City sources: Massive studio project stopped 

An artist's rendering of what the intersection of Railroad Avenue and 15th Street in Newhall if the Shadowbox Studios project is approved. Courtesy Shadowbox

Progress on an international movie studio’s billion-dollar plans for the gateway to Placerita Canyon has stopped, according to several city of Santa Clarita sources with knowledge of the plans who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the project. 

The sources indicated the funding for a massive multiyear production facility project was the challenge for Shadowbox Studios.  

The Santa Clarita City Council approved a 93.5-acre full-service film and television studio with 19 soundstages and its supporting facilities with an entrance near 13th Street and Railroad Avenue in Newhall back in August. 

Neither Shadowbox Studios nor Jeff Weber, principal for the project, responded to multiple requests for comment on this story. 

The project would have added about 1.3 million square feet of development in conjunction with a host of improvements planned for the surrounding streets just north of an area the city has invested millions in improving, downtown Newhall. 

Jason Crawford, director of community development for the city of Santa Clarita, said in the fall that Shadowbox indicated it would not be moving forward with a corollary project in the city. 

In partnership with home developer Integral Communities, Shadowbox had initially proposed to build additional soundstages on the former home of the Saugus Speedway. Integral was looking to build the residential component, more than 300 homes near six soundstages for the studio. 

Those plans have since been changed, Crawford said, adding that a new plan involving one much larger industrial warehouse facility would take the place of the smaller stages. 

Crawford said there’s been no discussion with the city with respect to any other potential uses for the Newhall-Placerita Canyon property. 

Crawford said Shadowbox, which owns the lot through an LLC, was working on “environmental clearances and agency work” that would be necessary “for any construction there on the property” based on his last conversations with them. 

“As far as the timing of everything, I don’t know — we were hoping that they would be already starting to make progress,” he said, referring any questions on the specifics of the project to Shadowbox.  

Integral Communities declined to comment through a spokesman. 

An industry insider aware of the project and of it being on hold, speaking on background, said there are many factors somebody would have to consider in trying to construct purpose-built studio facilities of that magnitude right now.  

After a monthslong labor action from the writer and actor guilds, the 2023 numbers from FilmLA, the partner film office for the city, L.A. County and other local jurisdictions, indicate filming was down more than 30% last year. The year-over-year comparison for the first quarter of 2023 to the same time in 2024 shows a further 8% dip. 

Some of the numbers are linked to rumors of another potential shutdown on the horizon, with ongoing labor negotiations for a lot of the “below-the-line” crew members responsible for making productions happen. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or IATSE, reported it would authorize a strike if a deal was not reached by the end of next month, creating an uncertainty that can put big projects on pause. 

“Since the first week of January people have called FilmLA to say, ‘I am still looking for work. The phone isn’t ringing. Is the industry back?’” FilmLA President Paul Audley said in an April 18 news release about filming numbers. “Unfortunately, production is still slow, and things are not as they were.” 

While the city doesn’t track specific soundstage vacancies as they are private facilities, Evan Thomason, who runs the city’s Film Office, acknowledged local and regional filming numbers were low right now 

“There’s a general lull in filming right now, and part of that is coming out of the labor shortage,” he said, also mentioning the potential for the set-builders’ strike. Thomason also said there’s optimism that those numbers will start to return in July if the labor issues are resolved by then. 

Rising interest rates also have been cited as factors that could have made the timing for financing such a massive project difficult. 

During recent budget-planning talks, city officials have mentioned more than once how the rise of The Fed’s interest rate — from about 0.08% in 2021 to about 5.3% in 2024 — continues to have an impact on the economic forecast.   

Another challenge: States have been more competitive than California in what they offer to incentivize filming, according to one insider. 

The industry insider was confident filming in Santa Clarita would return and continue to grow, but he also said how competitive some of what the so-called “rebate states” are doing, and the current state of filming, would all be something to consider in launching such a massive plan right now.  

“I think that it could be the current negotiations, it could be that rebate states are being more competitive,” the insider said. “Construction costs are expensive right now — if you’re going to do a purpose-built studio right now, and you’re building from the ground up, you’d have to take all those factors in.” 

Despite the uncertainty that took place in the industry last year, there were several expansion plans discussed by local industry forces, including several soundstage developments and a setting company that signed a lease on hundreds of thousands of square feet.  

The Scenic Companies signed a multiyear lease in January on nearly 300,000 square feet of space at the Saugus Station Industrial Center, which is ironically right next to where Shadowbox was planning to go. The company specializes in set storage. 

Triscenic Production Services also was touting its growth around the same time. LA North Studios, which operates about a half-million square feet locally, recently confirmed it has plans to grow as well. 

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