Twenty years ago when he started his business LA ProPoint Inc., owner and president Mark Riddlesperger was sure that he would end up going off to work for somebody else again.
“But the phone kept ringing and we kept getting invited to bid on jobs and we were winning jobs,” Riddlesperger said from his office at the Sun Valley company.
LA ProPoint does rigging and support systems for theme parks, theaters, museums and other entertainment destinations. And thanks to the post-Covid boom in entertainment venues, ProPoint is extremely busy these days.
There is, for example, Universal’s new theme park Epic Universe that is currently under construction and will open in summer 2025.
“We are doing several elements in different areas for that,” Riddlesperger said.
At Disneyland in Anaheim, the company is doing several segments of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railroad ride that is scheduled to open in January.
“We are doing parts of it,” Riddlesperger said. “Some of it directly for Disney and subcontracting to a couple of other companies for other parts of it.”
Riddlesperger could not comment further on the Universal Parks & Resorts and The Walt Disney Co. projects due to non-disclosure agreements that he signed with the companies.
He could discuss, however, the work he and LA ProPoint are doing at the California Science Center’s new Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center.
ProPoint’s rigging work often involves installing the mechanical systems that move scenery in theaters, for example, but the work at the science center calls for suspending aircrafts from the ceiling in static displays, among other things, he said.
“We’ve been asked to help with installing all the new aircrafts and spacecrafts that are going inside the building,” Riddlesperger said. “They are going to increase the size of the collection.”
The Science Center is in the midst of purchasing aircrafts from other air and space museums, companies and private individuals who have vintage aircrafts that need to be restored.
“They track that down and we’ll sometimes go get it and put it on a truck and send it here to California and then they get it restored,” Riddlesperger said. “We don’t see it again until it shows up at the new building waiting to be installed. Some of it will be rigged from the ceiling and some of it will be sitting directly on the floor.”
There is a chance there is going to be 50 feet of a 747 fuselage that will be installed and turned into an exhibit, he said.
“There will be a theater inside the aircraft,” Riddlesperger added. “That’s what we are working on right now.”
Riddlesperger recalled the origins of LA ProPoint – when he worked from the back of his truck with a cell phone and financed the business with credit cards.
Before that, he had been employed at Universal Studios, first in Florida and then in Japan. He left the company in late 2001 and started LA ProPoint the following year. But he used the contacts that he made while working for Universal to get business for his fledgling company.
He was introduced to a company called VER Sales Inc. in Burbank, which was doing fall protection systems that were being required by OSHA to protect workers who worked at heights, specifically the riggers, he said.
His relationship with VER Sales evolved so that he was doing the fabrication and installation work on the fall protection systems inside the major Hollywood studios, Riddlesperger said.
“We did Sony Studios, we did Warner’s Bros., we did Fox,” he added. “There were a handful of other commercial applications for fall protection (that we did).”
Through those contacts came work in theaters, starting with the Roy and Edna Disney Cal Arts Theatre at the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex in 2003.
“That was one of my first big theatrical rigging projects, along with the Hollywood Bowl,” Riddlesperger said.
The work at the Bowl came from the same group that got him the Disney Theater job.
So he and his small team at LA ProPoint designed and engineered the automated rigging system inside the shell at the Hollywood Bowl, he said.
“To this day we still do the annual maintenance of that system that we installed, and that was back in 2004,” Riddlesperger added.
Edward Marks, founder and co-chief executive of The Producers Group, a Glendale-based provider of production and design services for destination attractions including resorts, museums, casinos and theme parks worldwide, wrote in a testimonial posted at Riddlesperger’s LinkedIn page, that he and the team at LA ProPoint have been an incredible asset to his (Marks’) company’s projects overseas.
“He runs a very experienced tight ship,” Marks wrote in his testimonial. “His team onsite are incredible and performed exemplary. This is excellent service from the top down! I guarantee we will be working together again.”
It hasn’t all been smooth for Riddlesperger and LA ProPoint over the past 20 years.
There have been challenges that affected work in the form of the Great Recession of 2008 and, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic.
There have also been challenges with evolving and growing with the industries that the company services. It does a lot of theme park work, and that industry is evolving into one that is heavy on paperwork and litigation.
The paperwork that it has to provide for engineering, design, fabrication and quality control has increased significantly, Riddlesperger said.
“Finding people that are capable of helping us manage and execute that work has been challenging,” he added. “But we’ve been very lucky in being able to find people that we really need to help us grow in that area.”
And not every idea that the company has turns out to be successful.
Take for instance the partitions that it was going to offer to theaters when they were getting ready to open up during the pandemic. Riddlesperger figured the partitions would be a good way to separate people in their theater seats.
But as the knowledge about the virus evolved, the plans for the see-through partitions fizzled out.
“It looked like it wasn’t really something that anybody was going to be that interested in,” Riddlesperger said.
LA ProPoint did benefit from two rounds of Paycheck Protection Program money from the federal government during the pandemic that was used to pay employees and other business expenses.
“Otherwise, it would have been a pretty rough road to try and stay in business,” he said.
Riddlesperger did not say how much the company received.
Also challenging for Riddlesperger, at least early on, was doing all the business-related functions at LA ProPoint. For that he found his business partner, Jim Hartman, another contact from his Universal days.
“His skillset was different from mine; it was the business side that I was struggling with,” Riddlesperger said. “I asked him if he wanted to become a partner in LA ProPoint. He agreed to do that. I think he’s been with us for 17 of the 20 years.”