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Homeowners Say Hooray for Hollywood

If you're proud of your home but don't think its living up to its potential, it's time to switch from homeowner to stage parent and squeeze some big-screen cash out of your estate.
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MALIBU, Calif. (TheStreet) -- If you're proud of your home but don't think its living up to its potential, it's time to switch from homeowner to stage parent and squeeze some big-screen cash out of your estate.

Audrey and Gregg Ruth spent more than six years building their 14,000-square foot Villa Cascata estate on 20 acres in Malibu. On the surface, the property is a 7.5-bedroom Italian-style mansion with views of Santa Barbara and Catalina Island, a guesthouse, pool, Koi pond, gardens and horse facilities. In Audrey Ruth's eyes, however, it was a set waiting for a production and a means of providing for her two children.

Villa Cascata has served as a set for several movies and TV shows.

After submitting photos of Villa Cascata to various Los Angeles location agencies, Ruth signed with Malibu Locations and landed Villa Cascata a nine-day stint as the backdrop for the 2008 made-for-SpikeTV movie

Finish Line


"We were very lucky to have a wonderful crew and a great location manager," Ruth says. "The producer had my children in the producer's seat, they made a lot of friends on site and they loved the craft services."

Since then, Villa Cascata has hosted roughly four productions a year -- including a recently aired episode of the CW Network's

Melrose Place

-- and has been featured in photo shoots and commercials.


photographed Britney Spears at the estate for its January issue, while


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used the property to showcase their outdoor furniture. Though the estate's Web site shows a sale price of nearly $14 million, Ruth says it may not change hands after its time in the spotlight lead to rentals by TV chef Gordon Ramsay and recently split British reality show couple Katie Price and Peter Andre.

"It pays a lot of the bills, but it doesn't cover everything," she says. "It makes you think twice about moving."

Ruth says the photo shoots can bring in $1,500 to $20,000 a day, while commercials fetch $6,000 to $12,000 for the same period. Those figures may be different elsewhere, but consensus among property owners, location companies and real estate brokers is that the process can be lucrative for anyone willing to let a crew tromp around their home for a few days.

"The fees vary, but all of my owners and participants have been pleased with the compensation," says Laura Wagner, residential broker and director of film locations for


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in New York "The price of disruption is small in relation to the rewards."

Wagner teamed up with the New York Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting to launch Sotheby's film location program in 2004. After years of selling high-end co-ops, lofts and townhouses, Wagner says it takes a little something extra for her to discover and add to the location library. For starters, the property should be at least 2,000 square feet, have some kind of outdoor space (terrace, balcony, garden, etc.) and have a building management that's open to filming.

"Upgraded renovations are a bonus, especially state-of-the-art kitchens," Wagner says. "I receive many requests from the

Food Network


Most importantly, the owner should be willing to put up with large crews and invasive camera equipment. Wagner says she screens all property requests and only presents offers from established production companies, but that certain inconveniences remain. While a good location company can offer similar protections, Ruth says choosing the right production can be just as important.

"With feature films, they're more than likely going to be going through a top-notch company," she says. "When you get involved with companies not of that level, with reality shows and so on, then you run into some problems."

A certain amount of damage is to be expected. Real estate firms like Sotheby's draw up contractual agreements between owners and production companies to safeguard the properties, while location companies also ensure that crews respect owners' wishes to restrict filming to certain areas.

Still, Ruth shares horror stories about one Malibu home that caught fire and another that collapsed after a production company cut holes into the walls to get the angles it needed. Ruth recently joined Malibu Locations' wedding and event division and says that, while it enlightened her to all that can go wrong during a shoot, it convinced her that she's laid-back enough to let the show go on.

"We've had floods, we've had toilets overflowing into the garage, we've had floor scratches," Ruth says. "There are always accidents and you have to be prepared for that, and if you're not, maybe you should think twice about filming."

-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.

Jason Notte is a reporter for His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.