Act Two: The market tanks.
Act Three: Enter Tyler Perry.
"Real estate just wasn't happening," Phillips said. "The question was, what do you do when what you're doing isn't going to work?"
Perry and other entertainers, including Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, T.I. and Geena Davis, have become the answer. Rather than continue trying to sell his client's 12,000-square-foot Castleberry Hill loft -- once listed at $15 million -- Phillips now leases it to production companies looking for a glam place to film.
Some scenes for "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," starring Hudson and Sutherland, were shot there earlier this year. "Coma," a new A&E miniseries starring Davis, wrapped more recently, as did "The Marriage Counselor," the movie Perry is now working on. T. I. once shot a video there.
"While I love real estate, I had to find a way to supplement it. I had just enough time to get in, make some money and then just get killed. I felt like a loser," said Phillips, a 2001 Georgia State University graduate who got into real estate in 2006. He's marketing a number of other big properties (see them at www.filmlocationportfolio.com) and said his new Hollywood connections are both paying the bills and restoring his self-confidence.
"The best thing has been a renewed sense of faith in myself. I can see the path now," said Phillips, noting production companies might pay around $25,000 for a five-day shoot. "I feel so lucky I figured it out."
Others are figuring it out, too.
Rosina Seydel has been in real estate for a dozen years but no longer sells. Instead she markets high-end properties at www.leaseluxuryproperties.com.
"I was in traditional real estate and it just wasn’t very fun," she said. Working with performers including Ne-Yo, who shot a CD cover photo at one of her listings, or Whitney Houston, who shot a photo spread at another, has been fun indeed.
The CW series "The Vampire Diaries" films quite a bit at Fairfield House, a stately mansion in her portfolio, while Nike taped a commercial at a downtown penthouse she advertises.
"This is all my business now," said Seydel, who said a television show might pay $5,000 to $8,000 per day to film at one of her properties, while movie production fees can be more like $10,000 per day. "I wish I had more modern properties."
John B. Raulet would like more furnished houses. A commercial real estate veteran, he got into the movie business almost by accident.
"It just kind of happened," he said. "The real estate market was so bad. I got a call from ‘Road Trip II: Beer Pong.' "
After that cinematic classic, Raulet, whose web site is www.raulet.com, started working with a slew of other films. He has inked deals involving Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman ("The Change-Up"), Billy Crystal and Bette Midler ("Parental Guidance") and Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah ("Joyful Noise"). He helps productions line up office or warehouse space, or homes where the stars can live while they're here filming.
"The biggest challenge companies have is finding nice Buckhead homes that are furnished," said Raulet, who recently helped Ben Stiller locate temporary digs while he's here filming "Neighborhood Watch."
A leased Buckhead manse can fetch up to $25,000 per month, a lifesaver for some of the people Raulet works with.
"They’re not buying their wife a fur coat and Cadillac. They’re using the money to pay the bank note," said Raulet, who said Georgia's burgeoning film industry has created some happy Hollywood endings. "The real estate market has been battered and all of a sudden these movie people roll into town. It’s helping a lot of people."