How Tin­sel­town has in­flu­enced the Cal­i­for­nian busi­ness land­scape

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CONTENTS -

As the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try evolves, Tin­sel­town is in a state of trans­for­ma­tion. We look be­hind the scenes of the USA’s creative pow­er­house

The prop house at Warner Bros Stu­dios has four floors, each the size of an Amer­i­can foot­ball field. It’s said to be the largest prop house in the world... though there’s one un­der con­struc­tion in China, by Wanda Stu­dios, that may soon sur­pass it. From Tif­fany lamps and pres­i­den­tial desks to oil paint­ings and tele­phones from ev­ery era, there are al­most half a mil­lion items avail­able for rental. It’s like walk­ing through an an­tiques shop on an in­dus­trial scale, with all man­ner of cu­riosi­ties to catch the eye along the way. Here’s a gold lad­der signed by Lady Gaga, an Iron Throne from Game of Thrones, a cob­webbed skele­ton from Pi­rates of the Caribbean, the pi­ano from Casablanca. Out­side, huge trucks are loaded up with eclec­tic hauls of cargo to be de­liv­ered to the many sets and stu­dios lo­cated across the city of Los An­ge­les and be­yond.

Ac­cord­ing to Film LA (the of­fi­cial film of­fice for LA), Cal­i­for­nia spent US$30 bil­lion on film and TV pro­duc­tion in 2016, with the av­er­age movie bud­get be­ing just over US$75 mil­lion. Along with Para­mount, Uni­ver­sal, 20th Cen­tury Fox, Dis­ney and MGM, Warner Bros has been at the heart of film­mak­ing in Hol­ly­wood for decades. To­day it has 35 cav­ernous sound stages and 14 ex­te­rior sets, in­clud­ing a New York street com­plete with fake sub­way en­trances, shops, a ho­tel, theatre, diner and res­i­den­tial façades ready for dress­ing. “If you have the dime, we have the time,” says my guide, ex­plain­ing that movies and shows don’t have to be Warner Bros pro­duc­tions to shoot here. Long-stand­ing TV shows that have been filmed in this lo­ca­tion in­clude Ellen and The Big Bang The­ory.


Em­ploy­ing more than 141,000 peo­ple, en­ter­tain­ment is the most im­por­tant pil­lar of LA’s “creative econ­omy”. Last year it gen­er­ated US$190 bil­lion and em­ployed one in eight peo­ple. Con­se­quently, Los An­ge­les has been dubbed the most creative city in the US. But, dis­rup­tion is afoot. The in­dus­try is chang­ing, with on­line stream­ing shak­ing up Hol­ly­wood in a way it’s never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. Even so­cial me­dia com­pa­nies such as Face­book, with a new cam­pus in LA’s Playa Vista, are in­vest­ing heav­ily in be­spoke video con­tent (Face­book’s Watch video-on­de­mand plat­form launched in the US in sum­mer 2017).

In 2017, Net­flix spent US$6 bil­lion on orig­i­nal pro­gram­ming, and is re­port­edly plan­ning

to plough an­other US$7-8 bil­lion into dra­mas and doc­u­men­taries in 2018. You only have to drive down Sun­set Boule­vard to see the lit­eral rise of ex­tended for­mat pro­gram­ming, with huge bill­boards ad­ver­tis­ing The Crown (Net­flix), Big Lit­tle Lies (HBO), The Prob­lem with Apu (TruTV) and The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (Ama­zon).

“There aren’t enough sound stages in LA to cope with de­mand,” says Chris Rico, direc­tor of in­no­va­tion at the Los An­ge­les County Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion. Com­pet­ing with Hol­ly­wood’s tra­di­tional stu­dios, Net­flix has now signed a ten-year lease for 52,000 sqm of space from Hol­ly­wood’s Sun­set Bron­son Stu­dios (the orig­i­nal Warner Bros lo­ca­tion and where 1927’s

The Jazz Singer was filmed), in­clud­ing sound stages, pro­duc­tion stu­dios and a shiny new 14-floor Genslerde­signed of­fice. Amy Dee, Net­flix’s direc­tor of global real es­tate, work­place and pro­cure­ment told the Los An­ge­les

Times: “We wanted to be where Hol­ly­wood came to life. Even though we’re a cut­ting-edge tech com­pany, we take very se­ri­ously the his­tory of the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try and its roots in Hol­ly­wood.”

