I have some important questions for you. Think carefully as you answer…
* Are you given budgets that don’t allow for ridiculous hidden fees and outrageous overtime charges from studios or any other location?
* Ever wonder why studios charge you for their employee sit there and “run” the studio when just about any other business that I know of includes their employee’s salary in on the cost of goods or services. Isn’t that like paying a parking lot attendant his hourly wage plus the fee for the parking space?
* Does it seem a bit convenient that the studio owner tells you due to insurance reasons you must rent all the gear from them? Who the hell made up this BS rule? Btw, it’s a lie.
* Do you not understand why any service-oriented business would charge you for Internet access that they already have? When did they become an ISP and don’t you need a license for that?
* Have you ever asked a studio owner, “How much do Xerox copies cost” as if they were a Kinkos?
* Ever wonder if the studio owner had to max out his or her credit card just to make the production?
* Why would there be a last-second emergency or rush fee to filmmakers? As if we can afford the time loss. Do they really want to charge us more in an emergency?
* Are you just plain tired of hearing what you cant do for the same price and how much more everything cost if you want your show to be better?
* Have you ever felt as if the studio owner was doing you a favor renting you his or her place even though you were paying full price?
* Does it seem like studios owners don’t give a crap about repeat business?
If you answered “YES” to any of these questions, then I have some relieving news for you…
The news is that you are NOT alone. In fact, that list of questions above was created from my very own experiences, having shot, directed, and produced almost 50 of my own shows, not to mention the many hundreds of productions I have worked on that are owned by friends/clients.
The funny thing is that I never even wanted to be in the studio business at all. Truth be told, if I could have found a studio that even pretended to care about how much money I made, I would have never taken on the massive responsibility of studio ownership.
I just like many of you were fortunate enough to get the green light on a few projects, and of course, the budgets were a joke, but I had to get my foot in the door somehow. It’s no secret that getting more productions under our belt helps us get more jobs. That’s the idea anyway. So if we aren’t going to make a decent amount of money for all the work put in at least, we should walk away with a quality show as a sort of business card or part of a demo reel. Right? Having a good demo reel would, without a doubt, lead to more projects. Right? It seemed that most vendors in the film making industry did not necessarily agree or care about that little detail. These vendors acted as if they were the only place or service in town, and I had no other choices. I think this type of entitled attitude really bothered me more than most because I grew up in the Washington DC area, helping my dad in his limousine business where customer service is everything.
Years ago, between Maryland, DC, and Virginia, there were over 400 limo services all competing for the same wedding, high school prom night out on the town, etc. We had to not only like customers; we had to love them. Anyway, Not even once did any of these studios ever ask how they could help make my production or my life any easier. Keep in mind that it got to the point where I had shot over 40 shows. We’re not talking a one time deal here. I’ve heard about every excuse to charge more money in the book from studio owners, and when I complained, I felt like I had to be on eggshells, or they would not let me come back to shoot another show.
Quick tip: At the beginning of the first day at any studio shoot, make sure to use a behind the scenes camera to video as much of the studio and its belongings as possible. Pay special attention to scratches on wooden floors rips or scuffs on furniture and if you let the studio owner see you making this sort of video, he or she may think twice about trying to stick you with paying for something that you or your crew did not break.
(Back to the story) Finally, after being blamed for breaking something that had already been broken then proving it on video, I straight out asked the owner if he had even heard of ‘customer service’ and how he expected to keep his studio doors open in an industry that lowers budgets on a monthly bases. I went on to tell him how ten years ago, I was making $100.00 an hour for editing, and now I pay my editor who is better than me $45.00 an hour. I guess my reason for telling him this was to somehow prove to him that the industry was getting harder and harder to make money in and that in the end, those who look out for customers will be the only ones standing. I don’t remember exactly the words I used, but that was something like that.
I bet you can guess what his response was to my lecture. “It seems to me; you got it all figured out, maybe you should open your own studio before it’s too late and you forget all that knowledge” Yeah I know, it was a good comeback. However, I still think I read something just like that on a bumper sticker or on the back of one of those T-shirts that you buy on the boardwalk. It was not really all that original. With his quick little comeback, he forgot another very powerful quote, the good old “Ask and you shall receive” quote. Little did he know just how much he would receive or where.
