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Warehouse Converts To Certified Film Studio

Precedent set in Santa Clarita when fire code changed

Posted: June 21, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 21, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Karen Bryden, president of Santa Clarita Valley Locations, stands in Stage No. 1, which offers 30-foot celings and 56,000 feet of sound stage at Avenue Scott Stages on Tuesday.

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Santa Clarita’s Avenue Scott Stages was the first “converted” sound stage to be certified in Los Angeles County when a new chapter of the fire code was put into place, a fire official said.

Chief Ken Douglass with the Los Angeles County Fire Department confirmed the film studio was certified in August 2012.

The process cost a quarter-million dollars, and six months of down-time, to convert the warehouse into a certified film studio in the Valencia Industrial Center business park, located within Hollywood’s 30-mile zone.

In a visit to the studio, as location manager Karen Bryden walks across one of the studio stages to flip on the lights, it’s so cavernous the sound of her footsteps fade as she treks across the 56,000-square-foot film and sound stage in Santa Clarita.

It’s one of two film stages, and the second one is 41,000 square feet. Both have 30 foot-plus ceilings. But, that’s not all the certified studio has to offer.

In addition to supporting the local film industry and helping to add jobs and revenue to the community, Avenue Scott Stages also has more than 15,000 square feet of production space, including some 45 individual offices, executive production suites with bull pen areas, a large kitchen and meal room suitable to cater meals to talent and crew alike, a laundry room, dressing rooms, an area for set construction and lock-up storage units.

And then there are the 125 parking spaces with room for truck and trailer parking – a valuable commodity for a production team when it also wants to do some location filming in and around the Santa Clarita Valley to augment its studio filming.

The warehouse had already been in use as the studio facility where HBO’s “Big Love” filmed for some seven years. But converting the film studio to a certified one saves time and money for production companies, said a city of Santa Clarita official.

Usually sound stages are built from the ground up, said Jason Crawford, marketing and economic development manager for the city of Santa Clarita. But, a converted warehouse isn’t certified, and as a result, the permits have to be reviewed by the city and Los Angeles County Fire Department, he said.

In a certified studio, film production does not require a permit or need a fire safety officer on the set, Douglass said. The process to certify has been a cooperative effort between the industry and fire department’s Public Safety and Film Unit to provide a safe work environment.

“Being certified can lower their production costs by not having to apply for permits and not needing fire safety officers on the set. Safety is handled in-house by stage personnel using a fire department checklist,” he said. “That can be very lucrative for attracting more productions to the studios.”

Fire code compliance includes maintaining four-foot exit aisles at all times, keeping fire exits clear, maintaining all fire safety equipment and sprinkler and fire detection alarm systems, he said.

But, when a warehouse is converted to a sound stage, the studio has to meet all fire code requirements again, Douglass said.

“They have to re-submit building plans to be updated and reviewed and have an inspection from the fire department’s fire inspection and film unit,” he said.

The L.A. County Fire Department’s Public Safety and Film Unit has just received a second request for a warehouse conversion in Santa Clarita. It is the second request of what the county hopes will be the beginning of many to come, Douglass said.

Avenue Scott Stages is managed on behalf of the building’s owner by San Francisco-based Bristol Group.

But, the daily onsite management of the studios is handled by SCV Locations – a local studio and film location management company. The company also manages several other properties in the Santa Clarita Valley, including properties that allow filming on the premises, said Karen Bryden, president of SCV Locations.

Upgrading the warehouse to meet specific fire safety requirements for filming helps to attract more production to the area, Bryden said. Her company worked closely with the city and the fire department to secure certification for the film studio.

“We’ve seen more interest from TV shows over the years than we have stages available,” Crawford said.

Avenue Scott Stages is occupied with film productions nine to 10 months of the year. But, the warehouse had to be taken off the market for six months to make the upgrades and to obtain studio certification, Bryden said.

The film studio was also home to TBS series called “Wedding Band” last year. Although the series was not renewed for 2013, the production did create 135 jobs and pump millions of dollars into the economy in 2012, she said.

To land the deal, SCV Locations received help from the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation, who secured approval for a variance in the area’s CC&Rs, or Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, to allow the television production company to park trailers and large vehicles in the lots overnight, Bryden said.

With the EDC’s help, the Bristol Group was able to sign the deal to secure the television series.

“There is a huge percentage of people in the industry who live here,” she said. “The show employed local people who were able to work close to home and spend their earnings here.”

Of the $8 million budget, two-thirds of it went directly into the community, she said. The other third was spent on equipment that was mostly rented from outside the area.

Known as a film-friendly city, Santa Clarita reported a record-breaking year in 2012 for filming with 362 permits issued and 919 film location film days – an increase of 2 percent in film days from the prior year.

The estimated economic impact to the community was $21.7 million to local businesses as a result of local production spending – an increase of 12 percent from 2011.

And these numbers only reflect location-filming in and around the area – not the activity generated by privately operated film studios, according to the city.

As more studios are certified in the area, and the need for film permits, however, Douglass suspects the city may see a reduction in some of those numbers even though filming will continue at a healthy clip in the area.

“The more we have to offer as a community production-wise, the more we help everyone in the industry including location filming,” Bryden said. “There’s more opportunity for residents to earn income and businesses to generate money. It infuses money into the city.”

Even in a film-friendly city, however, California studios and cities still lose film productions to other states offering better film incentives, she said. And the loss of filming hurts local communities and businesses when the money moves out of town with the production company.

“We had a production scheduled to be here for several years, but they moved to North Carolina for the tax credits,” Bryden said. “Every single day we see people leaving our state. The State can’t see the dollars leaving in the same way we can.”

Avenue Scott Stages did, however, manage to snag some production filming for an upcoming feature, “Saving Mr. Banks,” starring Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell and Paul Giamatti, she said.

The biographical movie, according to IMBd - Internet Movie Database – centers on negotiations with Walt Disney to gain the right for the making of the 1964 movie “Mary Poppins.”

“We had Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson here for up to seven months,” Bryden said. “They built Walt Disney’s office and corporate building using period pieces from the original artifacts in the Disney museum to recreate his office.

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