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LIGHTS, CAMERA, SANTA CLARITA

City Making Pitch for a Bigger Piece of Filmmaking Pie

Entertainment: It has the scenery, the sound stages and a historical connection to the movie business. Permits are down, but leaders are hopeful.

October 17, 2000|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA CLARITA — With its desert vistas, rugged hills and jagged mountain peaks, Santa Clarita has provided the perfect backdrop for filming everything from the "Dukes of Hazzard" to "The X-Files" and "VIP."

But Santa Clarita officials say they are aiming to make the area more than a pretty place to find some colorful scenery. They want to become the next happy homestead for the entertainment industry as it looks to expand locally.

"Historically, there were a lot of film shoots out here going way back to the beginning of cowboy movies," said Mike Haviland, marketing and economic manager for city of Santa Clarita Redevelopment office.

"But [in] the past 10 years, the community has really made an aggressive effort aimed at going after the industry as a whole," he said.

The city has more than quadrupled spending on entertainment marketing efforts in the last eight years, from $10,000 in 1992 to $44,700 this year.

The marketing pitch to film and TV production companies touts Santa Clarita's own sound stages and location ranches as well as its proximity to the talent pool and studio headquarters in the San Fernando Valley.

Fortuitously, Santa Clarita is just inside Hollywood's 30-mile zone. Outside the zone, production companies have to pay $250 to $300 per day to cover housing, meal and transportation costs for cast and crew.

After DreamWorks SKG abandoned plans for its studio in Playa Vista, Santa Clarita made a pitch for the studio there.

"They were interested in coming out, but didn't," said Amber Skowronski of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce Film Bureau. "The deciding factor was the drive."

Still, the Santa Clarita Valley boasts 10 location ranches and 20 sound stages. The newest facility, the Rye Canyon North Campus Film Facility, includes about 50,000 square feet of studio space and is located near the junction of California 126 and the Golden State Freeway.

While there are benefits to being close to Los Angeles, Santa Clarita is not immune from downturns that have hit the entertainment industry, such as runaway productions that have gone to cheaper locales such as Canada and Mexico.

For example, 359 film permits were issued in 1998 for 1,213 days of filming. In 1999, the number of permits dropped drastically, to 226, with only 562 days of filming, the film bureau said.

With the drop in filming, Skowronski said the city is working harder to attract attention. Among other things, it puts out a quarterly newsletter, "The Big Picture" that touts the Santa Clarita Valley as a filming center. It is distributed to about 11,000 Hollywood executives and others.

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Michael Bobenko, senior vice president of operations for the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., which coordinates filming permits in the city of Los Angeles and unincorporated Los Angeles County, believes the area will see a natural expansion as the entertainment industry expands.

"My impression is that over the last five years they've done a good job of building the infrastructure needed to attract and support filming in the area," Bobenko said. "The number of vendors has increased. We've seen some increased square footage of sound stage space as well."

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