Behind the scenes in Santa Clarita

Steve Arklin Jr., general manager of Rancho Deluxe. Lorena Mejia/The Signal

Managing a family-run movie ranch might sound like a dream job. However, for Steve Arklin, Jr., ranch manager of Rancho Deluxe in Sand Canyon, the responsibility also comes with long days.

“Some of the less glamorous parts of running a movie ranch would definitely be the long hours,” he said. “Sometimes throughout the season, I will have to go several days without any sleep and more commonly I see 20-plus hour days. I guess that’s what happens when you turn your home into a movie ranch.”

Home grown

Arklin was born in 1986 to Steve and Diane Arklin and has lived his entire life in the Santa Clarita Valley. He is the oldest of three brothers. Arklin and his siblings — Dustin and Ryan — live on the family ranch, as do his parents. 

Arklin’s parents purchased five acres in Sand Canyon more than 30 years ago and then began adding more acreage through the years. The ranch now is more than 250 acres.

“It was a great place to be a kid. I had a fun childhood,” said Arklin. “I also learned a lot growing up on a ranch. We had livestock, horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and chickens. We had just about everything at one time. We’ve got fewer animals now.”

Hard worker 

A 2004 graduate of Canyon High School, Arklin began working at a young age. “I learned a lot about construction and operating equipment growing up,” he said. 

He started working as soon as he graduated high school. He held a variety of jobs during his youth. He worked for a construction company building garages, at a pet store for a few years cleaning out cages and as a heavy-equipment operator at a rock yard.

“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do,” he said.

But between all those jobs, Arklin was learning about the movie business.

“I had part time jobs during the summer and during school vacations at movie ranches in the area since I was 12,” he said. “As I got older, I would drive water trucks to keep the roads wet, then when I was 18, they had me do contracts and ranch management.”

Arklin’s parents noticed their son’s interest in the film business and asked him if he thought he could turn Rancho Deluxe into a movie ranch.

“It grew from that conversation,” he said. “We didn’t build the ranch to be a movie ranch, but it just blossomed and turned into what it is now.”

Exterior sets within Rancho Deluxe’s Western Town. Lorena Mejia/The Signal

Rancho Deluxe

Rancho Deluxe offers a studio filming location for feature films, television series, reality shows, photo shoots and commercials. The ranch has five full-time maintenance staff employees and hires additional help when there is filming on the ranch.

The name “Rancho Deluxe” originates from the movie of the same name. Arklin said his father and his brothers were often jokingly referred to as the “Rancho Deluxe Boys” by their friends.

The film, starring Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterson, was about two drifters of widely varying backgrounds, who rustle cattle in Montana during modern times and try to avoid being caught.

Rancho Deluxe offers a variety of buildings and scenery.

“We have everything from little cabins to a grandiose Mediterranean villa. We have barns, lakes with waterfall features, a Western town, a log-cabin settlement, forests, open natural landscapes, dirt roads, paved roads, gravel roads and a game room called ‘The Man Cave,’” Arklin said. 

Productions such as “SWAT,” “Timeless,” “LA to Vegas,” “MasterChef,” “MasterChef Jr.” and seasons one and two of HBO’s “Westworld” have filmed at the ranch. Other credits include “The Orville,” “Transparent,” “NCIS,” “Last Man on Earth,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “The Mentalist” and “Knight Rider.”

Films have included “Iron Man 3,” “Bad Teacher,” “Time Machine,” “Eddie Murphy’s Haunted House,” “Rush Hour 3” and “Men in Tights.”

Commercials for Pods, Michelob, Ford, Subaru, GEICO, American Express, Sam Adams and Honda have filmed at the ranch. It has also served as music video locations for Eminem, Bruno Mars, Dwight Yoakam, Trace Adkins and CeeLo Green. 

The Sand Fire

At 2:10 p.m. July 22, 2016, a fire erupted in the riverbed near Sand Canyon and Soledad Canyon roads. Called the Sand Fire, it took until August 3 to contain the fire which destroyed 41,432 acres. It cost one life and nearly two dozen homes.

“We’ve been through several fires, so we’re prepared,” Arklin said. Water lines and hydrants run throughout the property and Arklin makes sure his staff is well trained.

“When a fire breaks out, we try to create a defense,” he said. “In the Sand Fire, we brought in about 30 water trucks and 5 or 6 bulldozers. I don’t know how many friends showed up to help us.” They sprayed water on the property for days before the fire roared into the area.

“We created a barrier to keep the fire back, we fought it off as best we could. There was a lot of luck, but also a lot of what we did saved the property,” said Arklin.

The ranch lost trees and brush, but no buildings. “I stayed up for three days straight fighting the fire before I finally had to take a break,” Arklin said.

For a month after the fire, Rancho Deluxe had a crew on scene with water trucks 24 hours a day. “We would switch out drivers every 12 hours,” he said.

Flareups, burning embers and spot fires were a constant danger.

Living where you work

Arklin said the Santa Clarita Valley is both “a great place to live and to do business.” It is home to many people who work in the entertainment industry as well as to several movie ranches. Arklin said the ranches complement each other rather than compete with each other.

“We try to help each other,” he said. “We’re all a little different. One ranch has a Spanish town, one ranch a Western town, one ranch an Iraqi village. If we don’t have something a production needs, we’ll recommend another ranch, and they do the same for us.”

Arklin said using the family ranch as a movie ranch helps pay the bills.

He knows how lucky he is to live where he works.

“It’s nice to work close to home,” he said. “When productions come to film here, people tell me how happy there are to be close to home and not have to travel to another state, or country, to work. That makes me feel good, that we’re helping families be closer together.”

Arklin said the City of Santa Clarita and the city’s film office also helps make life easier on the ranch. “The city is really good to the film industry. The film office does a great job,” he said. 

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