When location scouts for movies, TV shows or other special events come to check out a hotel, hotel owners or managers have reason to be excited and cautious. The property may receive a location fee for the filming, and the buzz, visibility and social media bounce that come with location filming can be hard to put a price on. Location agreements, even those with high dollar values involved, are often presented only a few days before a shoot. If you want to have your hotel or property featured in a film or TV show, you will have to act quickly. The typical location agreement sent by the production company is a short one-page document, but there are complex legal issues involved. Because filming agreements move quickly, and the production company likely had its lawyers draft the agreement, it’s important for a hotel or property manager to also have an equally experienced lawyer of their own review the proposed agreement and negotiate it before committing the hotel or property to the project. Below are some key factors to consider when transforming your property into a Hollywood soundstage:
- Seeing your Name in Lights: Before you sign a location agreement, you need to understand the nature of the filming and think carefully about the use of your hotel. Do you want the goodwill of your name being shared in the movie or show? If so, do you have the rights to your hotel name? If your hotel is branded, you may need the approval of the brand under the franchise agreement.
- In it for the Money: Depending on your property and the filming schedule, some production companies will pay lucratively for the use of your property. Don’t be afraid to ask for a location fee. This is a business negotiating point to keep in mind, particularly when balancing risks and benefits to your property.
- Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover: Before making any final decisions about participation in the shoot, you should fully understand what is being filmed at your hotel, particularly if your name is being used or your property is easily identifiable. What actions are being taken at your property, or what is going to be said about your hotel? Some production companies will allow for a script read in advance to provide an opportunity for sign-off on the dialogue, in case there are issues involved with the portrayal of your property. You may also want to request language regarding the portrayal of your property in the final movie or show. Remember that the production company will own the footage in perpetuity – with the hotel having little to no contractual remedy to prevent the use of the footage after it is shot – so you must address any remaining concerns before the filming commences.
- Lights, Camera, Action: Is the production an action movie full of stunts conducted on the roof of your property, or does the hotel lobby set the scene for a romantic first kiss? The nature of the filming makes a difference for your risk allocation. You need an appropriate indemnity from the production company, evidence that it is appropriately insured (including you being named as additional insured on its applicable insurance policies), and to consider your preference for any dispute resolution. You should also address how to handle any damage to your hotel property that may result from the filming, and if the production company asks for a release, it should be negotiated prior to signing the location agreement.
- Your Show Must Go On: In the location agreement, it is essential to document and detail where and when the production company will be filming. Your hotel is your business, and unless the production company is renting out your entire hotel (which is rare), you need language in the agreement regarding the treatment of your guests. You also need to collaborate in advance with the hotel management and staff to ensure the shoot does not materially inconvenience the guests, and that the hotel can comply with the requirements of the location agreement.
- Who Was Voted Off: For many film shoots, particularly the ever-growing genre of reality television, confidentiality is of paramount importance to the production companies. Review these provisions carefully and consider whether the requested confidentiality restrictions are enforceable by your hotel management. The next step is to appropriately convey the message and instructions to your hotel staff regarding what they can and cannot do before, during, and after the filming.
- Behind the Curtain: Keep in mind that there are intellectual property and licensing considerations which may need to be addressed depending on the nature of the filming. Language stating that the hotel grants the rights to the production company for all art and objects in and around the property is often in the location agreement, but is it accurate? Does your hotel own the licensing rights to the piece of art that will be featured in the guest room scene? If not, it must be addressed.
- Sign on the Dotted Line: Who signs for the hotel is not always straight-forward. Under the hotel management agreement, the appropriate signatory for a location agreement may be the hotel owner, the hotel management company, or another construct such as the management company as an agent for the hotel owner. Either way, make sure that the agreement accurately reflects the appropriate signatory in the recitals and the signature block, and that the text of the location agreement accurately addresses the references to the signatory.