that point than a two-foot high slightly house-shaped pile of stones attached to one gable wall.

Plans to restore it flagged following a court battle over ownership between the American businessman Greg Ebbitt and a local farmer who tried to claim squatters rights. Reports last year suggested Ebbitt emerged victorious. Meantime, tourists had been taking away what was left, one stone at a time.

The saga of the Quiet Man cottage tells us that houses can make money, history and even their own lasting legacy (for better or for worse) if they appear in the right film production - even, it seems, for just 30 seconds. Last year, I queued for a boat trip to take me out to Skellig Michael - the sixth-century monastery remains perched on top of a jagged rock island off the Kerry coast. Alongside me were a half a score of pimply young Americans in Star Wars shirts jabbering excitedly about going to see "the Skywalker hideout".

An appearance of a house in a popular tv series can also create business opportunities for the owners in the long run. Take the example of Glanquin house, near Kilnaboy, Co Clare - the private home of the McCormack family, who run an organic farm on the land. It would be better known to the rest of us as the Craggy Island Parochial House and home of Father Ted, Father Dougal and Father Jack. Joe Mardis, who acted as location manager for the hugely popular Father Ted series, had family connections in the area and took photos of the house to provide to the Hat Trick film company. These days, tourists pay to have tea at the 'Ted House'.

For Irish homeowners who fancy earning a few bob along with having a brush with film glamour, there's a new opportunity afoot to list your home on the national film locations databases.

All sorts of homes, from period mansions to small apartments, former council houses and ordinary semis, are in demand and a listing on one of the two big registers can provide some welcome cash.

The money varies wildly, however, with the lowest amount paid for shoots (say for a magazine) estimated to run at between €150 to €300 per day. Of course, if Hollywood lands on your doorstep with a bang, you hit Quiet Man-type paydirt. But the average remuneration for home use for a film seems to be in the order of €750 to €1,000 per day. Not bad bucks at all.

Film companies get in touch with those homes picked from the register and a price is worked out depending on disturbance, length of use and so on.

Now is actually a very good time to plan to register your home for location shooting, as both key national film location databases - that of the Irish Film Board (which features around 1,500 homes) and that of the IFTN (Irish Film and Television Network) - are being upgraded and reorganised.

The listings look very much like the popular property portals we are already familiar with for browsing homes for sale or to let. They enable film location crew to peruse them by location and type. You prepare your listing just the same as you would for a house to rent or to let. Tidy it up and shoot the exterior and all of the rooms as well as the surrounds. List its sizes, dimensions and any special features it might have - perhaps there's a river running beside it or a stone bridge nearby. You submit it to the relevant organisation and then you wait.

The IFTN will take listings now but it will be a few more months before the Irish Film Board's online film locational service begins taking submissions once again. If your home becomes a star in a production of note, it could make you a small fortune or present you with a business opportunity going forward. But you might also have to invest in a sign preventing tourists stealing your home one brick or stone at a time.

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