Because of how well movie distributors pay (whole other story), I had to light and shoot for other people just to make ends meet. Being that I am the luckiest guy on earth to have the best two parents in the world that taught me good manners (thanks mom) and the value of customer service. (thanks dad) I had no problems finding work. I already had a lot of lights and cool gear for my own shows. I had so much equipment I had to sleep on the floor of my one-bedroom condo in Hollywood Hills because there was literally no room for a bed. Thankfully I had vaulted ceilings that allowed me to erect 16-foot shelves from the front of the condo to the back with only pathways to the front door and bathroom. The kitchen was so packed with kino cases that I used them to eat breakfast off of. My Phantom hydraulic Dolly was also my computer chair.
I remember a producer friend of mine Michael Baumgarten asking me if the condo floor was made of wood or cement and truly worrying if the floor would cave in if it were wood. On top of that, I had two other filmmaker friends sharing floor space to sleep on—all in less than 1000 square feet. Needless to say, I was ready for a bigger space. Back to the point (Sorry) Understanding customer service and having a 1-ton, 3-ton, 5-ton truck and a condo packed full of gear, finding work was not so hard.
I ended up shooting all over the world and, of course, more times than I can count, here in Los Angeles. While working in LA, I often ended up shooting in a very odd 8,000 square foot 2nd-floor studio with about 15 standing sets and a very cool white cyc in Korea Town. The stage appeared to be a former adult studio based on all the couches that were there.
The leaseholder (Chris) was not there much because he was also a set photographer that stayed extremely busy. I even ended up working with him on a few shows. He told me he had the studio to shoot his own gigs in and store his photography equipment, but the studio was losing money every month. It turns out; the overhead is crazy in a commercial facility. He went on to tell me that he had an option for another two years that was coming up in about six months. He was considering letting it go after that six months because of the loss but thought it was ashamed because he was at the end of a 20-year lease, and the rent was dirt cheap for the next two and a half years.
Always quick to make a win-win deal, I asked if he would mind letting me take over the two-year option allowing him the right to shoot anytime the studio was not rented at no charge. That would also give me six months to move all my gear and redo all the sets at the same. To cut a very long story short, he ended up not being able to move after the six months, so I kind of inherited a partner. As much as I hate partners, I have no complaints about him at all; in fact, He was awesome, and I learned how to run a studio much faster because of him.
With good manners and customer service genuinely being the number one priority, I took on what was what to be a full-time job within itself. Btw, let me define true customer service because most of the studios that I had dealt with bragged about how excellent their customer service was also.
(Definition of true customer service according to my dad)
Customer service is the assurance of a client’s good experience, even at the business owner’s own expense. See, what my dad understands is what’s called the lifetime value of a client, and not just the profit made from one interaction; it’s what is ultimately profited, and sometimes that means no profit and maybe only a referral to another client. My dad never tried to ‘win them all.’ Sometimes, he lost money, but he never lost a client. Don’t get me wrong he has fired clients on several occasions. There are always bad apples in any crowd.
While I’m on the subject of bad apples, it turns out that one of the biggest lessons I learned running a stage is why these studio owners acted as they did, and it was not 100% their fault or our fault. It was those few bad apples that would break things in the studio and not tell the owner, along with stealing film equipment. You would not believe how often these same things happened just to me during those two and a half years, and I was super cool to the producers. I quickly realized was it was rarely the producers breaking things or stealing from the studio; it was usually the underpaid crew members that nothing to lose.
As a producer, I never understood that the ‘rude’ studio owners resented and wanted to punish innocent producers for what had been broken or stolen on past shoots. They thought by acting rude and obnoxious, they would minimize the future loss, and hitting us with surprise fees, make up for previous losses. Well, it may work in the short term, but it ends up killing the lifetime value of a client.
