At Warner Bros., they don't just make movies and television shows. They make automobile covers, awnings, intricately carved wooden moldings, or just about any other hand-made item you can dream up.
And they want your business.
Economic pressures in the mid-'90s have turned movie studios into craft shops. Many Hollywood studios have begun hiring out their props, costumes, facilities and set builders to the public in recent years in an effort to find supplemental sources of revenue.
"The industry is under immense pressure right now. Despite its obvious success, Hollywood is one of the last industries to restructure itself," said Art Rockwell, research director with Yaeger Capital Markets, which conducts research for institutional investors. "The pressure is on the physical studios to generate some profits, and this is obviously a way to make use of idle capacity."
Warner began doing work-for-hire out of its Warner Bros. Studios Facilities shop about two years ago, after senior managers realized that the studio owned an untapped resource.
"These unlimited assets weren't as active as they should have been," said Ronald Stein, the studio's senior vice president of production services.
Warner's construction shop, otherwise known as the Mill, draws the most outside business, according to Stein. Though Stein would not disclose how much money the construction shop brings in from non-industry business, he said about 50 percent of the work there has nothing to do with motion picture or television production. Instead, the skilled craftsmen who have the equipment and talent to create nearly any kind of setting a filmmaker can imagine spend their time building awnings for restaurants or fantasy environments for Las Vegas casinos.
Or even more mundane items.
"We make covers for anything from a boat to a motor home," said Bill Moore, manager of the Studios Facilities canvas shop. "Our biggest strengths are specialty items. I don't suppose we could make it as cheap as a car cover manufacturer, but something that isn't mass produced, we could do at a pretty good price."
Although Warner Bros. has a glossy catalog of friezes and moldings that are available for sale, prices aren't listed, and Stein would not reveal how much the studio charges for craft services.
Bo Henry, an art director for Tri Star Theme Builders, a Corona-based construction firm that specializes in casino construction, said the studio's prices are competitive with other craft shops. And it has a quicker turnaround time than most, he said.
"I've been using them for a lot of the casino work. They respond a lot better than these other (construction) firms," says Henry. "They understand that if I need something done by tomorrow, it's done by tomorrow ... they're used to working in that mode."
Henry used Warner's shop for work on the Monte Carlo casino in Las Vegas and the just-opened Sunset Station casino in Henderson, Nev. Warner Bros. charged about $400,000 to supply moldings, brackets, friezes and other interior work for the project.
"I find their prices are competitive, otherwise I wouldn't use them," Henry said.
The Mill employs anywhere from four to a dozen craftspeople at a given time. Lining the walls of the building at the studio lot are floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with hundreds of plaster models of intricately designed friezes, brackets and brick-faceted fiberglass sheets.
Although the shop has been selling its services to the public since 1995, it only recently began marketing itself, with ads taken out mainly in Hollywood trade publications.
Warner Bros., of course, isn't the only movie studio doing work for hire.
Paramount Pictures' famed studio lot also houses a construction shop, called the Staff Shop. According to Paramount staffers, the shop has the largest vacuum-molding machine a piece of equipment that makes molds in which plaster, plastic or other materials can be poured in the motion picture industry.
"We do work for restaurants (and) commercial businesses," said Mark Simpson, director of property services (better known as "props") at Paramount. "There's many full-service departments here. It's like a city within a city."
One of the biggest markets for studio-made items is Las Vegas. Perhaps it's no surprise that the flashiest city in the world would turn to the movie industry for assistance.
Take, for instance, a recent inquiry by a Las Vegas chain of wedding chapels. Representatives of the company paid a recent visit to Warner Bros.' costume department because they wanted to get ideas for their movie-themed marriage venues, also known as "theater wedding chapels."
Company representatives asked about everything from Scarlett O'Hara-style garments to Egyptian wedding attire, according to Pat Welch, the studio's costume department manager.
"I put a bid in for three weddings," Welch said. The studio will stitch the costumes in a one-size-fits-all fashion, by adding velcro snaps and elastics.
What Hollywood does best, however, is entertainment, so it is natural that the special events division at Warner Bros. is the production faciltities' crown jewel.
Special Events Manager Hillary Harris tells of a recent party to launch Mercedes Benz' M-Class automobile, involving an unusual degree of cooperation between two movie studios. More than 1,000 party-goers were brought into a sound stage at Warner Bros. designed in a "Lost World: Jurassic Park" motif even though that film was actually distributed by rival Universal Studios Inc.
"We recreated the whole feeling of the rain forest. Universal Studios brought over the prehistoric animals. It was really exciting," recounts Harris. "It ended with a big stunt where a Mercedes jumped over a river and stopped about 15 feet in front of a crowd of 1,000 people."
Then there was Johnson & Johnson's Western theme party last May. Top-level executives poured out of 20 buses into Warner's back lot, where they were greeted by can-can dancers. The party featured a Country Western band, a world-champion rope trick artist and Native American performers.
The evening's entertainment didn't end there.
"We found out who (Johnson & Johnson's) competitors were and scripted them in the stunt show as the bad guys. Of course, they all got shot and died," said Harris.
Though Harris would not disclose the cost for such parties, sources say large events could run upwards of half a million dollars.
Harris says her department caters mostly to large corporations from around the globe, but she has done a few weddings and even a bar mitzvah.
"What we try to do for corporate America is give them the magic of the movies," says Harris. "Everyone wants the glamour and glitz of Hollywood. We really have it here at Warner Bros."
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.
Stories You May Also Be Interested In
- Whimsic Alley, Warner Bros. Settle 'Potter' Lawsuit
- Warner Bros Shakes Up DC Comics Division
- INTERNET---Web Studio Stays Strong in Lean Times
- Universal Announces Harry Potter's Opening Date
- LA Studios
- Mitch Albom---Warner Bedevils Young Harry Potter Fans
- Warner Bros. Probes Online 'Potter' Leak