In August, four professionals involved with the filming community in the Santa Clarita Valley got together for a roundtable to discuss the current status of the local filming economy. Moderator for the Roundtable was Business Journal Editor Patrick Mullen.
Pete Brosnan –Sr. vice president, Hollywood Locations; managing partner, Los Angeles Center Studios
Karen Bryden —President, SCV Locations
Evan Thomason —Economic Development associate for City of Santa Clarita who oversees the city’s film office and tourism
Steve Arklin Sr. –owner of Rancho Deluxe Studios
How is the current atmosphere for filming in the Santa Clarita Valley?
Brosnan: Four years ago we were in dire straits. Other states and the international market were all luring the film industry—because of tax incentives, cheaper labor and the strength of the dollar. We were lucky enough to weather those tough times. It was two years ago when the state of California finally passed a more aggressive tax plan (film credits) that was more on par with what the other states were offering. California became a serious contender again. In addition, the expansion of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and all the other entities online that have jumped into content production was a factor (for improvement of the filming industry).
Bryden: Because of the expansion of the California film credits and competing in that market, this year we have just started hearing again about a California location expo only. We didn’t have one because we had lost so much business in Southern California.
Thomason: There’s a buzz going on in the film community. It’s almost a renaissance type of feel. We’ve seen it first hand in Santa Clarita. Shows approved for the California film incentive program are coming here. Most recently “Ballers” has moved here. The state really has come together as a community and embraced this return of filming.
Arklin: We’ve been increasing (at Rancho Deluxe) every year (since the increase in credits). This is probably the best year that we’ve had. One day last week we had over a thousand people filming on our ranch—very happy to have a job and very happy to not have to leave the state and their families.
Movie ranches were not included in the incentive program originally and after we met with the legislature and had some serious conversations they then introduced legislation to include the ranches into the film credits.
Are there any other changes you’d like to see in the film credit program?
Brosnan: It’s still kind of complicated—the paperwork, the application process but we’re definitely moving in the right direction.
Bryden: I’d like to see them add something to increase location filming anywhere in the state of California. I’d like them to consider giving incentives to specific counties throughout the state. Remember what we have here. You can be literally anywhere in the world in California itself.
Netflix this year is spending $8 billion on original content and they have more than $20 billion in debt and obligations. Are we seeing something of a production bubble? Is this sustainable?
Arklin: Right now we’ve got them lined up at the gate to film.
Thomason: In the last three or four years we’ve seen much higher numbers. We just finished up another strong fiscal year and that has led to averaging around 1,300 film days.
Brosnan: It’s looking good. I’ve read the same articles about Netflix. I prefer to take the optimistic approach. Because of the way consuming content has changed, they are trying to stay ahead of it. They have a very low cancellation rate. It seems like these shows all get completed and the kids and everybody else are consuming it.
Bryden: Netflix guarantees that a show is going to air because they are doing it for themselves. They don’t produce it to sell it so they have an instant return to a certain extent on the money that they spend.
What drew you to this business?
Arklin: I was in the disposal business out here and I was very successful. I started with 5 acres and as my business grew I ended up with 200. Next door they had been filming since the 60s. They hired my son next door to work on equipment and tractors. Then they were in the middle of production and they started coming over our side and then it grew and my son said “let’s go into (filming) business.” It’s been growing. My son has been running it.
Thomason: I’ve worked for the city for almost 20 years. I spent a lot of time in communications. I have a background in television production and video production. I’ve worked in communications with the film side and an opportunity came up so I’ve been doing this the last few years.
Bryden: I kind of fell into this. I came down to Southern California to go to college and had a friend who was in the industry. I always had a fascination with it. Because I was fortunate to have that exposure, I realized it was my dream job. I haven’t really done anything else in my life. I started out in this business when I was 22.
Brosnan: My brother was a location manager on the great old show “Murder She Wrote.” I was just visiting from Chicago, so I would follow him around scouting and I thought “this is a pretty cool job.” He went away to do the movie “Terms of Endearment” in Lincoln, Neb. When he returned, I had moved out here. He said he really didn’t want to travel anymore. He relocated right behind Granary Square from the Hollywood Hills. He said he wanted to start his own firm Hollywood Locations and he asked me if I wanted to join him. We’ve been business partners for about 30 years. It’s fascinating, never a dull moment–the drama literally.
