The Santa Clarita Valley, much like most of California, has seen a production “renaissance” in the last 10 years, and there’s no mystery as to why.
“Definitely since the rise of the California Film Tax Rebate program, it’s been a virtual renaissance,” said Evan Thomason, economic development associate for the city of Santa Clarita. “We’re certainly not a secret in the production world and we’re becoming increasingly known for people — that Santa Clarita is becoming a very popular place to film.”
There’s a number of reasons for Santa Clarita’s continued growth in filming: The city has been a huge supporter, recognizing the industry’s role as an economic driver in a number of areas; local businesses and the community seem to embrace both the benefits of the attention and the investment; and of course, location, location, location — Santa Clarita’s studio owners and facility managers repeatedly hear how Santa Clarita’s location in the famous “Thirty-Mile Zone,” or TMZ, makes it a more affordable, convenient option.
Santa Clarita’s support
“We work hand in hand with the California Film Commission,” Thomason said, explaining the why and how of Santa Clarita’s film friendliness. “We all seek the value in attraction, we all have a common goal — we all speak a common language.”
The city’s office in City Hall has four dedicated staff who work with the industry to address needs and to make sure the production, be it large or small, doesn’t impact Santa Clarita residents’ quality of life.
“Our job is to balance the needs of our community, with the needs of a production,” Thomason said, “and make everybody successful in filming is what we do.”
Melody Ranch, which used to have a longtime partnership with the city of Santa Clarita that once saw the city’s famed Cowboy Festival hosted on the movie ranch that’s hosted hundreds of Westerns, heaped praise on the city for its leading role in film attraction.
“The city’s been, I think, the No.1 supporter of film and TV in our community,” said Daniel Veluzat, owner of Melody Ranch, whose family has a long history in film and in Santa Clarita. “I think they try to make it as comfortable and easy as they can for the productions to come in.”
But it’s more than just a climate that’s been created by the city, according to those working in the industry.
There’s also a community that understands and wants to encourage as much filming as possible.
Santa Clarita Studios, like many other facilities, was actually operational long before California saw production run away, and then start to return, playing a big role in the latter. Built in 1989 specifically for what it primarily does, accommodate, large-scale production for the world’s biggest studios.
The number of studios on the SCS lot has grown from six to 19 over the last almost 30 years of its operation, a perfect bellwether for the industry’s growth in the region.
Santa Clarita Studios started with a demand for an independent studio — it was the first one purpose-built for what it does in more than 50 years, according to SCS President Mike DeLorenzo. And since DeLorenzo took the helm, SCS has watched the number of producers grow from dozens to hundreds to even perhaps thousands.
“We try to make it a one-stop shop,” DeLorenzo said, “to offer the production companies — which, a lot of the studios can’t do and some of them can — we offer them everything they would need.”
However, the studio has been so successful at this, it’s operated at or near 100 percent capacity for years, leading the studio to refer production that it doesn’t have room for to other Santa Clarita Valley facilities that might have availability — a practice that likely would be unheard of in other industries.
“There are so many more clients now,” DeLorenzo said. “There’s a new provider almost monthly.”
One of the things that has been most noticeable for those in DeLorenzo’s line of work has been not only the uptick in production, but also in what was once known as “production season.”
“In the past, 10 years ago, there was a production season for television,” DeLorenzo said, noting it used to stretch from about July to January. “Today, with all of the internet-based and cable-based production entities — it’s now a 52-week business, so there’s not that down period, there’s not that pilot period.”
And California would like to keep it that way.
The key, unsurprisingly, has been making the price right for production.
The city has long recognized that, putting itself on the forefront by creating its own incentives to support what the state is doing to keep production in state — Santa Clarita was the first city in the 30-mile zone to create and approve a special zoning designation, the Movie Ranch Overlay Zone, that supports filming at local movie ranches.
“It was a lot more cost effective for productions being zoned as a studio they get a tax rebate for their productions,” said Daniel Veluzat, who owns one of the facilities in the overlay zone.
In just two years under Program 2.0, California has attracted or retained 100 film and television projects generating an estimated $3.7 billion in direct spending to the state — including $1.4 billion in below‐the‐line wages, according to the California Film Commission.
And those supporting film expect that to grow as
Enacted in January 2015, the five‐year program increased fiscal year funding from $100 million to $330 million annually through FY 2019‐20.
And while studio managers and production people will tell you about the importance of the budget for a shoot, with revenue a determinant by many for how successful a project is, there’s also a certain magic and history in the area, Southern California, Hollywood and Santa Clarita, that really can’t be duplicated no matter how many incentives exist.
“It really all depends,” Veluzat said, discussing Melody Ranch’s niche and how the past continues to play a role in the present.
One of the appeals for the Santa Clarita location for “Django Unchained,” Veluzat said, was a personal tie the director had to the property.
“Quentin Tarantino did Django here,” Veluzat said, “and he shared a story that he was named Quentin after the character in ‘Gunsmoke,’ and ‘Gunsmoke’ was filmed here,” he said. “So you’ll have some people who want to film here because some of the greats that have filmed before here before them.”