A couple of things become obvious after meeting Anthony Syracuse, co-owner of LA North, and touring one of the 16 massive soundstages his company operates in Santa Clarita: 1) He’s an industry veteran whose know-how and connections drive the success of his burgeoning, 4-year-old company; and 2) he’s one of the most enthusiastic ambassadors of in-state filming, especially in the city, that anyone could ask for.
The 45-year-old remembers first being drawn to film sets before he even attended Saugus High, visiting his dad “at the office” so to speak, while the elder Syracuse worked on building the sets for Steven Spielberg’s “Hook” in 1989.
After graduating, he went right to work in the industry, following in those footsteps with work on his first project, “Hard Rain,” a 1998 action flick that starred Morgan Freeman and Christian Slater.
In 2006, he became the youngest construction coordinator in the United States, while he was working on a film called “3:10 to Yuma,” a Western action drama, but his success came at a cost. He spent nearly a half-dozen years on the road, chasing work on blockbuster productions to a growing number of places that were offering tax advantages to try and be competitive with Hollywood’s Thirty-Mile Zone.
The “chase” became a challenge for Syracuse, who noticed that there was less and less local work and, at the same time, he and his wife were raising a young family, and he desired something a little closer to home.
Then Syracuse developed a local plan with his business partner, real estate expert John Prabhu.
The two now own and operate close to a half-million square feet of soundstage space spread out over five campuses in Santa Clarita, with plans to grow.
“Our model is a little different. Our model is, good shows that are looking for a reasonable place to work,” Syracuse said, whose studio has hosted everything from “The Fablemans,” another Spielberg blockbuster, and “Emancipation,” Will Smith’s latest release, which is available now from Apple Studios.
He also knows he’s part of a community that works hard to draw filming to the area, and that’s a big help, too. He gave a big credit to Mike DeLorenzo, president of Santa Clarita Studios, as one of the biggest reasons why Santa Clarita’s rep is so strong right now. That facility was the first-purpose built studio in Santa Clarita, and it continues to grow, also.
“You can quote me on this: LA North would not be in existence without Mike DeLorenzo. He saw something out here,” Syracuse said, describing how DeLorenzo has helped him “move mountains” to facilitate filming projects, recalling one specifically at Magic Mountain.
Syracuse added that the support he receives from Santa Clarita, whether it’s from the Film Office, local fire officials or code enforcement, is a big part of what makes the studio unique. The facilities also offer isolation from distraction and anonymity that lets the stars of major motion pictures do their jobs without a lot of the hassles that exist south of the Newhall Pass.
“The best part about this is the city of Santa Clarita,” he added. “If you take this property, we put it anywhere south of the 5 and (Highway) 14, the riff-raff that goes on outside of those properties is something that we don’t have up here.”
Filming at LA North
On the lot
Since its opening in 2018, LA North has grown to a facility that now houses 16 of the largest soundstages in California, including its newest facility, called The View, at 29051 Avenue Valley View in Valencia. In just a few short years of existence, LA North already has hosted Hollywood’s biggest names. Here are a few of its recent projects:
“80 for Brady”
“Don’t Worry Darling”
“Space Jam: A New Legacy”
“Top Gun: Maverick”
Growing and growing
Triscenic Production Services has been a force in the film community for a little over 35 years, starting with a 10,000-square-foot lot in the Commerce, and now operating approximately 1.75 million square feet throughout Southern California.
The company has helped out on more than 4,000 films, shows and commercials over the years, according to its website, and it continues to grow due to its ability to recognize trends and adapt to them, according to Bob Doyle, executive vice president of business development.
The company’s most recent growth area has been set recycling, disposal and sound stages, with the company currently operating seven locations in the city.
“We work with the major studios, of course, but also, we do a lot of work with production companies,” Doyle said. “And we service the different platforms from commercials and music videos to TV series and then feature films as well. And we’d like to think that there’s no there’s no project too small or too large that we’re not willing to jump in and help out.”
He also shared what many others have in terms of the welcoming environment that Santa Clarita offers, not only from the city’s support staff, and a proximity to other companies in the industry, but from the surrounding environment, too.
The city offers freeway-proximity convenience, lots of options for different locations and supportive atmosphere, Doyle said, and whether the project is a shorter music video shoot or a feature film, he always hears positive feedback from production companies.
“I mean, from my perspective, it’s a safe environment. You know, when you’re doing a lot of work down in (Los Angeles) and all the other areas, there’s a lot of homelessness, unfortunately, and there’s a lot of crime — up here in Santa Clarita, it’s a clean, safe environment to work in. Everything is conveniently located. There are so many options for food. I mean, it’s just the best of all, you know, the best of all possible cases.”
Behind the scenes
Mark Larinto, who runs The Scenic Companies with his brother Robert and his son Tyler shared the same sentiment regarding why he’s made big expansion plans in Santa Clarita.
The Larintos run a company that stores sets for hundreds of production companies, including the ones that produce Hollywood’s biggest awards shows, a countless number of streaming productions and a host of big budget movies.
They recently signed a multiyear lease on nearly 300,000 square feet of space at the Saugus Station Industrial Center, behind Railroad Avenue off Springbrook Avenue, where he plans to install the headquarters of their operations, not far from where the city recently approved about 400,000 square feet of building for The Covington Group, a Dallas-based business park developer.