Mean­while, Ama­zon is mov­ing from Santa Mon­ica to Cul­ver Stu­dios (near Sony Pic­tures in Cul­ver City) where films such as Cit­i­zen Kane were once made. Ap­ple, too, is keen to mus­cle its way into Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tion and is ap­par­ently on the look­out for a per­ma­nent stu­dio base to cre­ate orig­i­nal con­tent (it plans to spend US$4.2 bil­lion on pro­gram­ming by 2022). Over the next year, Google’s You Tube is fund­ing more than 40 movies and shows for its site, which is a state-of-the-art pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity in Playa Vista. It oc­cu­pies a for­mer air­craft hangar once used by leg­endary film direc­tor and avi­a­tor Howard Hughes, but now re­fur­bished with gi­ant green screens. Buz­zfeed Mo­tion Pic­tures has been en­trenched in Hol­ly­wood’s Siren Stu­dios for the last cou­ple of years as it looks for somewhere big­ger, while, con­versely, famed direc­tor James Cameron is rent­ing stu­dio space 25 miles away in Man­hat­tan Beach, where he is film­ing his Avatar se­quels.


There have been all man­ner of bank­rupt­cies, merg­ers and takeovers in Tin­sel­town, and new deals are be­ing forged all the time. The most head­line-grab­bing deal in re­cent times was the an­nounce­ment in De­cem­ber 2017 of a planned US$52.4 bil­lion sale of the ma­jor­ity of Ru­pert Mur­doch’s 21st Cen­tury Fox em­pire (in­clud­ing the movie and TV stu­dio) to the Dis­ney Com­pany. If it hap­pens, by 2019 Dis­ney will have added two new stream­ing plat­forms – one for sports and one for en­ter­tain­ment. Dis­ney will also be gain­ing con­trol of homegrown LA stream­ing (VOD) com­pany Hulu (Fox, Com­cast and Time Warner also have stakes in it), which spent an es­ti­mated US$2.5 bil­lion on orig­i­nal con­tent last year.

A re­port from the Otis Col­lege of Art and De­sign pre­dicts that, over the next four years, em­ploy­ment in LA’s creative econ­omy will grow by more than 5 per cent across sec­tors in­clud­ing en­ter­tain­ment, fash­ion, print­ing and pub­lish­ing, ar­chi­tec­ture, in­te­rior de­sign and dig­i­tal me­dia. It’s easy to be­lieve when peo­ple speak of the flood of New York­ers, for ex­am­ple, mov­ing here for more op­por­tu­ni­ties, cheaper rents and sun­nier climes.

Rico says: “I find that if you asked New York­ers ten years ago if they’d ever live in Los An­ge­les, they would have said ‘No way, New York is the place to be, I would never live in LA, it’s too big, there’s too much traf­fic’. But rel­a­tive to Man­hat­tan it’s a bar­gain. Whereas they’ll have been liv­ing in a 300 sq ft [28 sqm] apart­ment there, for a com­pa­ra­ble amount of money, here they can have 1,000 sq ft [93 sqm]. I think for artis­tic peo­ple, be­ing in a place that’s con­ducive to be­ing in a good mood can be ben­e­fi­cial for their work. Af­ter get­ting used to a fre­netic pace of life, they come to LA and it’s as if they have ex­cess band­width. It’s in­fused new en­ergy into the city.”


Many peo­ple have dis­missed Los An­ge­les as a va­pid place to live, but its grow­ing sta­tus as a cul­tural cap­i­tal is gain­ing re­spect. It’s much de­served, when you con­sider it has some of the best mu­se­ums and gal­leries in the coun­try, in­clud­ing the Getty, The Broad and LACMA, which will be ex­panded by 2023 thanks to a US$600 mil­lion in­vest­ment that will see its cam­pus ex­tended over Wil­shire Boule­vard with the ad­di­tion of the LACMA Build­ing for the Per­ma­nent Col­lec­tion. (The new nearby Wil­shire/ Fairfax sub­way sta­tion will open at around the same time.) Run­ning from Septem­ber 2017 to Jan­uary 2018, “Pa­cific Stan­dard Time LA/LA” was an am­bi­tious four­month ex­hi­bi­tion of Latin Amer­i­can and Latino cul­ture with works by 1,100 artists from 45 coun­tries dis­played across more than 70 venues in LA and the wider state. It’s en­deav­ours like these that are in­spir­ing an in­flux of tal­ent.

With a grow­ing com­mu­nity of cre­atives comes in­no­va­tion, which means LA is also lead­ing the way when it comes to ev­ery­thing from health food trends to the ex­pe­ri­ence econ­omy (Airbnb Ex­pe­ri­ences lists dozens of ac­tiv­i­ties you can book with a lo­cal, such as vinyl record shop­ping with a Grammy award-win­ning artist).

