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Downey Studios One Year On

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In operation since March 2004, Downey Studios, in the city of Downey near Los Angeles, has become a popular choice for independent companies looking to rent sound stages, as well as studio films needing vast space free from the interference of simultaneous productions. The largest independent studio facility in Los Angeles area, Downey includes two main buildings and a suburban-street backlot. Building 1 has 627,200 square feet of space, and a 65,000 square-foot water tank—the largest in North America. The second building, building 290, has over 120,00 square feet of space, and a 60’ x 30’ x 17’ pit. Both are outfitted with office space, catwalks, and 35-foot-high entrance doors. The lot includes an additional 15 acres of open space.Kevin Murphy, Downey’s VP of studio operations, points out that the location was first used for shooting in the late 1990s when the city of Downey owned it. “There were a lot of features that go all the way back to Space Cowboys. Industrial Realty Group purchased the property from the city two years ago.”Walking around inside the huge spaces, it’s easy to see how they were once as aircraft facilities. Built in 1929 as a private aviation facility, the site was used during World War II for the manufacture of bombers and training craft. Later it was the site of the NASA/Boeing operations, and home to many highpoints in the history of aviation and spaceflight, including the X-15 experimental aircraft, the Navaho Missile project, the Apollo Spacecraft Development program and the Space Shuttle.To transform the aircraft facility into an operative studio was a costly business. “One of the major things was to get the electric and gas infrastructure back in, and that’s a $2 million enterprise. Then there was the roof replacement—we have a million square feet of roof space.”Other aspects of the transformation from defunct factory to studio included the installation of office space, mill space, a telecommunications network, insulation and sound improvements. “Then we get into the tank, which was a co-venture with Dreamworks as well as Paramount and Industrial Realty Group. The catwalks were next, and a grid system, and then we worked our way outside to do the landscaping and the painting and the curb-appeal kind of stuff.”Currently underway is the construction by Random Entertainment West Coast of a huge movable grid system in Building 290, a feature favorable for the use of green screens, as well as other purposes. “We’re going to have a movable grid in there with curtain track, and then for commercial use it’s going to be like you walk in with your project and just plug and play.”Murphy points out that the sheer size of the facility is its main attraction, especially for production designers. Size is also important for set storage. “We have relationships with Beachwood Services, Sony, Disney and Paramount who have utilized our space for dead-set storage for their features and television shows,” says Murphy. “In the past they were taking them up north to other warehouses. Downey is more convenient traffic-wise.”Disney’s The Santa Clause 3 recently used the entire facility. “It was 100 percent done in Downey. That’s the whole nature of what we are here—being able to provide that large venue to shooters so they don’t use the option of going to Canada or Europe.”Also in production at Downey: Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, plus a whole slew of commercials.

Written by Henry Turner

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