Santa Clarita has long been tied to the entertainment industry, hosting immortal names like Charlie Chaplin and Frank Sinatra. The Western Walk of Stars in Newhall is a tribute to the legacy everyone from silent film stars like William S. Hart to Charles Bronson have left in the SCV’s backyard.
Throughout the years, the city has maintained its close ties to Hollywood, so when the nominations for the 2020 Academy Awards season were released Jan. 13, it was no surprise Santa Clarita was an integral part of seven of this year’s distinguished films.
Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” was partially filmed at the Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio in Newhall, as well as the Saugus Swap Meet. Set in 1969 during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as an actor/stuntman duo facing obsolescence in the industry on the eve of the Manson murders. The film was nominated for awards in the Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Costume Design, Directing, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Original Screenplay and Best Picture.
“Quentin Tarantino is a historian and the history of Melody Ranch is extremely appealing to him, and he shot the beginning of the film much like they shot films on the ranch back then,” said Melody Ranch daily operations liaison Daniel Veluzat. “I think the reason why this and his other films are so good is that he’s not concerned with the box office, but with what the movie is trying to say and to make something great. We first worked with him on ‘Django Unchained’ and to have him work with us a second time is the ultimate compliment.”
“Ad Astra,” also starring Pitt, was partially filmed at the East Walker Ranch open space in Canyon Country. “Ad Astra” follows Pitt’s character as he travels to the far reaches of our solar system to locate his long lost father and prevent the destruction of the universe. The film was nominated for an award for Best Sound Mixing.
Another best picture nominee, “Ford v Ferrari” filmed extensively at the Agua Dulce Airport. Directed by CalArts alum James Mangold, “Ford v Ferrari” tells the story of Carol Shelby as he races to design a race car for Ford that can compete with Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. The film received nominations for Film Editing, Sound Design and Sound Mixing, as well as being a contender for Best Picture.
“I’m proud that we were able to provide locations to the film and how Santa Clarita is such a welcoming community,” said Karen Bryden, president of Santa Clarita Valley Locations. “The people who live in Santa Clarita are always so supportive of the industry.”
In addition to live-action feature films, Santa Clarita had a hand in stunning works of animation. Netflix’s Santa Claus origin story “Klaus” was directed, written and produced by CalArts alum Sergio Pablos, and adds the nomination for the Best Animated Film Oscar to other accolades, including BAFTA and Annie Award nominations. To date, 12 Best Animated Feature Oscars have been directed by CalArts alumni, including the last seven consecutive winners. Two-time Oscar-winner Andrew Stanton co-wrote “Toy Story 4,” which is competing with “Klaus” for the Best Animated Film award.
Fellow alum and “Proud Family” creator Bruce W. Smith co-directed the film “Hair Love,” helmed by former NFL player Mathew A. Cherry, about a black father doing his daughter’s hair for the first time. “Hair Love” received an Oscar nod for Best Animated Short. Additionally, Siqi Song’s film “Sister” received a nod in the Best Animated Feature category. “Sister,” Song’s thesis film, is a stop-motion picture that deals with the one-child policy, and was screened in festivals like the Sundance Film Festival, the London International Animation Festival and the China Independent Animation Film Forum.
Over the past six years, the city has issued approximately 500 filming permits per year, which translates to 1,300 days of filming, according to Evan Thomason, who runs the city’s Film Office. He also estimated the economic impact for Santa Clarita for those shoots is about $30 million per year directly spent related to filming, such as catering or renting homes rather than city revenue. The Santa Clarita City Council appreciates the film industry’s economic impact and the city’s film-friendly policies look to support everything from high-end productions to independent producers.
“Filmmaking is a large part of our local history and I think that having Oscar-nominated films is a source of pride for the community,” said Thomason, whose title is economic development associate for the city of Santa Clarita. “The fact that we have so many high-profile films shot out here is just a testament to the infrastructure we have in place and just the city in general.”
Santa Clarita boasts over 25 sound stages and 10 movie ranches with even more in development all within the “30-mile zone,” or TMZ, surrounding Hollywood. He also credits the variety of looks and locations within Santa Clarita for its popularity with film productions. Other Oscar nominees and winners that were shot in Santa Clarita include “A Star is Born,” “La La Land,” “Vice,” “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” “The Revenant,” “Whiplash,” “American Sniper,” “Django Unchained” and “Titanic.”
“We have such a diverse community with older neighborhoods, newer neighborhoods and everything in between so we can really double for anywhere in the world or even other planets if you’ve seen ‘Star Trek,” Thomason said. “We have a very good, film-friendly reputation within the film community. If you think you’re seeing Santa Clarita in TV or movies, you probably are.”
As far as Oscar nominations go, Thomason says, it’s a big pride point for the community.
“Hollywood and the Oscars are so ingrained in our culture, especially here, and everyone has an emotional connection to films,” he said. “Parents pass down films to their children. The entertainment industry is very precious to all of us and we like to celebrate the Oscars as entertainment’s biggest night.”