Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Digital Makers Initiative, set to launch this week, represents the city’s experiment in cutting film permit costs to accommodate Hollywood’s exploding community of producers for online streaming platforms, many of whom might be working outside the system and ducking permit fees because they can’t afford them.
The usual permitting process, overseen by FilmL.A. Inc. for the city of Los Angeles, costs $660 for a two-week permit. The new experimental three-month permit runs $250 for projects deemed to be low impact to the surrounding community.
Digital filmmakers looking to produce a project on the cheap will almost certainly utilize the new program, but finding the right shoot location at the right price point can still be difficult.
The Santa Monica-based outfit bills itself as the Airbnb Inc. of location shooting. It launched earlier this year, offering filmmakers an alternative way to scout and rent locations that might mitigate the expense of working through the traditional Hollywood process.
The company, co-founded by Chief Executive Yuri Baranov and Mathieu Goudot, targets today’s lower-budget digital, often short-form producers who have big ideas but small budgets. Giggster also seeks to attract student filmmakers who are already comfortable with the Airbnb model, with the hope that those filmmakers will continue to prefer Giggster as their careers – and production budgets – expand.
Goudot said Baranov got the idea for the company when a location scout for “CSI: Miami” called out of the blue asking to rent his Marina del Rey house.
“He made $20,000 in less than a week of shooting,” Goudot said. “He realized, as a homeowner, there is a lot of money to be made by putting homeowners in touch with potential producers … to make that as easy as renting out your place on Airbnb.”
The company said it has more than 900 filming locations in Los Angeles County – the majority of which are private homeowner properties – and an active user base of more than 1,300 L.A.-area producers who use Giggster’s service.
The company said it has generated $600,000 in gross revenue since launching in January.
There have already been informal attempts to circumvent the location scouting status quo as budget-conscious productions proliferate. Industry watchers report some producers try to save money by going to Airbnb directly, looking for temporary rentals for filming instead of lodging. Using such properties for production is against Airbnb policy, though, unless the renter and property owner agree to such use.
Giggster executives said the company charges producers about 15 percent of a property’s rental fee, as opposed to an industry standard rate of about 30 percent for many of Hollywood’s long-established location agencies. The established agencies also tend to be less willing than Giggster to represent smaller properties that command lower daily rental fees.
Real to Reel Locations, located in Van Nuys and founded in 1982, describes itself as the largest location agency in the world and represents properties ranging from $3,000 to $30,000 a day. Giggster properties list as low as $399 a day, although some can run into the thousands. An average daily fee for Giggster is $2,500, according to the company.
The company also eliminates the need to hire a location manager by giving producers the opportunity to shop locations online, like an Airbnb rental. It is a typical practice for a high-budget union production to employ a location manager. Location Managers Guild President Eric Klosterman said the guild minimums average $3,000 a week, although that fee might be prorated by the day. Location managers might have direct connections with available locations or serve as a producer liaison with a location agency. Both the production manager and the location company are usually paid by the producer, not the property owner.
Giggster said that producers are embracing their model.
Greg Bassenian, founder and creative director at four-year-old Santa Monica film and video production company Aris, said he has found locations through Giggster for multiple projects, including a recent commercial shoot for Vibrant Wellness, a San Carlos health analytics company, at a private home in Silver Lake. Bassenian paid $1,000 for a one-day shoot at the property.
“For us, or for any production company, Giggster is kind of revolutionary, it allows us to have access to high-quality locations essentially on demand,” Bassenian said. “Prior to Giggster, we’d have to hire an agent or agency to find suitable locations and suitable prices.
“It’s not practical to get a location manager on a midlevel budget. We don’t do million-dollar projects. What we do is mostly digital. We don’t book $10,000 locations.”
Giggster is not the only company providing online listings for DIY location scouting. Another is Peerspace, founded in 2013 and headquartered in San Francisco, serving more than 30 cities, including Los Angeles. Giggster’s Goudot believes his startup can dominate the market by offering attractive properties and superior technology that allows site visitors to easily search by specifics, such as homes with pools or kitchens suitable for cooking programs. The company began expanding to New York in September and hopes to next move into Atlanta, Toronto and New Orleans, all cities that host significant Hollywood filming.
FilmL.A., which maintains its own online location library, refused comment on Giggster.
Gary Onyshko, president of Reel to Real, acknowledged the attraction of cutting expenses, but still recommends an established locations company and a seasoned location manager, particularly for complex productions involving stunts or pyrotechnics.
“There are so many nuances in this business,” Onyshko said. “It’s a resource for low-budget productions. … (But) no two shoots are the same and a one-size-fits-all model is just begging for trouble.”