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Sound Stage Builders Get With the Program

Demand for top-flight facilities has new ones going up in downtown L.A. and Santa Clarita Valley.

August 22, 2000|JESUS SANCHEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

New sound stages are in the works for the Santa Clarita Valley and downtown Los Angeles as demand for state-of-the-art filming facilities remains healthy across Los Angeles County.

The latest sound stages, however, are expected to put more pressure on outdated facilities that have failed to modernize, industry observers say.

"The new facilities that come online with state-of-the-art features . . . typically pull business away from the older ones," said Morrie Goldman, a spokesman for the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. of Los Angeles County.

The county is home to about 375 sound stages totaling about 4 million square feet of space, according to EIDC statistics. Some of the sound stages feature interior spaces that rival airplane hangars in size with amenities that range from cafeterias and dressing rooms to high-speed fiber optics and high-tech screening rooms.

But many buildings described as sound stages are often simple, no-frills facilities. In fact, many of the sound stages are little more than cleaned-up warehouses and industrial buildings no bigger than a typical suburban home.

During the entertainment production boom of the mid-1990s, "people were taking a warehouse and just putting up insulation" to create sound stages, said one industry executive.

The pace of production has slowed in recent years but has remained strong enough to keep many sound stages operating at peak capacity for most of the year. In fact, a lot of sound stage operators report an increase in activity in recent months as some entertainment companies ramp up production to finish ahead of a possible strike by actors and writers next year.

In the Santa Clarita Valley, Valencia Entertainment has purchased and begun renovating a four-acre industrial complex that will be transformed into two sound stages and production facilities. One of the two new sound stages has already been leased to Paramount, said Vince Vellardita, chairman of Valencia Entertainment, which will spend an estimated $2.5 million on the project.

The property sits next to Valencia Entertainment's six existing sound stages, which have been booked solid for several years with the production of television shows.

"There is a lot of business out here," Vellardita said.

In downtown L.A., Los Angeles Center Studios plans to expand only a year after opening its six 18,000-square-foot sound stages. The facility has been filled much of the year with such movie productions as "M:I-2" and "Charlie's Angels." The sound stages rent for at least $4,000 a day during filming.

Chris Ursitti, a general partner in Los Angeles Center Studios, said rates have firmed up since the beginning of the year because the threat of a strike next year prompted some firms to begin booking space in advance. Most of the sound stages are reserved for the rest of the year.

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