HOLLYWOOD — Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank opened its first new exterior set in almost 20 years, Downtown Plaza. Event was marked with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.“Downtown Plaza will satisfy a number of production needs with its modern facades and versatility, while providing the benefits of working in a controlled studio environment,” said Warner Bros. Studio Facilities prexy Jon Gilbert. Touted as the largest permanent metropolitan exterior set on any Southern California backlot, Downtown Plaza is the first permanent exterior set that Warners has built in nearly two decades. Downtown Plaza is a grouping of contemporary high-rises surrounding a usable street and park, available for use by Warner Bros. TV and film arms, and outside production companies. Set includes a number of distinct facades: a smoked-glass atrium, a wide bank of chrome and glass swinging doors, an outdoor cafe area, and a brass-and-marble deluxe entryway atop a broad-based staircase. Camera friendly Another set feature is a glass-walled lobby space, usable for interior shots with a number of exteriors. The set’s U shape allows for myriad camera angles. Downtown Plaza joins Warner Bros.’ array of distinctive exterior sets. Some of those housed at the 110-acre studio in Burbank are Brownstone Street (a block of upscale residential walkups), French Street (a section of European storefronts), Hennessy Street (1920s New York tenements) and the jungle (surrounding a cabin by a large lagoon). Filming on three feature pics will have a positive impact on Kern County, Calif.’s fourth-quarter receipts despite a drop in production for August. Shoots spent 36 days on location in Kern in August, bringing in about $394,000 to local businesses compared with August 1999′s $770,500. “With only five commercials shot in Kern in August, the Screen Actors Guild strike contributed to our low numbers,” said Barry Zoeller, Kern County film commissioner. “But the most obvious deficiency is the lack of feature films shot here last month.” That’s about to change. Extensive lensing is skedded for “Rat Race” in the Rosamond area for three weeks in October, the Disney pic “Bubble Boy” will lense in November, and the new “Planet of the Apes” is slated to begin production before the end of the year in the Ridgecrest area. Shane Black, Bill Broyles, David Chase and Paul Mazursky are just a few of the Hollywood notables attending and participating in panel discussions during the seventh Austin Film Festival and Screenwriters Conference. More than 3,500 screenplays have been entered into the 2000 competition. The conference is skedded from Oct. 12-15; the film fest runs Oct. 12-19. For more info or to register, call the festival office at (800) 310-FEST or visit www.austinfilmfestival.com.