Just north of La Cienega and Jefferson Boulevards — where passengers disembarking from an elevated L.A. Metro line descend into a seeming no-man’s land of factories, warehouses and nondescript showrooms — Bandito Brothers’ production campus is hidden away on a 1.5-acre parcel.
The driveway that leads to the entrance appears at first glance like an alley where you’d hate your car to stall after dark. But pass the electric gate and it’s like stumbling onto an oasis.
The company’s main building, a 20,000-square-foot structure that resembles an airplane hangar, is so wide-open that stepping inside feels soothing, like a breath of fresh air. When Bandito Brothers first spotted the property, a one-time trailer factory in the ’50s before being taken over by a furniture-importing business, it resembled an abandoned junkyard. But according to company co-founder/CEO Mike “Mouse” McCoy, its potential was fully evident. “My wife (Carmella) and I took the lead in designing it. It forced us to look at who we were and where we were going,” he told Variety. “Having space has allowed us to open up our process.”
As the main building was being spruced up, McCoy & Co. literally camped out in an adjacent warehouse as production on “Act of Valor,” directed by McCoy and Bandito partner/co-founder Scott Waugh, was ramping up. The temporary space was equipped with Army surplus tents and gear, lending the project about a Navy Seal rescue operation the requisite guerrilla sensibility.
By the time staffers moved into the refurbished quarters — three buildings total — in 2010-11, nearby downtown Culver City had blossomed into a hub of entertainment, dining and design, and Banditos’ surrounding Blackwelder industrial complex had become a home to fashion companies, art galleries and film-finance outfits.
Banditos — whose services range from development and production of features to documentaries, commercials and branding campaigns — recently finished vfx on “Need for Speed” and “Captain America,” and is in the midst of bringing Hot Wheels toys to life by building massive installations for live events. “We consider ourselves a true independent studio in the content creation side of things,” says McCoy. “And a full-service creative studio.” The concept was to have all the tools for filmmaking under one roof, where the meter isn’t running for those who work with the Banditos.
“So much of what we’re doing is taking the inspiration of a kid and how he plays with toys, and then building creative concepting around that,” says the ruggedly handsome McCoy, an ex-stuntman who has competed in motocross, and looks the part. (The motorcycles and dune buggies parked in the main building are not just for show.)
Although the company employs only about 35 full-time staffers, the massive space can accommodate hundreds, depending on the project. “We bring in writers, designers, other artists and directors, and have collaborative sessions here,” McCoy says.
Polished concrete floors, high ceilings, exposed beams, rolling metal-and-glass doors and airy spaces allow for an atmosphere that feels the opposite of confined, with plenty of natural light. Alcoves, where one can set up temporary shop with a laptop and a smart phone without feeling cramped or secluded, abound.
The furniture, largely culled by Carmella from flea markets and antique stores, is vintage Danish Modern and Mid-Century Modern, with the accent on Ray and Charles Eames. Every piece appears carefully curated, including a pair of Hans J. Wegner-designed Papa Bear chairs and matching ottomans that adorn one particularly inviting corner of the room.
The inner walls in the main production space are on wheels, allowing for reconfigurations at a moment’s notice. For example, a 45-person conference space was built for a DreamWorks meeting on “Need for Speed,” and just as quickly disassembled. “We didn’t want to commit to cubes or a conventional way of working because we’re 35 one day and 120 another day,” McCoy explains.
In this sandbox for grown-ups, tables are set up for concept work and layouts, replete with Hot Wheels cars and color-coded Army men: red for camera operators, green for stunt performers.
Between the main building and the adjoining structure behind it, where most of the feature post and f/x work is done, a sprawling patio is used for communal lunches. Several yards beyond, where the L.A. River borders the backside of the property, a fire pit is surrounded by Adirondack chairs.
“Creative development starts at the fire pit,” McCoy says. “We like to get fires going to sort of loosen up, maybe drink a few beers, and kick story. You come in and take that story and throw it up on the whiteboard and start to turn it into something you can produce.”
Like the main building, the post-production annex is equipped with a kitchen and rollup doors that allow for natural air flow during the hot summer months. The stairway that leads upstairs, and a screening room equipped with plush leather chairs, is built of metal and walnut. The clean lines and postmodern sensibility were aided and abetted by maverick architect Brian Murphy of BAM Construction/Design, who also oversaw the build-out of the main structure.
It’s all so inviting that people hang out at night, as much by necessity as for camaraderie. McCoy, who lives in Santa Barbara, keeps a small apartment on the property to avoid long daily commutes.
“It’s been so great for our creative process,” he says. “We didn’t build it to show off, but to maximize our potential.”