What are some unsung locations for filming in the Santa Clarita Valley and where do we find a lot of filming taking place?
Thomason: The city has thousands of acres of open space. We’re actually discovering some (locations) as the city buys more open space and makes it available for the public. One of the locations that was used for the Denzel Washington movie that is coming out was on Newhall Pass where the 5 and the 14 intersect and pointed toward the valley. I was talking to the location manager and he said he couldn’t believe that nobody has gotten this shot before. So I would say some of our locations have yet to be discovered.
Brosnan: I have been living up here for 30 years and I am in love with the scenery up here. You can put the camera in a lot of different places and have amazing views and vistas.
How has the business changed in ways you wish it had not?
Brosnan: Because technology has allowed things to happen quickly, now we’re victims of our own success. It just has to be even faster and faster. We get desensitized to how fast it moves and the fact that an agreement more often than not isn’t signed until a day or two before filming, some corporate clients can’t quite groove with that. We have to explain that if you want to be in this business you have to learn to adapt…especially with television.
Bryden: That is 100 percent accurate. I absolutely agree. Because a production company is such a gigantic monster or it can feel that way it can be very overwhelming for someone and that is why companies like mine and Pete’s and locations like Steve’s are so important because you have hands-on professionals who know exactly what to do.
Thomason: I will agree with all that especially from a permitting aspect. Because we got it done last time with very little notice doesn’t mean we can do it all the time. The locations community and the infrastructure we have in Santa Clarita are very close knit. It’s very supportive of each other. You hear oftentimes of one studio referring to another because they can’t accommodate.
Drones have kind of flipped the permitting world over. There’s FAA rules, there’s extra insurance. So those have been a little bit of a challenge for us. Those are great looking shots but you have to make sure everything is done properly.
Arklin: As owner-operators we changed with it and we’re constantly changing. We expect it to change. The speed of which the city can do permits is more efficient than ever before.
How has filming changed here in the Santa Clarita Valley?
Arklin: The amount of money these guys are spending! It has a lot to do with filming incentives and it also has to with the local movie ranch overlay (which allows more flexibility for filming). When we didn’t have it we weren’t sure we were going to be here tomorrow because you had to have a conditional use permit. Now they know that they can come in here and spend a whole bunch of money to do these great effects and they can shoot for 36 hours straight and no one is going to say anything.
Bryden: I have seen every change that you can imagine. I started in the industry right as the city was forming its film office. Then we were a destination location. We weren’t the place to start out. We have now become one of the places to start. I think that community-wise it is embracing filming and is now a part of the actual industry we have out here. We have property owners who are actively seeking filming.
Do we have a filming specialty up here in the Santa Clarita Valley?
Thomason: I wouldn’t say we have a specialty. We do plenty of commercials. We have big features too. Oprah Winfrey’s “A Wrinkle in Time” just finished shooting out here. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. Our special is adaptability. We have so many neighborhoods, from new neighborhoods to older neighborhoods to open space.
If filming dried up here what would the economic impact be?
Thomason: $30 million in just filming. Homeowners who can rent their home for filming would be affected. There a handful of businesses here that if filming didn’t take place they wouldn’t be able to exist. It’s also the hardware store, the grocery store. It’s also the people that work out here.
Bryden: I think if filming would dry up it would be instantly devastating and easy to see. Not just the paychecks of the people who work here but the money productions spend.
Brosnan: I’ve had four or five friends who have had to move away. They are more in the feature (film) world. They do what they have to do to follow the business. There’s the other ripple effects such as what it does to the housing market.
“California became a serious contender again.”
“We were a destination location. We weren’t the place to start out. We have now become one of the places to start.”
“They know that they can come in here and spend a whole bunch of money to do these great effects and they can shoot for 36 hours straight and no one is going to say anything.”
“Our special is adaptability. We have so many neighborhoods, from new neighborhoods to older neighborhoods to open space.”