Like an excited tourist, Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn got a backstage look Tuesday at the little-known companies that give Hollywood its glitz.
He dropped in on five companies that do everything from lighting to animation, learning some of the secrets behind the glamour of Los Angeles' home-grown industry.
He marveled as lightning-quick machines pressed DVDs, chuckled to hear that a "teenie weenie mole" refers to a small set light and watched in delight as editors manipulated video images at a post-production studio.
But the lighthearted tone of the day masked a more serious truth about Hollywood's role in the city: Los Angeles officials need the backing of leaders in the famous neighborhood, both to halt a persistent secession effort there and to keep the city's local tourism industry afloat.
About 9.5 million tourists go to Hollywood every year, the mayor noted.
"Hollywood is the most powerful brand name on Earth, and our city's crown jewel, I think, in the entire tourism industry," Hahn told a lunchtime gathering of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
The mayor promised to support continuing efforts to beautify the often ragged area and refine the plan for developing Hollywood in the future.
He also said he will try to cut the cost of filming in the city for small productions, and promised to lobby for a federal tax credit rewarding producers who don't leave for Canada or other locations.
"There are so many small and medium-sized companies right here, the center of the entertainment industry," Hahn told the several hundred people gathered at the Hotel Roosevelt for the chamber lunch. "Everything we can do to make sure that Hollywood stays home in Hollywood is something I want to be a part of."
Throughout the day, owners of local companies warned the mayor that they have been tempted to move their businesses to places like Burbank or Glendale that have less cumbersome business taxes and more plentiful parking. But for many, the lure of Hollywood remains potent.
Hungarian immigrant Gabor Csupo was courted by nearby cities when he was looking to expand his animation company Klasky Csupo from Highland Avenue several years ago.
But Csupo had always dreamed of having a view of the Hollywood sign. Now the company, which makes the "Rugrats" and other cartoons, occupies a former car dealership on Sunset Boulevard. The windows of Csupo's plush new office frame the famous sign.
Mike Parker, the chief executive officer of Mole-Richardson Co., a lighting designer and supplier, told Hahn he has considered relocating.
So far, a combination of practicality and nostalgia has kept him at his location on North Sycamore Drive. Parker's grandfather, Peter Mole, started the company in 1927 and designed the first quiet lights when movies added sound. Now the company is one of the chief lighting suppliers to studios, many of which are in Hollywood or on the Westside.
On Tuesday, Parker gave the mayor a tour of the company's square-block complex, where engineers design specialty lights for film and television and sell hardware to technicians.
"You make it all!" Hahn noted with admiration as they walked by bins filled with dozens of different light fixtures dubbed "teenies," "juniors" and "in-betweenies."
During much of the day, the mayor gleaned bits of insider information that help keep the industry running. At Iron Mountain, a film and sound archiving facility, Hahn stepped into a vault that stores the music videos for Capitol Records.
Over at Crest National, the mayor watched with fascination as computerized machines melted plastic at 700 degrees, imprinted the plastic into CDs and DVDs with 60 tons of pressure and coated the discs with metal.
"You a fan of the DVD?" asked Crest President Ron Stein.
"Yeah, sure," Hahn said. "I don't have one yet, but we go over to my sister's place."
The 40-year-old company makes about 250,000 CDs a day, running around the clock.
"That just blows your mind," Hahn said. "That's fantastic that we have things like that here. We are making things right here in Los Angeles. People think we don't have manufacturing jobs. But we do."
At the Post Group, a post-production company, an editor showed Hahn how he digitally added bubbles and other effects to a video of a woman in a swimming pool.
"Can you do that for me?" joked the mayor. "Can you make me look better?"