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Movie Houses : Renting Your Home for a Film Shoot Is Lucrative, but Has Its Drawbacks

April 07, 1991|RUTH RYON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NBC got an Emmy for its "Drug Wars: The Camarena Story."

The owner of a $5-million Malibu home used as a set for the miniseries got a king-size headache during the five days that the "Drug Wars" were fought in her house.

The script called for police and U.S. agents to storm a Costa Rican villa where a drug lord was hiding out. The Malibu house played the villa but suffered in the role.

"They removed my patio doors, but an explosion blew out the glass on my other doors . . . a stainless steel door handle flew 30 feet, and they burned 50 holes in my living room rug," the homeowner complained.

Such can be the risks when you put your house in pictures.

An average of 38 film productions shoot on Los Angeles' streets every working day, more than in any other city in the world, said Melissa Higgins, acting director of the California Film Commission.

An estimated five to 10 of the daily shoots are in private homes, which range from a 98-year-old Cape Cod cottage in Santa Monica to a nearly new, 40,000-square-foot mansion in Beverly Hills.

Files on houses are kept by about a dozen location agencies and the Film Commission, which lists 2,200 locations in a handbook and keeps about 130,000 location photographs in its lending library, at no charge to the property owners.

Location agencies charge homeowners from 10% to 40% of the shooting fee, which the agencies help the homeowners negotiate with the production companies.

Many homes command $2,000 to $3,000 a day as locations, and the rates have been known to climb as high as $25,000 a day.

"The highest I ever got paid was $10,500 for a day of filming, but $5,000 to $6,000 is normal for a 14-hour day at my size house," said the woman who owns the 7,000-square-foot mansion where "Drug Wars" was shot.

"I know people who make their mortgage payments just from what they make on movie shoots," said Eddie Warmack, who scouts locations for Lacy Los Angeles, a TV commercial and music video production company.

While it might seem lucrative and glamorous to use your home for a TV or movie location, it also can have drawbacks, as the Malibu homeowner found out.

"Traditionally, there is no eating, drinking or smoking on a set unless they're part of a scene, but I walked in, and a starlet was taking a break and smoking in my kitchen. I took the cigarette out of her mouth and threw the butt into my garbage disposal," she recalled.

"Hey, I didn't care who she was. Nobody had smoked in any of my homes in 13 years!

"The director also broke the rules by having cappuccino upstairs while shooting. Somebody bumped his arm and I got stains in my carpet.

"Then someone on the crew didn't like a robe they were using on the set, so they took my husband's out of our closet."

She was upset, she admits, but she's philosophical about it.

"I learned a lot from that ('Camarena') show," she said. "I worked eight months on having the filming in my house, and by the time it was done, I made money on it."

What she learned has come in handy for other shoots. "I tightened up my contract (with the companies)," she said, "and I now have keyed deadbolts on my studio, office, bedroom and closet doors."

Her house has been used--without incident--for about two dozen movie or TV productions, including the NBC series "Hunter," starring Fred Dryer, said the woman, who asked for anonymity.

"I'm leery about using my name because it might cost me future business. If a film company thinks a property has been used a lot, they shy away from it." But that doesn't happen often, location companies say.

There's another reason for anonymity.

"I want to keep a low profile because my neighbors get mad whenever they hear about all the filming we do," said a Pasadena man, whose 1920s home is commonly known as "The Dynasty house" for the TV series in which it appeared.

The same houses are often used repeatedly, not only because they look distinctive, but also because they can appear to be anywhere in the United States.

"It might be Spanish style, but able to be made to look like it fits in New England with a change of a light fixture, for example," said producer Ken Wales, who often scouts locations.

Driving by the Santa Monica house used in the original "Gidget" film with Sandra Dee in 1959, Wales said, "Now that's America. Know what I mean? It's a house that makes people feel warm. And it could be here, on the East Coast or wherever. The house still gets used quite a bit.

"But look at the street and all those palm trees along it. Palm trees are a constant problem in filming." The problem is that palm trees and swimming pools label a location as being in California, he explained.

On an adjacent street with no palms, he pointed out another house where, he said, "there are film trucks all the time, because it's in a pretty good place, so filming doesn't upset the neighbors. There's a canyon on one side, a busy street on another, and there is plenty of parking."

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