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A range of film opportunity

Entertainment: Longtime local family hosts myriad productions on series of famous SCV studio ranches

Posted: August 28, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 28, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Daniel Veluzat at a gas station in a “mid-American main street set” at Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch in Saugus.

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Backstage and outdoor movie studio lots play large roles in helping to make believers out of most film goers — and the Veluzat Motion Picture Studio and Melody Ranch location sites are no exception.

The volcanic eruption in "Dante’s Peak" was shot at the Veluzat Motion Picture Studio ranch, co-owner Daniel Veluzat said. The 1997 disaster film, starring Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton, depicted a volcanic eruption near a small town in the Pacific Northwest.

Owned and operated by both Renaud and Daniel Veluzat, the historic Santa Clarita-based movie studio ranches have served as the setting for scores of well-known movies and television series for decades.

Most people locally are familiar Melody Ranch, one of the venue sites for Santa Clarita’s annual Cowboy Poetry Festival.

Melody Ranch has hosted events for the festival for the past 18 years, drawing thousands of guests to the movie set each year.

But there are actually three such movie sets, owned by the same family, in the Santa Clarita Valley:

Melody Ranch, the Veluzat Motion Picture Studio and Blue Cloud Movie Ranch, the latter run by Renee Veluzat. The locations offer hundreds of acres of studio lot, stages and indoor/outdoor film locations.

 

Veluzat Motion Picture Studio

For decades, major movie studios have graced the lots of the Veluzat family.

On a rare walking tour through the Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch, the various town sets are so realistic, a visitor feels transported to another place or time, despite knowing the multitude of buildings serve mainly as backdrops to movies, films, commercials and even music videos.

While some buildings are merely facades, several are completed for interior shots as well.

Backed up to the Los Angeles National Forrest, and sitting at the city-limit doorsteps, the Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch hosts a Spanish town with adobe buildings and an old church to worship in, a Western town complete with hotel and salon, graveyard, a log cabin, ranch house and a mid-American main street with a café, school and gas station.

Without a film in production, the settings are eerily quiet, but one imagines action is around nearly every corner of any given street.

For Daniel. the fondest memories include working side-by-side with production teams, and alongside sliver screen legends, such as Johnny Depp, Woody Allen, Tom Cruise, Sharon Stone, Kiefer Sutherland, James Cameron, Faye Dunaway, Charles Bronson and Kenny Rogers, to name a few.

"The A-Team used to shoot here," Daniel said. "I loved spending time with George Peppard."

Not only has Daniel managed the ranch for some 25 years, he’s also worked in all areas of film. He has worked as an actor, director, stunt person, art director and set dresser. He has also served as producer of many projects, such as the recently completed "Yellow Walk," in which he was the executive producer.

Continuing the tour, Daniel pointed out bits of movie trivia — where helicopters have landed, and fires, both real and staged, have charred the sets; where Justin Timberlake shot a music video; and HBO’s "Deadwood" series filmed.

Set on 750 acres, the 300 acres of on-location shooting motion picture studio ranch has quietly been one of the most successful movie ranches in the world, Daniel said.

Melody Ranch

Purchased from Gene Autry in 1990, Renaud and Daniel opened the ranch for filming in 1991, Renaud said.

With three studio sound stages of more than 41,000 square feet for indoor filming, and some 16,000 square feet of open-stage space, Melody Ranch sits on 22 acres.

Offering several thousand square feet of private, air conditioned, furnished production space, including offices, wardrobe, hair and make-up rooms, a kitchen and cafeteria, and even restrooms, showers, and washer and dryer — the studio lot is primed for the convenience of location filming.

The studio location also hosts a museum giving guests a chance to experience a large collection of movie memorabilia dating back nine decades.

Filming at Melody Ranch has occurred since 1915 when legendary actors made more than 750 "B" westerns on location including Gene Autry, William S. Hart, Gary Cooper, Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, Bill Boyd and John Wayne.

A fire swept through the area in 1962 destroying the main western street. After the Veluzats purchased Melody Ranch, the family painstakingly restored the Western street for filming.

Today, the studio lot features Western town, a farm and ranch house, Victorian home, and a Spanish-adobe hacienda all with interiors.

Brothers Renaud and Andre began collecting military rentals at one time used in the TV series "MASH" and movie "McArthur." Today, they hold around 300 military vehicles.

The vehicles have appeared in scores of movies, including "Rambo," "Red Dawn," "Valkyrie" and more, Renaud said.

Someone had to fill that void, he said, and we came in at that time and began putting a collection together.

"We pride ourselves in having the largest collection around," Renaud said.

Annexation

Filming in the local community bolsters the local economy, Daniel said.

"Production personnel buy food here, go down to Lowe’s and Home Depot, stay at local hotels, and trade locally," he said.

But the Veluzat Motion Picture Studio goes through Film L.A. for the permitting process, as the ranch sits just outside the city of Santa Clarita limits. Daniel would like to see that change, and has spoken with the city of a possible annexation, he said.

"Talks have been preliminary so far," said Lisa Webber, planning manager in the city of Santa Clarita’s Community Development department.

"If they are interested, the ranch property can be annexed by itself and doesn’t need to be part of any other group of properties," Webber said.

In the Zone

The movie ranch studios are located "in the zone," which is an area within the 30-mile radius of the center of Los Angeles studio zone.

Pegged by entertainment industry unions to determine per diem rates, driving distances and work rules for union crew members, being located in the zone helps keep production costs down and draws additional film activity to Santa Clarita.

The extra activity also keeps the Veluzat family busy throughout the year.

A family affair

Longtime residents of the Santa Clarita Valley, the Veluzat family once lived in a ranch house where Walgreens sits today on Haskell Canyon Road and Copperhill Drive.

A cattle rancher, Renaud’s dad bought the property where the Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch sits in 1939.

"The property went all the way down to the Saugus High School," Renaud said.

The elder Veluzat ran cattle and raised race horses after he settled down on the property. Prior to that, he’d been a Texas Ranger, Daniel said.

"My grandfather passed way in 2000 at 101, and was the oldest living Texas Ranger at the time," Daniel said.

The entire family though has been involved in the film business through operating studio ranches, producing and acting. Their wives and children also have appeared on-screen as actors or walk-ons.

"The best part of managing the studio ranches is that every day is different," Daniel said

For more information on the studio ranches, visit www.veluzatmotionpictureranch.com/about.php or www.melodyranchstudio.com.

 

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