Suburbs of L.A. Gear Up for Post-Coronavirus Production Surge

Carole Horst

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In Santa Clarita, a suburb just north of L.A., construction is continuing at the Center at Needham Ranch, which has already seen entertainment companies move in.

“For the last week or so we’ve been getting calls and texts from production companies, from locations scouts and studios looking for space,” says CBRE executive VP Craig Peters, the Needham Ranch leasing agent, who thinks producers are looking to restart, but slowly, in June. He expects a big space crunch.

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Shows were on hiatus, but new series will also need stages, “and so you had a problem before this all started with having a virtually zero vacancy in the TMZ,” he says, referring to the 30-mile zone, the radius used by union film projects to determine per diem rates and driving distances for crew members.

The TMZ is important to the Santa Clarita Valley, which has seen its soundstage count increase from around 24 stages to 40-plus in the past couple of years.

“I think the entertainment industry has the best chance for a V-shaped recovery as we get production back and we have a lot of people begging for something new,” Peters says.

He also stresses the attraction of buildings that are move-in ready. “You have a lot of people looking around for space. The key for all of them” is to find buildings with a certificate of occupancy, which means a production shingle can move in right now.

“So projects like the Center at Needham Ranch have that. We have two buildings at the ready with offices so I suspect we’ll see some of that entertainment demand” take up residency in those buildings.

Dylan Lewis, who owns Blue Cloud Movie Ranch in Santa Clarita, says while his facilities were booked solid for a year before the lockdown, some calls have started to come in from producers.

But he’s taking the time now to do big maintenance projects, create new interiors and plan out bigger things.

“We are planning new stages,” Lewis says. “It’s nice being a big ranch” because when new safety protocols are put in place, he has the space to expand, there are multiple ways in and out of the ranch and Blue Cloud has hundreds and hundreds of acres.

“I am planning on new sets. I’ve owned the place for five years and we have expanded for five years,” he says. He’s building an “Anytown USA” set. “Now more than ever it makes sense for me to put up a few stages.”

Because of coronavirus safety concerns, “A lot of productions are being asked to stay in L.A. This will have an effect to repatriate productions to L.A.”
And as productions start to resume, the unions, producers, locations managers and other stakeholders are creating safe-
set protocols. Lewis mentions fewer people on-set, face masks and other guidelines to prevent the virus spread. “I may install touchless sinks,” he says.

Despite the lockdown, “Our staff stayed on and then figured out how to bring people in at a safe distance. We use masks, gloves and best-practices guidelines.”

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