I recently caught up with Jo Thompson, the founder of Farm Locations – a niche farm locations agency, to learn more about this small but growing farm diversification sector for farmers and landowners interested in making a useful income on the side.
Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in the locations industry and your connection to farming?
Before launching Farm Locations in 2015, I worked in media and grew up on a family farm. I am also married to a Farmer.
How many farms do you have on your books and who are your clients?
We currently have about 75 farms across the South East (and some further afield), all signed up on the farmlocation website portfolio. We are growing quite fast now, with the emphasis on expanding further around the M25. The majority of our clients are based in London, which is why farms within an hour’s drive of the centre have an immediate advantage.
What sort of income can farms expect for hosting a shoot or film production?
It can vary from £400 for a low budget shoot to £3000 per day for a major feature film. So many factors can play a part in the final hire fee. I liaise between the client and the farmer, handling price negotiation and contract agreement. Owners who are open to being more involved on shoot day, can find they can add further income to the base hire fee. Some crews have stayed on location overnight.
Owners who can provide the catering are appreciated, and if animals are required in shot, typically I’ll negotiate an additional handling fee. This can also expand to any additional time the farmer may be needed for other extra tasks: such as moving bales, transporting props, or being on stand-by for towing vehicles out of fields.
What’s the hit rate of enquiries to bookings?
It can be as many as ten enquiries for every booking, and there can be quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing before a booking is made. Being super film-friendly is important – so to have good access and plenty of hardstanding is important especially for the larger productions. Also aim to offer a crew base, including warm rest space, loo, kitchen and good light for hair and make up.
What other considerations are there?
Public liability insurance is key. Make sure your insurance provider is aware of your diversification plans. You may need to inform them each time you host a shoot – different scales of shoots, with or without celebrities, all need to be covered.
As is often the case in farming, the weather plays its part on shoot days and forward planning and flexibility between the client and farmer is key. In my experience there have been very few postponements – even on a heavily wet day, crews can often make an indoor venue work, switching from outdoors to a house or outbuildings.
It’s important to understand using your farm as a shoot location isn’t a guaranteed diversification initiative but unlike many other diversification routes there is a very low cost to entry. So while it’s unlikely you’ll be able to give up the day job – hosting film crews and photo shoots are great to have as a potential bonus.
So you are basically saying don’t go out and buy a new defender just yet? What sort of features and aesthetic are clients looking for in a location?
Haha – yeh, maybe not. Client briefs vary a lot but I’ve listed a few popular requests below:
- Animals – having a mix is even better, and knowing where to source others to the farm
- An overall rustic farm vibe – fields and traditional buildings, different walls, bales, gates etc
- Wild and natural: meadows, wildflowers, open grassy landscapes, trees, river/streams
- Traditional barns with lots of character and textures
- Period farmhouse / cottage
- Private tracks and roads
Any other more esoteric requests?
We’ve had 100s of varying requests, none that are the obvious ones eg falling-down houses, an ultra modern warehouse style shed and a quarry pit! It’s important to photograph everything on your farm as it’s not always the pretty look that’s being sought.
How has COVID impacted your business?
Movement started again in June, and since July, I’ve been super busy. The main factors are producers are being encouraged to shoot on location vs in a studio. I would never have had Britains Got Talent or Celebrity Juice film recently if it wasn’t for their own studio limits.
Also the pandemic has stalled crews, who aren’t able to fly abroad to get a different look – I’ve just had a children’s retailer shoot “Scandi Water” on a farm in Bucks!
It’s obviously more covid-safe to shoot outdoors vs indoors in a location house for example – so more editorial and fashion shoots are no longer encouraged especially in going into owners’ houses. The weather has been great (til today!) and productions are keen to grab the good weather before Winter sets in.
Check out Jo’s website farmlocations
A version of this article first appeared in South East Farmer
Check out our Q&A with Gerrard Gethings – Animal Portrait Photographer here