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LIGHTS, CAMERA, SANTA CLARITA

Motion Picture General Store Keeps Film Rolling on Location Shoots

Services: Burbank firm branches out to serve production firms working far from home. Supply of lightbulbs and other items ends long drives and delays.

October 17, 2000|KATHLEEN O'STEEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VALENCIA — Phil Horlings spent years commuting from his home in the Santa Clarita Valley to his movie industry job in Burbank, the heart of the entertainment industry.

One day he realized that the film and TV companies working in the Santa Clarita Valley were doing a lot of commuting too--for replacement parts when a lighting bulb exploded or a camera malfunctioned.

"The production companies were having to send someone back to the San Fernando Valley to pick these things up," Horlings said. "And that's pretty costly."

Horlings' company, L & M Editorial of Burbank, specializes in supplying costly film and sound editing equipment used to add post-production music and special effects.

But seeing the demand for providing supplies to companies in production, L & M three years ago opened the Motion Picture General Store in Valencia.

"We had to totally change gears," Horlings said. "We wanted to be a one-stop place to shop for all the items the crews might need, but it's taken awhile to get all those supplies. Even though everyone is doing pretty much the same job, they don't all use the same supplies."

Staffed by Horlings and three employees, the 5,000-square-foot store is based in the Rye Canyon North Campus Film Facility in Valencia.

The store carries such things as filters for lighting equipment, lightbulbs, drywall screws, ink cartridges, cable rigging, scissor lifts and forklifts.

The store also delivers, which is a big part of its appeal, said L & M founder and President James Lee.

"That's our main thing," he said. "When these crews need something, we try to get it delivered on the set within an hour."

Michael Miller, the production coordinator on Spelling TV's "Any Day Now," which airs on the Lifetime Channel, says the General Store fills a crucial need.

"I used to work on "Melrose Place" up here before there was a General Store, and we always had people running back and forth between here and the San Fernando Valley to get things," he said. "And you're talking at least a 45-minute drive each way."

That delay has been alleviated, he says, especially because the General Store delivers.

"There's so much stuff going on up here now that I'm sure if Kodak and all these other companies put places up here, they'd find it worth their while," he added.

Even so, the store has not turned a profit yet--not uncommon for a new venture. Lee said he hopes to turn a profit this year.

"The Screen Actors Guild strike [against commercial producers] has hurt us," he acknowledged. "But right now we're fairly busy with lots of TV work going on."

Stephen Katz, second vice chairman of ECO2000, an industry think tank of industry professionals, says that despite the SAG strike and film work increasingly being done in Canada, local TV work is booming.

"Everyone's pretty busy because we have the fear of the next strike wave," Katz said, referring to the upcoming negotiations for new contracts for the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild. The WGA contract expires May 1 and the SAG contract expires June 30.

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But the film and television business is evolving and part of that evolution is that more work is being done out of state, Katz says.

"The movies-of-the-week are the most frightening statistic," he said. "Of the 246 MOWs shot last year, 154 were shot in Canada."

Lee is well aware of the fickleness of the movie business. So executives at the family-owned company made a decision to look for work beyond Hollywood as a way of ensuring employment for themselves and their employees.

The company's new technology unit is building digital workstations for the Coast Guard and has contracts to build workstations for several educational outlets.

"We're a family business and we try not to have any layoffs," Lee said, "so we don't entirely depend on Hollywood."

And yet Lee and Horlings feel that the promise for the Motion Picture General Store has been good enough to warrant opening a second smaller store at the company headquarters on Palm Avenue in Burbank two months ago.

"When we set up shop in Santa Clarita, we developed enough relationships with production companies who then said they still wanted us to be their supplier down in the San Fernando Valley," Horlings said.

The company is considering opening a third shop in the South Bay.

"It really was a simple evolution," Horlings said. "We basically pulled a person from every department of film production and asked them, 'What do you use on set? Give us your wish list.' That's how we started."

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