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Setting the (Sound)stages

By Mark R. Smith

Philadelphia Soundstages, EUE, Second Line Stages, and RED Studios.
[Left to Right]
Philadelphia Soundstages, EUE, Second Line Stages, and RED Studios.

Soundstages. Some states have one; some have more. But some states don’t have any, so producers who want to work in those locales may find a properly sized and located warehouse or another structure to fit the bill.

Those built-to-standard (or renovated) stages vary in size and appeal, too. Some house one or more stages within; others offer multiple options for the company’s creative pleasure, as well as various services and other enticements to help attract production to a given area.

Herein, four soundstages from various parts of the country are profiled, each with its own particular offerings; two are fairly new, one is a blast from a fairly recent past; and this first profile updates the tale of another facility that’s steeped in the traditions of old-time Hollywood, but with a new-ish technological twist.

Seeing RED Means Green

RED Studios stage set up for reshoots for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
RED Studios stage set up for reshoots for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

A producer who wants to wed cinematic history with the future needs to look no further than RED Studios Hollywood. While RED Digital Cinema purchased the facility in January 2010, it was founded in 1915 and, until 1927, was part of Metro Studios – which resulted in the merging of the talents of Messrs. Goldwyn and Mayer, and the rise of MGM Studios.

The current RED space was a backlot used for many silent picture shoots; previously, it was known as Ren-Mar Studios (1984-2010), TV Center Studios and the famed Desilu Studios for the prior 20 years (1954-74; check www.redstudio.com for the timeline).

Front gate of RED Studios, with some RED camera users.
Front gate of RED Studios, with some RED camera users.

Fast forwarding to today, Irvine, Calif.-based RED bought the studio “because we wanted a Hollywood location, to work with local directors and DPs, for better access to and for the people who inspire us, our RED users,” said Carol Cassella, the studio director/“den mother.”

There are five soundstages on-site. “When it was built out in 1946, there were nine stages,” said Cassella, “but when I started working for Ren-Mar, we took down some walls.” Today, RED offers “one really large stage” of 25,000 square feet, “one of the largest in Hollywood;” two, 18,000-square-footers, an 11,000-square-footer and a 5,000-square-foot insert stage with a hard cyc round out the lot.

Not surprisingly, “We’ve [hosted] all kinds of projects over the years” from music videos and spots to TV shows and major motion pictures, Cassella said. Of recent note were extensive reshoots for Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a significant portion of The Artist (which won the Oscar this year for Best Picture) and, most recently, Hitchcock, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren.

Also on the hit list were music videos by Madonna (“Girls Gone Wild”), Lady Gaga (“Bad Romance”) and Rihanna (“California King Bed”); plus big ad campaigns via agencies for such clients as Nike, Toyota and Target.

As for services, Cassella said, “A big box with lots of power and A/C is a big box, meaning anything can shoot in it, and we offer packages for productions that shoot with the RED camera (of course), notably for the RED package, which includes stages, offices, et cetera., at a special rate.”
That “etc.” also includes accoutrements such as dressing rooms, wardrobe space, mill space, editing, lighting and grip rentals. “This is a studio that has been a home for major innovators in the industry,” she said, “and now, we’re undergoing a major interior and exterior renovation with fiber throughout the lot and state-of-the-art IT and telecomm services. As a company, RED is constantly innovating ahead of the curve.”

Ready, Running, Renting

A Christmas movie currently is in production in Studio A at Philadelphia Soundstages.

CEO Thomas Ashley says that business has “picked up significantly” at Philadelphia Soundstages, for good reason – three years of construction are finally complete.

Ashley said recent gigs that have lensed under roof include Virgin Produced’s Limitless, which starred Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish and Robert DeNiro; and a (picked up) pilot for NBC, Do No Harm. He added that Philadelphia Soundstages has come a long way since its 2009 opening, when space in Studio A, its 5,000-square-foot stage with a 22-foot grid and a cyc wall, was its main offering.

Rapper Beanie Siegel used Philadelphia Soundstages for a recent music video shoot.
Rapper Beanie Siegel used Philadelphia Soundstages for a recent music video shoot.

Ashley said the studio has greatly expanded in the amount of space, as well as the number of amenties, it can offer the production community. “Basically, everything was overhauled,” he said, with the notable addition being a second stage, the 4,000-square-foot Studio B, a black box with a 22-foot grid.

And after the gutting, everything was brand new: lobbies, kitchen, green rooms and “The Neighborhood,” a colorful area of production offices that loom on the second floor that offer high-speed internet and electric. Other amenities include a boost from 1,000 to 3,800 amps and the addition of a 50-ton AC unit.

But that’s not all. Clients also can find discounted in-house equipment rentals, including the RED Scarlet-X package, and a full complement of lights, grip equipment and a van.

Soundstages. Some states have one; some have more. But some states don't have any, so producers who want to work in those locales may find a properly sized and located warehouse or another structure to fit the bill.
Philadelphia Soundstages’ Dining Area is perfect for any size production’s craft service and meals.

As for Studio B, it has been the site of talking head-type productions and, most recently, a large Viking ship as part of a music video shoot for what Ashley could only identify as “an emerging artist.” In Studio A, the house is hosting the indie film Christmas Dreams, a modern-day take on “The Nutcracker,” that will employ various green screen effects.

