Beach stages draw TV hits

Kelley shows make Raleigh Manhattan Beach home

HOLLYWOOD – For Raleigh Studios, there is no in-between. In the city, there’s the Hollywood facility, one of the oldest operating studios in the country. It resonates of old Hollywood, the stuff of legendary films, and has a history that can’t be manufactured.

Take a drive down the San Diego Freeway and see Raleigh in the 21st century. Their Manhattan Beach 22-1/2-acre lot is the most modern studio in the country with state-of-the-art equipment, soundstages and — something that can’t be found on Melrose Avenue — lots of space and a cool ocean breeze.

After opening in June 1998, Raleigh Manhattan Beach has become the home of David Kelley Prods., where the scribe’s team shoots three of his dramas: “Ally McBeal,” “The Practice” and “Snoops,” his latest entry in the primetime landscape. Before venturing to Manhattan Beach, Kelley’s shows were shot at the relatively small Ren-Mar Studios in Hollywood.

There are currently 14 soundstages at the Manhattan Beach facility, totaling nearly 290,000 square feet, including five 25,000-square-foot stages; “Ally McBeal” uses two of these stages and an 18,000-square-foot one.

“David was onboard prior to closing our deal in moving down there,” says Michael Moore, president of Raleigh Studios. “Since then we have been accommodating all of his productions. We are thrilled that he’s down there.”

And the producers of these three shows seem to share Moore’s sentiments.

Gary Strangis, producer of “The Practice,” says moving down to the beach has benefited the show as they were rather cramped at Ren-Mar.

“Both on our show and ‘Ally,’ we need a lot of floor space. Ren-Mar was a wonderful experience but we grew so quickly. David’s desire to keep the shows together helped us get down here.

“It’s nice to have the opportunity to be in a real studio again. ‘The Practice’ is a stage-driven show. Our sets are such that with the wall heights of 18, 20 feet we couldn’t do this show in a warehouse,” Strangis says.

“Ally” producer Mike Listo endorses Strangis’ view of the new facility.

“When we moved in, we had nobody else’s problems. Any specific needs we had were addressed by Raleigh. What’s also really nice is the way the offices are connected to the stages. You don’t even have to go outside. You just walk downstairs,” he notes.

While Kelley’s shows are an integral part of what’s happening at Raleigh Manhattan Beach, there’s room for much more.

DreamWorks just finished wrapping the untitled Cameron Crowe project, while Miramax/Disney’s “Imposter” also just wrapped. Besides feature films, Bette Midler was seen rehearsing for her upcoming tour at the location, Britney Spears was filming a musicvideo and commercials — ranging from the Taco Bell Chihuahua to automobile ads — are constantly in rotation.

“We have a good percentage of short-term production and generally (we’re) able to work other productions in,” says Moore, who joined Raleigh in 1995 and was VP of operations for Stephen J. Cannell Prods. for 10 years.

Commuting to Manhattan Beach can be fairly hassle free for cast and crew living in the South Bay or the Westside, but for those in the San Fernando Valley or Pasadena-Glendale areas, it presents a problem.

The shows are shot on an eight-day per episode schedule, and Listo says “Ally” often begins shooting at 7 a.m. and doesn’t wrap until 8 p.m., so traffic isn’t too bad at these times.

Though the neighboring restaurants are profiting from all the activity in the area, a commissary will also open in the first quarter of 2000 as well as a 60,000-square-foot office space in the northern portion of the lot. Moore says he’s been overwhelmed with companies interested in setting up shop.

“The word is getting out,” he says. “It takes a while to warm up a new facility. You can’t beat the location. There’s a golf course on one side of the studio and a park on the other.”

And a big, blue ocean just down the block.