It's been dubbed "Newhallywood." The name bends the facts a little; the sound stages springing up in the Santa Clarita Valley actually are in Valencia, not Newhall. But when added to the area's movie ranches--long popular with film makers shooting outdoor scenes--the new businesses do create a considerable Hollywood presence.
"This industry needs a quiet place away from traffic and aircraft noise," said Herman B. David, who announced plans this month to build a $10-million, state-of-the-art sound-stage complex in Valencia. "The location has a lot of advantages. Costs are lower, there's parking, it's convenient."
The new venture, to be called Santa Clarita Studios, would join two others, both in operation for more than a year. One of them, Lindsey Studios, is unusual in that it offers a half-dozen already-constructed sets. The four sound stages at Valencia Studios are the traditional four blank walls. Both companies are in Valencia Industrial Center, a tract-like business park.
David and his partners have purchased 7.4 acres on a nearby bluff from Newhall Land & Farming for $4 million. David, 57, who was studio manager of 20th Century Fox from 1982 to 1987, said he would identify his partners only as "local businessmen from outside the industry" until the group's construction loan is approved, probably this month. Plans call for the sound stages and related facilities to be completed by year's end.
Competition's No Worry
At more than 90,000 square feet, Santa Clarita Studios would be three times the size of either Lindsey or Valencia studios, but the owners of those companies say they are not worried about the competition. The more the Santa Clarita Valley builds a reputation as a sound-stage center, the better, they said.
"Studio heads at first said we were crazy to come out here," said David Witt, co-owner of Valencia, the first to open. " 'No one will go to Valencia,' they said. They thought it was out in the boondocks. That's been our best and our worst asset. It's good in that we're far enough from Hollywood to be able to control costs, so we don't charge as much as they do in Hollywood."
Valencia Studio's sound stages have attracted low-budget horror movies, including "Return of the Living Dead Part II" and a just-wrapped remake of "The Blob."
Lindsey Studios, named by owner John Warren for his 6-year-old daughter, has been used by the television shows "Murder She Wrote," "Highway to Heaven," "thirtysomething" and others. The studio's permanent sets include a courtroom, hospital interiors, a 1950s diner, a morgue, a jail and executive suites.
"People mostly rent you empty space and you build what you need," said Ralph Alderman, locations manager for Stephen J. Cannell Productions, which has shot scenes for "Sonny Spoon" and "Hunter" at Lindsey Studios. "But if you use a set maybe once a month or once every few months, it doesn't merit the expense. You can film a real courtroom, but he's got a beautiful courtroom and you don't have to be concerned about the general public. You can pick the day you want it. It's easier all around."
The drive to the Santa Clarita Valley is not a serious obstacle, Alderman said.
"Every producer wants to walk out of his office and throw a rock and hit his first truck, but that's not always possible," he said.
The sound stages, and the Santa Clarita Valley's movie ranches as well, are within the so-called 30-mile zone, a radius extending from the corner of La Cienega and Beverly boulevards. Union contracts require that producers take workers by bus to locations outside the zone, paying them from the time they get aboard the bus. Workers provide their own transportation to locations inside the zone, receiving expenses of 30 cents a mile but not being paid for their drive time.
"We welcome it," Mac St. Johns, spokesman for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, said of the new sound stages. "The more facilities that are built here, the better it is for us. If the shows being shot there aren't union, it's up to us to organize them."
St. Johns said that Valencia is convenient for the many IATSE employees who live in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys.
But some disagreement exists over whether there is enough business to support new sound stages, no matter where they are located. A recent story in Daily Variety said some major studios are "begging for sound-stage tenants." However, an official with Universal City Studios, which has 34 sound stages, said that competition from the Santa Clarita Valley will not cut into the company's thriving business.
"We're doing well, both with our own shows and with third-party rentals," said Dan Slusser, senior vice president and general manager of the studio.
An official with the California Film Commission said that no figures are kept on sound-stage occupancy. There are 322 sound stages in Southern California, he said, but about 100 of them are too small for shooting scenes that require much movement by actors.