Other recent productions include The Silver Linings Play Book, again starring Cooper and DeNiro, this time with Jennifer Lawrence; various programs for Animal Planet, such as Pets 101; and spots (via agencies) for such companies as Slack’s Hoagie Shack, Peco Energy and Sears.
While Pennsylvania has seen considerable recent action in the film incentive arena, that economic infusion was seen as an accent to the proceedings at Philadelphia Soundstages – a one-time mail sorting warehouse, among other things – rather than a necessity. “We were going to build it regardless of whether the film incentives went through,” said Ashley, “since we’re the only soundstage of this kind within the city’s borders.”

Big Business in the Big Easy

Exterior view of Second Line Stages in New Orleans, which is a 60,000-square-foot facility.
Exterior view of Second Line Stages in New Orleans, which is a 60,000-square-foot facility.

The liberal film incentive program in Louisiana has resulted in numerous major Hollywood productions setting up in the state – which also has resulted in the opening of numerous ancillary businesses that feed off of that huge success, like Second Line Stages, which is nestled within the city’s Lower Garden District.

Second Line opened well into the state’s run as a production superpower in November 2009, first hosting The Mechanic (CBS Films), then Green Lantern (Warner Bros.), the production of which encompassed the entire 60,000-square-foot facility and took just two months to film.

Stage 2 entrance at Second Line Stages  in New Orleans.
Stage 2 entrance at Second Line Stages in New Orleans.

“We’ve housed everything from $6-million indies to $150-million Hollywood blockbusters, and business has been steady since we opened,” said owner Susan Brennan, adding that two recent projects have “taken all of the stages and the almost the entire facility,” including the recently wrapped Quentin Tarantino thriller Django Unchained, from The Weinstein Co., which hits theaters Dec. 25.

Under roof as of late summer was Lee Daniels’ The Butler, starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, which took the second of Second Line’s three stages after Django exited Stage 1.

Second Line also is home to tenants Storyville Post and Hollywood Trucks, and the stage also partners with TM Picture Equipment Rentals Lighting & Grip. There also are two casting directors on site and executives from a financial capital concern. How’s that for one-stop shopping?
As for The Butler, Brennan said reps from Second Line are negotiating with backers from three Hollywood projects, “so that when that film wraps in early October one will take down our space the rest of the year.”

That’s quite a success story about a building that “was built with many tax credits. We took an historic building that was literally falling down,” she said, “and renovated it to include the stages, the largest of which is 18,000 square feet with a 45-foot grid; two large warehouses that can be used for construction and many smaller spaces” for green rooms, a screening room and the usual amenities.

If it sounds like Second Line Studios is bursting at the seams, it is. “I’m eyeing certain neighborhood properties and others around town in hopes of expanding,” Brennan said, though nothing is pending yet.

And, of course, this bustling business is equating to jobs, jobs and jobs. “The head of IATSE [International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees] Local 478 said he had about 60 members in 2001,” she said. “Now, he’s nearly at 1,200; the camera union has doubled in size as well. The workers just segue from show to show to show.”

“And remember,” Brennan said, “plenty of content is shot without a soundstage, too.”

The ‘Wilmywood’ Reporter

The audio studio at EUE Screen Gems'  Wilmington, N.C., soundstages.
The audio studio at EUE Screen Gems’ Wilmington, N.C., soundstages.

“Wilmywood.” That’s what the locals call the charming East Carolina seaside town of Wilmington, N.C., which had an attractive profile in the U.S. film industry long before most domestic locales did.

That’s because, in 1984, a Hollywood producer put down stakes on the other side of the country. That would be Dino De Laurentiis, who founded the studio in 1984 as De Laurentiis Entertainment Group; by 1990, it had become Carolco Studios. Then in 1996, it was purchased by EUE Screen Gems, which has been operating the studio since – and has invested heavily in the facility.

While business has fluctuated over the years, a recent boost in North Carolina’s film incentives are behind Paramount’s lensing Iron Man 3, starring Robert Downey, Jr., and Gwyneth Paltrow, at EUE and around the state; We’re the Millers, with Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis, also is under roof.

The facility also is providing off-lot services for films such as Safe Haven, which is shooting in Southport, N.C.; and small-screen endeavors such as Revolution, which is being lensed around Wilmington; Homeland, which is in production in Charlotte; and the sixth season of Army Wives for Lifetime, which is shooting in Charleston, S.C.

There are a host of services at EUE (an acronym for long-ago commercial directors Elliot Unger Elliot, which is now run by the Cooney family), “where the offerings are spacious and plentiful,” said EUE Executive VP Bill Vassar. It’s the site of a whopping 10 soundstages on its 50-acre lot, the largest a 37,000-square-footer with a 40-foot grid – the largest soundstage and special effects water tank east of Los Angeles – and the smallest checks in at 7,200 square feet.

And all of the stages, Vassar notes, “are column-free.” In other words, there are no rehabbed warehouses on campus. Current ownership built stages 9 and 10, with the rest remnants of previous ownership.

EUE’s most recent upgrades addressed internet capacity, with new connectivity around the lot via 36 strands of fiber. They’re connected to Time Warner Cable and AT&T networks that meet EUE’s switch. “That comes in handy when a production sends dailies back and forth,” Vassar said, “and we can get dedicated service for a client on short notice. That’s critical these days and part of our state-of-the-art approach.”

Infrastructure is crucial, but what’s the best thing of all at EUE? “Whenever the time comes,” he said, “we have an additional 10 acres available for expansion.”

October 27, 2012