In response to years of internal pressure to expand and external interest in utilizing the studio’s huge physical plant, Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank is set to unveil its new Technical Services Facility.
The facility, which contains nearly 20,000 square feet of working space and more than 8,000 square feet of office space, will concentrate the studio’s physical production management staff in one building for the first time in its 60-plus-year existence. Additionally, certain high-profile craft workshops —– WB’s canvas shop, its special effects and property shops, and its camera-loading and production-audio divisions — will be brought together from various locations all over the Burbank lot and from some locations off the lot.
According to Ron Stein, WB’s senior veepee of production services, damage wrought by the 1994 Northridge earthquake forced exex at the studio to first shove many managers and craftspeople into trailers and then reconsider the way it was housing — and using — some of its hardest-working personnel.
“The ’94 quake made it clear to us that we had to do something, and right away,” said Stein during a recent tour of the lot’s new facilities. “What I wanted to make sure we had a chance to do, though, was build the kind of thing we really all wanted, a dream facility, if you will.”
The, spacious quarters had its genesis in design work that began nearly two years ago, with input from facilities management and personnel. Construction began last June 24 and was completed this past March, with Rudolph and Stetten acting as builders and general contractors for the work.
Stein and his top lieutenants pronounce themselves more than satisfied with the end result.
“These really are our dream facilities, pretty much exactly what we would’ve built if given carte blanche to do it our way,” said Bill Hawkins, WB studios’ director of technical services. “And getting us all under one roof was a smart idea, too. Not only can we not run away from each other anymore, we’ve already become more efficient as a team than we ever were as a collection of parallel providers.”
Indeed, the new structure runs counter to one of traditional Hollywood’s hardest-dying craft protocols — that each particular craft is its own fiefdom, rarely if ever answering to more than one boss and keenly competitive with the other crafts for resources, manpower and respect. Stein will continue to oversee all of the crafts’ management, but second-tier managers such as Hawkins, grip services manager Bill Moore and special effects/property manager Cal Acord will now supervise more than one specific discipline and be in constant proximity with each other in the new building.
“Efficiency is really what it’s all about,” Acord remarked. “We have lots of work to do both here and off the lot, and if we can all pull together in harness, it’s going to work out best for everyone involved.”
One other significant tug on that harness will unquestionably be the mounting level of outside contracting that WB Studios shops have begun doing over the past couple of years. Smith noted that senior lot execs began exploring contracting out various services off the lot as a way of fending off increased property taxes and off-lot storage-space rents, and much of the new building and managerial structure is designed to make this outside work easier to produce and promote.
“With the increased capacity and efficiency of the new facilities, we’ll be able to handle the maximum demands of production on the lot plus other services we’ve contracted for,” Smith said.
Such contracted work is adding up to a revenue stream for the studio. Nearly half of the construction and scenic production done at WBS is for off-the-lot contractors or sub-contractors, Stein said.