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Movie ranches backbone of film industry

They also help to serve as guardians of open space

Posted: April 28, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 28, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Steve Arklin, left, and Derek Hunt converse near a manmade lake at Hunt’s Rancho Maria & Sable Ranch.  Steve Arklin, left, and Derek Hunt converse near a manmade lake at Hunt’s Rancho Maria & Sable Ranch. 
Steve Arklin, left, and Derek Hunt converse near a manmade lake at Hunt’s Rancho Maria & Sable Ranch. 
A Western set at A Rancho Deluxe movie ranch.  A Western set at A Rancho Deluxe movie ranch. 
A Western set at A Rancho Deluxe movie ranch. 

A large red-tailed hawk swoops down overhead through the many native oak trees that provide part of the natural landscape – and shade – on three local movie ranches doing business in Sand Canyon.

And a few small groupings of live animals are housed in lots scattered among the hundreds of acres, serving as guardians to protect open space from wild fires that periodically sweep the area by grazing on vegetation that grows nearly as quickly as a fire can spread.

The stunning panoramic views, however, afforded by A Rancho Deluxe, Rancho Maria and Sable Ranch belie the bustling film activity that goes on year-round.

In it eighth season, production for the Fox television series “Bones” was in full gear on Monday as temperatures hovered in the high 70s, but the ongoing breezes kept the outdoor sets cooled to comfortable levels for exterior shots.

Family-owned since 1959, Steve Arklin began both working and living on the A Rancho Deluxe property in 1985. Over time, he acquired more land.

While Arklin, owner of A Rancho Deluxe, didn’t intend for the ranch to be used as a film production location, over time his neighbor Derek Hunt gradually nudged him to work jointly on attracting film production to the area.

Hunt’s movie ranches, Rancho Maria and Sable Ranch, have long operated on family-owned land. Acquired in the late ’60s, the business was originally begun as a photo shoot location for models, he said. His grandfather, also owner of Frank’s Camera in Los Angeles, kept the land in the family, Hunt said.

But Arklin’s involvement began shortly before he sold the company he started in 1969 – Santa Clarita Disposal.

The company owned 100 trucks and had 350 employees when he sold it to Waste Management in 1999, he said.

His office still stands in the small Western-style town with the motto “Satisfaction guaranteed or double your rubbish” painted under the company sign.

“Film production is sexier,” Arklin said.

Hunt convinced Arklin to promote their properties together – whose borders all touch – creating more than 400 acres of movie ranch settings for any kind of production a film company might need.

“We’d been so busy I hated to turn down the production companies and have them turn around and leave the Santa Clarita valley, so I sent them to Steve,” Hunt said.

The two men work together to support the weekly productions that arrive to film on the respective movie ranches.

“We’ve been so busy for the last 10 to 15 years; we’re never slow,” Hunt said.

Location managers like working at the movie ranches as well.

Location manager, Stephen Weissberger, said he’s used the ranches several times because they’re so film-friendly.

“They’ve become an extension of the production team,” he said. “They never say ‘No.’ They always come up with innovative ways to make something work.”

Weissberger also loves working with the Santa Clarita film office, he said.

Hunt and Arklin chimed in, crediting the city’s film office and Jason Crawford, who oversees the office, for promoting and generating much of the business filmed locally.

The city remains committed to growing the film industry, said Crawford, manager of economic development and marketing for the city.

“The movie ranches are an anchor that attracts more movie and film production business here,” he said. “They are the foundation of the film industry out here.”

Despite many production companies heading to other states, 2012 was a banner film year for the city, city officials said. It issued 362 permits for 919 film days locally, a 2 percent increase over 2011.

Cheaper permits and an easy processing system account for some of the film business generated in the area.

Movie studios and ranches in the area also fall within the 30-mile zone, making filming less expensive for the production companies.

The vast open space options, combined with the pre-built stage sets and sound stages at many of the movie ranches, are also draws for filmmakers.

“I used to go to film expos on my own to promote the ranch,” Hunt said. “Now we have the city going out to say ‘we’re in the film business.’”

Arklin agrees. And now that these three ranches have recently been annexed into the city, he says they’re no longer lost in the greater Los Angeles County – where many companies didn’t even know they existed.

“Now we’re a bigger fish in a smaller pond,” he said.

Both Arklin and Hunt talk about the benefits to the local businesses as well.

Film crews are eating at local restaurants, going down to the local stores to purchase supplies or buy gas, and some even stay at local hotels, the men said.

Also, so many local residents work in the industry – now they can pick up work locally as well, Hunt said.

And because their ranches sit away from residential homes, it’s not a problem if film crews need to leave their generators running into all hours of the evening, the two men said.

But, there’s one other big benefit, Arklin and Hunt say. And that’s preservation of open space. Being able to operate the land for the benefit of film productions keeps the land from developers.

Land preservation
“We’re custodians here just passing through,” Arklin said.

He stops and points out a visible strand of big cone spruce trees spread across another mountain slope.

Together, the two men have battled wildfires to protect the hillsides and valleys.

Standing at a helipad that sits atop one mountainous hill, with a commanding view, Los Angeles County and U.S. Forest Service fire fighters have used the spot in the past to monitor fires as they spread throughout Santa Clarita during the wildfires of 2007, Arklin said.

With everyone’s help, many of the old structures still used in filming today were saved.

One small stretch of trees in a valley, however, was charred by the fires.

But even those remains have been preserved and are used in the filming of horror movies, Arklin said.

“It’s amazing that we can preserve this, and everyone benefits from it,” Hunt said.




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