By FRANK SWERTLOW
Standing inside a cavernous sound stage at Ray-Art Studios, it’s not hard to imagine being in a big-city Roman Catholic cathedral. The reverie is quickly broken, however, when the director yells, “Action!” and the cast members of ABC’s controversial “Nothing Sacred” TV show take up their respective roles.
Such scenes are commonplace in Hollywood, Burbank and Culver City, but this is a former aerospace warehouse in Woodland Hills, a neighborhood known more for health care companies and insurance firms than production houses.
Veteran producers James Hirsch and Robert Papazian, who run Papazian/Hirsch Entertainment, hope to change that. Last summer, they bought a converted warehouse on 11.5 acres in the Warner Center area of Woodland Hills.
Selling the property was investor Robert Selan, who had purchased the building from a cosmetics company that had been using it as a warehouse.
Selan then converted the 189,000-square-foot facility which was originally built in 1964 by Lockheed Corp. by building four sound stages in its interior, each with more than 23,000 square feet of space.
Selan cut a two-year deal with Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.’s TV division to use the entire studio. Two Fox series, “Nothing Sacred,” which is produced for ABC, and “413 Hope Street” for the Fox network, have occupied all four stages.
Last summer, Selan decided he was more comfortable in real estate and sold the property to Papazian/Hirsch.
Hirsch declined to divulge the purchase price or whether the facility is turning a profit.
“We are doing OK,” said Hirsch, “considering we have only been open six months.”
Fox canceled “413 Hope Street” in December, leaving “Nothing Sacred” as the studio’s sole tenant. Although “Hope Street” has been dropped, Fox is expected to put another show into production at the facility, said Hirsch.
In the meantime, Papazian/Hirsh is planning to develop at least two and as many as four more sound stages on the Woodland Hills site, as well as a replica of a New York City street.
“There has been a move to convert large warehouses and make them into sound stages. It’s a good use of industrial space and people are making pretty good money,” said Cody Cluff, president of the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., an L.A. city-county agency devoted to promoting entertainment production and issuing film permits.
The two producers had worked independently for many years, “and we knew there is a lot of production out there cable, syndication, network television, CD-ROMs, music videos and there is a need for more and more space,” said Hirsch, who is currently in San Francisco producing the CBS show “Nash Bridges.” “We thought this would be an interesting business.”
Papazian and Hirsh, who have produced more than 100 made-for-TV movies and series, are known for their cost consciousness. To run Ray-Art, they brought in Harry T. Smith, a former senior vice president of studio operations for Universal Studios Inc.
Historically, movie and TV studios have been located in Hollywood, Burbank and the Westside. But demand for these facilities has far exceeded supply in recent years, prompting developers to undertake studio projects in various parts of L.A. County. Studio developments are being pursued in Manhattan Beach, downtown Los Angeles, Northridge and elsewhere.
One of the easiest ways to create a studio is to convert an existing warehouse. Interior scenes for “Baywatch,” for example, are filmed in a converted warehouse in Playa del Rey.
Ray-Art’s soaring 30-foot-high ceiling is one attraction. It’s 10 feet higher than most warehouse studios, Smith said, enabling “Nothing Sacred” to build a large church within its walls. Ray-Art also has a commissary and a water tank on the property, where underwater scenes can be shot.
The warehouse/studio has nearly 90,000 square feet of office space, complete with editing bays for post-production work.
“Woodland Hills is in a fast-developing area of the West Valley,” Smith said. “There are hotels in the area, shopping, restaurants. It’s a very viable location and many people live in the Valley and it is an easy commute for them. We are not out in the boondocks.”
Pricewise, each of Ray-Art’s four stages rent for $3,000 to $3,200 for a full day of production; rates are half that amount for pre-production days. The top rate at a major studio for a full production day is about $4,000, Smith said.
Herb Andelman, unit manager for “Nothing Sacred” and the one responsible for staying within budget, said Ray-Art is extremely cost-effective.
“If I walked into this space for the first time I would shout that this is a godsend,” he said. “I don’t have to set up air conditioning, I don’t have to set up telephones. They have electricity so I don’t have to run generators all day. You don’t have to worry about airplane traffic overhead. I would say this is as good as it gets, short of being in a studio sound stage.”