It signaled a big commitment for the business owners who have more than 1.2 million square feet of storage space, including properties in Valencia, North Hollywood and Atlanta, which Larinto likened to “putting his money where his mouth is” in terms of all of his support for his hometown.
“It was a pretty big investment … and, you know, it shows how bullish we are in Santa Clarita,” Mark Larinto said, during a recent tour of his warehouse, which stores everything from the oversized Academy Award statues of Oscar to a spaceship that Johnny Depp commissioned in order to send Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes up to space to the lifeboats from the movie “Titanic.”
“There’s a couple of reasons: One, because it’s in the 30-Mile Zone and it’s such an easy place to film because the Film Office is really welcoming to productions,” Larinto said, adding that when he talks to representatives from streaming companies like Amazon Studios and Netflix, they cite the same reasons Syracuse mentioned for why filming is great in the SCV.
“They find it really easy to film out here. It’s not like that in the city of Los Angeles. That’s one thing. The other thing, I think, anecdotally, is a lot of people in the industry live here and they want to shoot here,” he added.
The success of so many facilities out here is also a driver of more success, he added.
“And the reason why we’re able to grow like that is because we have studios opening up like LA North … Syracuse is great. Mike (DeLorenzo) over at Santa Clarita Studios, they’re bringing in the big-name shows, and they’re creating a lot of business not only for the studios, but for the ancillary vendors like us.”
On the Rancho
Steve Arklin Jr., owner and manager of Rancho Deluxe in Placerita Canyon, also spoke highly of the Santa Clarita Film Office and how it helps facilitate more production.
“The Film Office does a great job of helping us get the permits turned over quickly,” Arklin said, noting that the industry often requires flexibility because a lot of last-minute projects can come up.
“I mean, the productions still have to follow the rules, there’s still the ‘red tape,’ but the Film Office does a great job of getting everything turned around, and lining up (the necessary permits) in a quick amount of time,” he added.
A lot of productions will come and go throughout the year, he pointed out, and the industry is constantly changing and adapting.
“Westworld,” which filmed at Rancho Deluxe for several years, was recently canceled by HBO; but nowadays with so many platforms for viewers, there’s always a chance someone else could pick it up.
Regardless, the 350-acre facility off Placerita Canyon Road has hosted its regular mix of episodic shows, such as “NCIS,” and a number of feature films over the last 12 months.
“This year, I’m happy to say we’ve been pretty busy,” Arklin said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have quite a few projects (at Rancho Deluxe).”
And while there might be some flux from year to year, and no one can predict exactly how the global economy will impact new productions, he said Santa Clarita is well-positioned no matter what the new year brings.
“I think the filming industry is still big and strong,” Arklin said, “and Santa Clarita is still going to be one of the big players, because that’s where the majority of the filming wants to take place.”
Back to the future
The Santa Clarita Valley’s history in film dates back almost 120 years now, with perhaps the earliest official production identified in SCVHistory.com as D.W. Griffith’s “Ramona,” which starred Mary Pickford in 1910 and was shot in one of many historic locations that dot the area’s landscape, Rancho Camulos.
From its humble silent film beginnings, the industry has grown up and around the SCV, which remains a part of Hollywood’s famed TMZ, or 30-mile zone, an area stretching out from Beverly and La Cienega boulevards that offers incentives and tax breaks for productions.
In addition to the movie ranches that have played a huge part in Santa Clarita’s past and continue to shape its future, the city’s Film Office acts as an agency that balances the needs of production with the needs of its residents.
With help from the Santa Clarita Film Office, the city’s revenue from filming has grown from about $6.3 million in 2003 to almost $44 million in the fiscal year that ended in July.
Local filming revenue
Not counting 2020, which severely interrupted filming schedules, the financial impact to the local economy has grown almost every year since 2003, for a total estimated economic impact that’s surpassed $2.5 billion over the last 20 years. (The total revenue figure for 2022 was not yet available as of this story’s publication.) Below are the numbers for the last five years:
Calendar year Permit no. Film days Financial impact
Santa Clarita officials are proud of the city’s film-friendly reputation, which currently supports 57 soundstages, five production facilities (including several with multiple campuses) and a half-dozen movie ranches.
A common saying with the team at the Santa Clarita Film Office is, if a project looks like it was filmed in Santa Clarita, it was probably filmed in Santa Clarita, he said.
“Well, episodic television and streaming service is, I would say, something that’s always been our bread and butter, that is going very strong,” Thomason said. “But with LA North expanding and some other studios getting more feature films — and that’s something that we’ve always had, feature films — but they’re bringing a lot more of that because that’s really what their specialty is, the high-end feature film.”
The city’s business-development team is also quick to point out the success of production companies like LA North, as well as the high number of city residents who also work in the industry, help the city attract more projects that have a significant positive impact in the area.
“The entertainment industry has been on a tremendous growth plan with all of the additional streaming services,” DeLorenzo said. “We have been booked for the last, give or take, 10 years, we’ve grown and grown. We now have 35 soundstages.”
DeLorenzo considers himself a big Santa Clarita supporter, because, after having worked in New York, Chicago and anywhere else, nothing really compares to what he sees in the SCV.
“We have, by far, and I can back this up, the best services definitely in the United States, probably the world. The infrastructure that Southern California offers the filmmaker allows us to compete with these additional tax benefits that other states offer where we may not offer the best tax incentives. We offer the best filmmakers in the world. And Santa Clarita stands out as being the most film-friendly city you’ll find anywhere. And when I say anywhere, I mean that sincerely.”