There’s a storied history behind the studio lot at the corner of Formosa Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.
Built in 1919 by silent-movie maker Jesse Hampton, the lot went through later incarnations as the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio, United Artists Studio, Samuel Goldwyn Studio, and the Warner Hollywood Studio.
Now it’s simply the Lot, a recently redeveloped CIM Group property that includes two office towers – one under construction slated to open in mid-2017 and one leased by digital comedy producer Funny or Die Inc. and Oprah Winfrey Network – as well as rentable soundstages and production spaces.
It represents the new face – and footprint – of the Hollywood studio as a production explosion fueled by new entertainment platforms and content suppliers eats up valuable real estate. Both traditional studios and digital content producers are hungry for soundstage space, but not of the same size and scale as in years past, brokers say.
“When land was cheap here in L.A., studio heads built these giant infrastructures that were really factories to produce movies and television in-house,” said Bill Humphrey, general manager of Hollywood’s Sunset Gower and Sunset Bronson Studios for Hudson Pacific Properties. “The new model with the new streaming companies is more focused on distribution and global brand identity.”
Sunset Bronson houses another fresh face among the new content creators. Netflix Inc. last year signed a lease for the Icon office tower there, along with a 10-year lease for the studio’s soundstages and production facilities. Humphrey described the Icon building as a vertical campus of creative office space.
He said the globalization of the entertainment product will lead to more and more L.A. office space being gobbled up for business and marketing needs. But he acknowledged that office space, no matter how “creative,” cannot meet the demands of such powerhouse companies as Netflix, Amazon.com Inc., and Hulu as they move into production that might require both soundstage and location shooting.
Humphrey estimated the number of soundstages in the L.A. area at 140.
For some area companies producing digital content for small screens – including Playa del Rey’s Fullscreen Media and Culver City’s Maker Studios – production might call for so-called insert stages, which can require less sophisticated sound and light technology.
“Smaller creative media companies may not be looking to studio lots as their first stop relative to their office needs,” said broker Greg Frankovich of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank. Such companies might prefer production space that can be transformed into office or meeting use when needed.
Insert stages don’t work for Netflix and other companies that are growing as high-end producers, however. For that reason, Netflix chose a location that allows it to lease soundstages on the property.
Humphries said Netflix was fortunate that Sunset Bronson, also home to KTLA-TV (Channel 5), includes soundstages that are the ideal size for TV production, between 12,000 and 15,000 square feet, rather than the cavernous movie soundstages that can still be found on major lots such as Universal Studios, where at 29,500 square feet its Sound Stage 12 is thought to be among the 10 largest in the world.
Big studios expand
The major studios are also making moves to adapt to new-media production.
Paramount Pictures plans to add about 1.4 million square feet of space to its Melrose Avenue headquarters in Hollywood. The expansion, announced in 2011, is expected to cost the studio $700 million and roll out in phases over a 25-year period. Artist renderings show the plan includes new soundstages. No start date has been set for construction.
Walt Disney Co. and Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal Inc. have revealed or begun long-range plans for major renovations and expansions of their studio lots in the last five years. In Disney’s case, expansion plans are taking place not at the iconic Burbank lot frequented by tourists but at the Grand Central Creative Campus in Glendale and its 890-acre Golden Oak Ranch, where it reportedly plans to add as many as 12 soundstages. NBCUniversal is removing 13 soundstages and building a soundstage complex.
Other majors are maximizing capabilities by renovating rather than expanding. Georgetown Co. is completing a $280 million redevelopment of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Culver City lot, including new offices and production facilities as well as improved public spaces.
Those renovations and the smaller stages popping up are likely the future of studio development in Los Angeles, Hudson Pacific’s Humphrey said.
He said it is more profitable for a developer to create three floors of offices than three-story unobstructed spaces required for a soundstage. L.A.’s limited supply of available soundstages will remain in high rental demand.
Still, Humphrey said the entertainment industry’s creative teams will not flee Los Angeles anytime soon because they like that studio feel.
“The talent, the actors, actresses, and agents, they’re all in L.A.,” he said. “When something is shot on stage, writers sit right next to the producers. It’s a rich, integrated process.”
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