Picture this: The Stone Temple Pilots converge in the back of a white stretch limo being used as a prop for a Rolling Stone layout. Across the hall, body double Shelley Michelle poses au naturel for In Style. Next door, models with shiny-as-a-new-penny hair work on a Paul Mitchell ad.
Just another typical day at SmashBox, the 20,000-square-foot, fully outfitted photo studio in Culver City that is becoming as famous as its clientele of celebrity photographers (Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, Greg Gorman, Firooz Zahedi, Matthew Rolston, Annie Leibovitz) and their subjects (Jack Nicholson, Roseanne, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cindy Crawford).
It's where a pregnant Demi Moore got painted up for that Vanity Fair cover, where Jennifer Aniston bared her bum for Rolling Stone, where Pamela Anderson Lee pouted for the current cover of Details.
Still doesn't register? It will soon. The studio that opened in 1990 and was named for the accordion-like device once used to shield a camera lens has already spawned a booking agency for stylists and hair and makeup artists, a production arm that deals with locations, and a soon-to-debut cosmetics line. It's L.A.'s answer to the growing demand for super-studios like New York City's Industria.
It's even got a famous bloodline: The owners are brothers Dean and Davis Factor. As in Max's great-grandsons. Davis, 35, is a photographer whose credits include Farrah Fawcett's nude Playboy romp, plus numerous celeb and fashion layouts for major magazines. Dean, 31, is the businessman and big-picture guy.
They started with one 2,700-square-foot studio in Santa Monica.
"We knew there was the need for a rental studio in L.A.," says Dean, giving the short-form history. "If you can compare it to a restaurant, there are delis . . . "
" . . . but we wanted it to be upscale, we wanted the celebrities to be able to come there and say, 'Wow, this is a great space,' " says Davis, finishing his brother's sentence. "We like the vibe that's here."
That vibe is the palpable buzz generated by a constant flow of photographers, their assistants, stylists, makeup and hair people, set dressers, publicists, art directors, models and assorted hangers-on and entouragettes. The studio also serves as a surrogate home for photographers and stylists passing through town.
A virtual tour of the 3-year-old Culver City studio starts in the parking lot of an unassuming one-story building that blends in with the surrounding businesses. The limos and German luxury cars are the only giveaway that this isn't a rug warehouse.
Inside, it's cool white walls, high ceilings, dark wood, skylights and Stevie Wonder wafting from speakers--stark but not uninviting. The reception desk phone rings incessantly.
Three studios comprise SmashBox: Lightbox, Softbox and Blackbox. Each rents for about $1,000 per day and has its own entry, bathrooms, dressing rooms, CD players, dining and conference rooms. A separate equipment room stocks lights, seamless backdrops, boards and riggings.
In the center of this hive is a pool table and a kitchen that turns out gourmet meals and snacks all day. It's under the watch of chef-caterer Phillip Weingarten of Good Food, a veteran of several top L.A. restaurants who helped conceive the original studio and designed most of the interiors at both sites.
A newly renovated wing off the main building designed by local architect Tom Farrage houses a fourth photo studio (Skybox), Dean's office, plus the production and agency offices.
The staff is young, artsy and attractive in a Gap-ad kind of way, and no one has titles on their cards. On a recent weekday most everyone is dragging; it's the morning after a dinner party for the staff, hosted by SmashBox Beauty agency head Laurel Schizas, that wrapped about 2 a.m.
Stifling a yawn, Brian English talks equipment rentals over the phone, while fellow co-manager Eden Mitry pencils clients into a generic week-at-a-glance date book. Its pages are warped from so much erasing; this business runs on last-minute schedule changes and the whims of the rich and famous.
The funky, artistic feel here is the serendipitous byproduct of the Factors' invention.
Says Davis: "There's a certain kind of style, and you just have a knack for it. You can't plan it, really. I think because of our upbringing, the friends we hang out with, we're a little bit more artistic. Even though Dean's a businessman, he's still very artistic."
It's a sunny Friday afternoon and the brothers occupy a back booth at Morton's, where everyone seems to know Dean.
(Tabloid readers might remember him as Shannen Doherty's ex-fiance. He got a restraining order against the legendary bad-girl actress in 1993, alleging she aimed a loaded gun at him and tried to run him down with her car.)