The scary realization that I came to was that if I did not do anything to change what was going on, I would end up just like the studio owners that I so wanted to get away from. I had to come up with a strategy that would reduce the possibility of damage and minimize the ease of theft. Of course, dreaming that we producers will stop hiring cheap low-end help is a waste of time. Hell, I even hire thugs and $50 -$100 a day labor on my own shoots, especially in other countries. As we all know, starting out, there is almost no room left in the budget for profit, let alone $500 – $750 a day grips and electrics. (Btw, I am not at all talking about key positions) With that said, there are exceptions where budgets do allow for more efficient crews where time is of the essence based on actor schedules, extremely dangerous stunts, or capturing once in a lifetime events. In these cases, it only makes sense to hire the very best at a healthy day rate.
(Back to the story)The only thing I could do is rearrange what I had control of, and that’s where timing came in. The studio had been very successful with unbelievably heavy bookings. Still, even with all those bookings, a standing set studio required the help of several builders, full-time cleaning crew, and a lot of my personal attention making sure everything came together for the clients, but when one of the builders could not make it, I had to build—the same thing with all the other positions like cleaning, repainting, etc..
To sum it up, it was a hell of a lot of work for very little return on the time investment. At the same time, I was being hired out as a DP, Gaffer, Camera operator, Jib Operator, and Steadicam operator 16- 20 hours a day. My lease had only two months left before it was time to renew it for another five years, but because I was finishing out a 20-year lease, the owner of the building conveniently thought it was worth three times more than what I was currently paying. As crazy luck would have it, the recession hit full swing right about the same time, and building owners started losing tenants left and right, so the cost per square foot plummeted to sometimes less than half. I was finding 10,000 – 20,000 square foot buildings everywhere for $.40 – $.50 per square foot with big-time parking. This was my chance to compete with the big boys.
After having two offers rejected and looking at more warehouses than I can remember, my realtor and I accidentally stumbled on the ultimate film making studio with its own mini back lot and double fenced parking.
Here is just a small list of what this place had to offer:
* 15,000 square feet (with almost 14,000 shootable)
* All open space (no columns to get in the way)
* 20 foot ceilings (great for those low angle shoots)
* 5 space loading dock (no need for lift gates)
* Parking for up to 100 cars (at no extra charge!)
* 4 stall bathrooms (No lines!)
* 2 huge rollup doors (to bring in cars trucks or large props)
* 400 amps of house power (not bad for free)
* Heavy-duty overhead I beams (for wirework & stunts)
* Almost 200 feet from one end to the other (for the long lens shooting)
* Smooth concrete floor (for when there is no time for track)
* T-1 internet access (great for uploading movie files)
* Amazing under bridge day or night exterior (with access to power)
* Amazing industrial/urban exterior (in the rear of the facility)
* Awesome shootable rooftop (with a downtown view)
* Spacious green room (great for separating talent from the set)
* Huge private shootable ally (easily fits three cars across with room in between.)
* Craft service Kitchen My favorite (part of a studio)
* Private Office (for the production team)
* Double fenced-in entrance (for extra security and control)
* Multi car capacity in the studio (big enough to get driving shots too!)
* Wardrobe/dressing room (great for privacy from the rest of the studio
* Modern sprinkler system (in case pyrotechnics get out of hand)
* Production size trash dumpster (fill it to the top for no extra charge)
* Within one mile of 4 major freeways (convenient for you, cast, and crew)
And I then added the following:
* Green Screen Cyc (Over 200 linear feet with a 6 ft radius on the cyc even the big boys only have a 5 ft radius on their cyc)
* Green Screen Treadmill (In case 200 ft is not enough, but that’s like three tractor-trailers)
* White Cyc (Over 200 linear feet also with the 6 ft radius on the cyc)
* Black Void (48 linear feet)
* Large assortment of flats with windows doors and bars (Just in case you need a jail)
* Hi-End Modern Furniture (To be used as you wish)
* All kinds of Props (Including hospital, Asian, Egyptian, & many prop guns)
* 20 ton of grip and lighting (Enough to handle most shoots up to 2 million)
* 150 linear feet of heavy-duty pallet rack (To store everything. Maximizing shoot space)
* A huge movie distro package (A must for powering those big lights that your DP loves)
* 43 foot Star Trailer (To be used anytime your production team or star needs privacy)
* Remote head jib by Jimmy Jib (and nothing says “production value” like jib shots)
* Phantom Hydraulic Crab Dolly (by Premier Studio Equipment)
* ProVid Steadicam with low mode
* 3 Final Cut Pro editing stations (In case you just cant wait to get home)
* 24 possessor Macintosh render farm.
