When a movie production company went looking for a house where somebody with a magic money-making teapot would live they turned to Toll Brothers and found it.
Atlantic Pictures is shooting “The Brass Teapot” in Toll’s Harding Country Manor Model in its Four Corners community in Fishkill, N.Y.
“The Toll Brothers home was the perfect exemplification of where we wanted our couple to be living once they had made their fortune,” said Darren Goldberg from Atlantic.
The dark comedy is based on a comic book series about a couple who, during difficult economic times, find a magical brass teapot that makes them money whenever the owner hurts himself or someone else.
The New York-based Atlantic found the Toll Brothers model while scouting in the area.
Renting out model homes for movie or commercial sets is an old sideline for Toll, explains Kira Sterling, the company’s chief marketing officer, who has worked at Toll for 25 years.
“It’s just a fun thing,” says Sterling. “Back in the early days it’s something I suggested to the company.”
The practice started sometime in the mid- to late-1980s, she said. In addition to movies, Toll model homes have been used for commercials and still-photography sets as well. She recalls with particular fondness a commercial featuring football star Joe Namath. Afterward, as part of the compensation agreement, Namath threw a football around with some neighborhood children.
“It created a little bit of buzz in the communities before the days of social media,” Sterling said.
Sterling got Toll on the list for potential movies and photo shoots by reaching out to film development offices in Philadelphia and, over time, movie location scouts began calling when they were looking for homes for shoots.
"We work with the legal team to come up with a rental agreement for the models, and we get compensated. Sometimes the consideration is not money but some sort of a credit or if there is a celebrity involved we can get more value” because of the celebrity’s star power, she says.
Sterling said the compensation usually isn’t enough to make even a blip in the company’s balance sheet and sometimes the reparation is more in-kind, like the Namath football throwing, than monetary.The contribution to Toll’s till is so small that Sterling doesn’t devote much time to cultivating it. “It’s more of a happenstance sort of thing. Maybe every five years I make an effort to send notes and e-mails out to (film) development offices.”
Usually there are other rental homes in the neighborhoods to show buyers while the shooting is happening, but Toll includes a provision that allows sales agents to bring prospective buyers into the homes during a shoot if they can’t visit at any other time. Toll also doesn’t lease out its homes if the photography is going to be used to advertise things such as alcohol, tobacco, firearms, or to promote or display any nefarious activities.
Perhaps helped by Toll’s strong luxury brand name and its strong presence in the New York area, where there are a lot of movies filmed, as well as its experience in the movie set rental business, location scouts tend to call the builder up.
“They are usually looking for something very precise,” said Sterling, perhaps an island kitchen with a stove on the left hand side.
“We make some calls and let them know what we have” she said. “They come back a month later because they haven’t found something they want and we propose compromise ideas.”
She wouldn’t recommend that builders try to build models in a way that would attract film companies because it would be impossible to guess what random details they need.
“This is not going to save anyone’s business,” said Sterling. “This is not going to change any builder’s life. It’s happenstance. It’s really just serendipity if it comes together.”
Teresa Burney is a senior editor for Builder magazine.