Over the years, the Santa Clarita Valley has become a popular filming destination for a number of productions, and much of this is because of the number of diverse filming locations it offers, all of which reside in the “30-mile Zone.”
The 30-mile Zone, or TMZ, as it’s also known, is an area recognized by local and state tax subsidies encompassing Hollywood and its surroundings, including the SCV, which makes it more “film-friendly.”
“Santa Clarita is definitely no secret in the production world … Historically, we’ve had filming going back to the Silent Era, with William S. Hart and Charlie Chaplin, all the way to the Golden Age,” said Evan Thomason, economic development associate with the city of Santa Clarita. “We can double as anywhere.”
Productions can begin their day filming the wild West, head to the suburbs, then to the Middle East, and finish off their day on Mars.
Back then, Santa Clarita was popular because of how rural it was, making it the perfect home for a number of Western films, but fast forward to today and it has a number of things to offer, as Santa Clarita is home to a number of movie ranches, studio facilities and location filming.
“‘Westworld’ used a Western set, but would shoot at two or three movie ranches at a time, so they could get a completely different look (at each one),” Thomason said.
In fact, much of the popular HBO show “Westworld” was filmed on movie ranches in the SCV, including both Melody Ranch and Rancho Deluxe.
Melody Ranch, the infamous home to more than 1,900 Western films, is a family-run movie ranch, owned by brothers Daniel and Paul Veluzat.
When the family purchased the property in 1990, their first task was to rebuild the famous western town that had burnt down in the 60s.
With the help of Gene Autry, the Veluzats recreated the town in its entirely in the original way that it had been built.
“Mr. Autry was an intricate part in trying to recapture its original look and feel,” Daniel Veluzat said. “It’s one of the largest, most extensive, most famous Western towns in the world.”
Then, they added sound stages to go with the town, as well as 44 working interiors, while the Melody Ranch Studio backlot, located nearby, is home to a 200-acre motion picture studio.
Now, the ranch is a full-service studio, offering productions props, set dressing, offices and sound stages.
“It’s kind of one-stop shopping for filming, and an entire production company can move onto the ranch,” Veluzat said. “They can be filming in an exterior and interior, plus they’ve got access to open space to do whatever, from picnics to campsites to Civil War (re-enactments), or we can build whatever set someone may be looking for.”
Rancho Deluxe is another of the area’s family-run movie ranches, as it began just as the Arklin’s family property.
“My parents started with about three acres here about 34 years ago, and we just kept adding on and now we’re up to almost 300,” Steve Arklin said, adding that the first building in the Western town was actually his father’s original office. “He trucked it in here from Sierra Highway … and then it just started growing a little bit more and more.”
Though they began collecting and creating what would become unique sets or props, the property didn’t actually become a movie ranch until Arklin got into the business, working at various other ranches in the area until his parents gave him the green light to begin doing so on the family’s property.
“It was something that we never even really considered when we were building the ranch,” Arklin said, which led to the diversity of sets they have now. “We kind of have a little bit of everything and don’t really just specialize in one type of look.”
Both ranches are currently in the process of expanding, while Melody Ranch is building more sets on the backlot, Rancho Deluxe is building its very own Palace Saloon.
Valencia Studios, which has six sound stages and a backlot, has been in continuous use in Santa Clarita for 20 plus years, according to owner Richard Reilly.
The studio is equipped for large production tv shows and has been home to a succession of shows over the years, including “NCIS,” “JAG,” “Moonlighting” and “Power Rangers.”
“Santa Clarita is an entertainment-friendly location and a great location for anyone looking to shoot a major tv show,” Reilly said, adding that its proximity to Hollywood adds to that. “It’s a reverse commute against traffic, so it’s easy to get in and out.”
In addition, Valencia Studios offers productions an infrastructure, such as parking, sound stages, backlot and high-speed internet, to be self-contained and provide all the services required for filming. While productions that use Valencia Studios also have the option of using any of the nearby movie ranches or off-premise sites, which help to diversify their options.
Monica Harrison, owner of L.A. Film Locations, created the company back in 2003 to meet the needs of the growing film location industry.
“We originally started representing all kinds of real estate for the film industry in Santa Clarita only and now we have properties globally,” Harrison said.
Location companies such as this one have two sets of clients: property owners and managers or production companies. While owners call when they want to put their property on the radar, production companies call when they’re looking for a location that will meet their needs.
“These clients need to see what we offer on our database and choose properties oftentimes in a very short time frame,” Harrison said. “We help them locate the best locations for their spec, and we manage a shoot from beginning to end.”
Santa Clarita has been a growing community, which means it offers a number of unique sets, along with both new and old neighborhoods, Thomason said. In addition, the SCV can offer a multitude of varied landscapes, Harrison added.
“Productions based at sound stages can go to (movie) ranches and get a lot of different looks, so rather than traveling far, it’s just a short drive across town, which makes filming here affordable for productions,” Thomason said. “It really is a great place that can be a one-stop shop for productions.”
All agree on this point, including Veluzat, who said the city has worked really hard at being film-friendly and also believes filming is the reason the SCV has remained so unique.
“If you look at our community’s landscape and open space, it’s nice to see the mountain ranges around us,” he said, adding, “filming has helped with keeping this community feeling like the community that is.”
Though the Santa Clarita Film Office primarily deals with permits for location filming, it strives to promote the SCV as a whole for filming, according to Thomason.
In addition to California’s state tax incentive program, the city has a local film incentive program of its own, which is meant to encourage, attract and retain repeating productions.
“We’re also advocating for California in general because when production returns to the state, I think everyone benefits, so we’re very cooperative in that sense,” he added.
Santa Clarita has also seen more businesses coming to the area that augment production, such as set companies or post-production facilities, which Thomason believes will continue to grow in the years to come.
The estimated economic impact for the film industry is over $30 million to the community, but the true impact goes beyond those numbers, Thomason said.
“When productions are filming out here, they spend a lot of money in the community, which is a really a big driving force in the local economy,” he added.
“I really believe this city wouldn’t be what it is,” Harrison said, “without the influx of the filming revenue that streams through here.”