There are lots of trendy hotspots such as Ab­bot Kin­ney, Echo Park, Sil­ver Lake and Los Feliz emerg­ing across LA these days, but one area that has seen sig­nif­i­cant change in terms of the creative econ­omy is Down­town. It’s im­pos­si­ble to miss, be­ing the only clus­ter of high-rise build­ings in an oth­er­wise low-rise city. Es­sen­tially the cen­tral busi­ness district, its make-up has been chang­ing. It’s be­come more res­i­den­tial and, over the past five years or so, the old ware­houses and lofts have been taken over by artists. Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion has swiftly fol­lowed and, now, be­yond the apoc­a­lyp­tic bor­der of Skid Row, where

des­per­ate drug ad­dicts and home­less peo­ple live in tents on the pave­ment (out­ra­geous to see in a state as wealthy as Cal­i­for­nia), you’ll find the fully fledged Arts District and some of the most ex­pen­sive real es­tate in LA.

The Arts District has the fa­mil­iar feel of New York’s Brook­lyn or Lon­don’s Shored­itch with mu­rals on the sides of build­ings, hip­ster bou­tiques, neon sign work­shops, cold-brew cof­fee­houses, ice cream par­lours, brew­eries, dis­til­leries, con­cept stores, co-work­ing spa­ces and gal­leries such as Hauser & Wirth, which also has a chic bistro called Manuela next door and a mini ur­ban farm with chick­ens. As artists are evicted or forced to move on be­cause of in­flated rents, cor­po­rates are tak­ing the op­por­tu­nity to reap the ben­e­fits of this new walk­a­ble neigh­bour­hood. The Hyper­loop World Head­quar­ters has moved to the Arts District; there’s the Los An­ge­les Clean­tech In­cu­ba­tor; and Warner Mu­sic will be re­lo­cat­ing from its head­quar­ters in Bur­bank. De­signer Phillip Lim and Dover Street Mar­ket will be open­ing stores later this year.

Chris Rico says: “I left LA for San Fran­cisco be­tween 2010 to 2014 be­cause I got tired of the fact that the only thing any­body ever talked about was ‘The Busi­ness’. It was al­ways what sucked the oxy­gen out of the room – even in the LA Times, the whole busi­ness sec­tion was about Hol­ly­wood.

“So I went to San Fran­cisco seek­ing a place where there was a di­ver­sity of thought and ideas, and in the time I was there, LA and San Fran­cisco switched places. With the ar­rival of Dot­com 2.0, San Fran­cisco be­came a onecon­ver­sa­tion town – all any­one talks about is what app they are build­ing. LA, mean­while, has this com­ple­ment of new tech­nol­ogy, aero­space, au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles, fash­ion, dig­i­tal me­dia and art. Movies are not the only thing that peo­ple talk about now.”

He con­tin­ues: “If you think about Char­lie Chap­lin, Howard Hughes and Walt Dis­ney, peo­ple like that were what de­fined Los An­ge­les as this place for dream­ers. To­day, you have new dream­ers such as Elon Musk and Evan Spiegel, who cre­ated Snapchat and de­cided to keep it in LA be­cause of the creative econ­omy and how in­te­gral that was to its of­fer­ing, even though many of its ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists were try­ing to get him to move to Sil­i­con Val­ley.

“I think what is hap­pen­ing in LA right now is you are seeing that con­ver­gence, where you have all of these artists and new tech­nol­ogy. When you get into de­sign­ing rock­ets and imag­in­ing fu­ture modes of trans­porta­tion, for ex­am­ple, it’s very creative.”

By the time of LA’s Olympic Games in 2028, Rico pre­dicts the city will look very dif­fer­ent. There will be a new light rail and metro sys­tem (pub­lic trans­port is se­verely lack­ing right now). Mean­while, Musk’s Bor­ing Com­pany has al­ready started dig­ging tun­nels be­neath the city for a new kind of trans­port sys­tem in which cars are shut­tled be­neath the roads on drive-on, drive-off “skates”. There will prob­a­bly be self­driv­ing cars too, so in­stead of get­ting an­gry at be­ing stuck in traf­fic, you can sit back and en­joy watch­ing Avatar 4.

ABOVE: Sun­set Boule­vard LEFT: LA street art

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: The Paul Smith store on Melrose Av­enue; LA’s iconic palms; the sub­way

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