* Movable speed rail lighting grid (Easily get that backlight anywhere your DP wants)
* 18-foot rolling scaffolding (To safely reach and light from grid or ceiling)
* Le Maitre Radiant haze generator
* Le Maitre low smoke generator
* An assortment of 650 watt – 12k watt dimmers, variaks, flicker boxes (For next level of light control)
* A couple of HVX-200s with the mini 35 adaptors
* A Ziss super speed F1.3 prime lens package 18-25-35-50-and-85
* A huge assortment of tools, power tools, air tools, and a sturdy workbench)
* Tele-prompter (for when your talent didn’t get the script revision and needs a little help)
* Canon Copy Machine (and we don’t charge for copies)
* Access to every type of crew member from PA’s to AD’s
My studio set up to help many of us filmmakers especially if you:
* like unsupervised studio experiences (No know-it-alls telling you how to shoot)
* need an extra piece of equipment in case yours breaks down. (at no charge.)
* love giving testimonials when you are treated right (just kidding)
* to treat your peers with respect and expect the same in return
* are of the attitude “I must finish this production at all cost.”
* have an ambitious shoot schedule that is tight on budget.
* don’t take good customer service for granted.
* need a one-stop-shop filming solution.
* are ready to really think big.
* are totally trusted worthy.
* are just plain cool.
But my studio is defiantly not for everyone. Atomic Studios is not for you if:
* you’re the nose in the air type (snob) and you’re just better than everyone.
* you are a short term thinker and try to take advantage of free offers.
* you are one of those people that look for reasons to complain.
* you think stealing is OK as long as you don’t get caught
* you like to blame others for your budget shortcomings.
* you are in need of constant babysitting.
* you need a bigger tax write off.
* you write rubber checks.
* you are dishonest.
* you are an ass.
What makes Atomic Studios different?
* Free build days
* Free casting days
* Free Pre light time
* Free rehearsal days
* No hidden fees at all
* Free T-1 internet access
* Free onsite studio manager
* Free trash removal (one dumpster)
* Free reshoot day if needed (100% completion guarantee)
* The studio is open 24/7 (shoot any day, all day, for no extra charge)
* Most importantly, we understand that if you don’t finish or profit from your shoot, you most likely won’t turn into a repeat client.
To sum it up:
For a just one flat rate, you are going to get 24-hour access to a 15,000 square foot studio including a 200-foot linear green screen or white cyc, 48-foot black void, all the flats, all the modern furniture, all the high-end props and we even offer packages with our 20-ton gear package and a full crew if needed and again no overtime on anything, not even the crew!
Price: Other studios charge as much as $6,000 per day for anything close to what Atomic Studios offers. Now at a fraction of that price, you can shoot at my stage Guarantee: I have the only 100% completion guarantee that I know of in the film industry. If you don’t get 100% of your shots done within the time you rented the studio, you can come back on a down day shoot the pickups for free, no questions asked.
The choice is yours…
Risk the potential of not finishing your shoot and paying overtime to some old, jaded, tired, rude, studio owners, who don’t even care if they ever see you again, or take your production value to the next level by all the extra time and money saved with our 24 hr shoot day & 100% completion guarantee and get the green light on a show with the budget you deserve. Call me as fast as you can at 323-851-3825, and it does not matter if its 3:00 am we are open 24/7
Thanks for reading,
P.S. Many of us have left our families and long time friends to come
here to LA for a chance at the big time. Let’s make them all proud. Every
decision, every second, every frame counts…
As always we encourage you to call with any and all questions 24 hours a day 7 days a week. 323-851-3825
Thank so much,