LA STORY

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

Business Traveller (Middle East) - - Contents - WORDS JENNY SOUTHAN

Jenny Southan takes a look be­hind the scenes of the US cre­ative pow­er­house

T he 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, shop, ho­tel, theatre, diner and res­i­den­tial fa­cades 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. Long­stand­ing TV shows that have been filmed in this lo­ca­tion in­clude Ellen and The Big Bang The­ory.

ON­LINE STREAM­ING

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 Youtube 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.

BIL­LION DOL­LAR BA­BIES

There have been all man­ner of bankrupt­cies, merg­ers and takeovers in Tin­sel­town, and new deals are be­ing forged all the time. But 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 (video on de­mand) 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 (the fact box on page 28 gives de­tails). 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 will have been liv­ing in a 300 sq ft apart­ment there, for a com­pa­ra­ble amount of money, here they can have 1,000 sq ft. I think for peo­ple who are artis­tic, 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.”

The life­style is, of course, very dif­fer­ent. Dur­ing my time in Los An­ge­les I went to an af­ter­noon soirée at a beau­ti­ful low-rise house in West Hol­ly­wood. Out the back, peo­ple had gath­ered in the gar­den by the pool ( it was still warm enough for this in De­cem­ber) to lis­ten to a string quar­tet per­form ren­di­tions of Schu­bert and Gersh­win, an en­sem­ble crowd­funded by the guests through a plat­form called Group Muse. Once the per­for­mance was over, I over­heard two New York ex­pats get­ting heated about how spon­ta­neous (or not) you can be in LA. “In New York you could leave the house at six and walk to the theatre for a show,” said one. “That would de­pend where you live,” said the other. “In LA, I love be­ing able to jump in my car to visit a friend when­ever I like.”

The fact is, you do have to drive everywhere here, and there is no true cen­tre; rather, as some­one witty once said, “72 sub­urbs in search of a city”.

TIN­SEL­TOWN GETS CERE­BRAL

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 four-month 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 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). Los An­ge­les has been a health-con­scious city for decades, but it’s amaz­ing to see the num­ber of juice bars, or­ganic su­per­mar­kets, pro­tein shake stands and veg­e­tar­ian/ve­gan restau­rants.

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