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Visual Detective

For more than 20 years, Rob Gibson has worked behind the scenes in the entertainment industry as a production assistant, production coordinator and now as a location manager. In his current role he has worked on television series such as “The X-Files” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to current ones like “Scream Queens” and “The Orville” and on feature films that include “Star Trek: Insurrection” and “Star Trek: Nemesis.” Gibson, who lives in the Santa Clarita Valley, spoke with the Business Journal about what production companies look for in a location, advice to people wanting to put their homes in a film shoot and whether he becomes star-struck. Question: What are the most popular places in the greater San Fernando Valley area for filming? Answer: I would say Santa Clarita, Chatsworth, Simi Valley, Woodland Hills. It depends on what the need is. If the need is houses, then it depends on the style of the house. If it’s a movie ranch, then you are going out to the movie ranches. If it’s buildings, what buildings are film-friendly? What do production companies look for? Again, it depends on the project. For instance, we just did a pilot (“Ball Street”) that is set in 1986. While that doesn’t seem that long ago, there were no Priuses. Then you are looking for different buildings that reflect that period, such as houses that don’t have solar on the roofs. What we are steering towards are characters – are they affluent, middle-class? Is it a story about poverty? Is it along the lines of Compton or Sylmar or is it a middle-class neighborhood like you might see in Santa Clarita or Simi Valley? What about the interiors? The floor plan has to be user-friendly for camera equipment. You want rooms that look into other rooms a lot. An open kitchen is popular. If a person wanted to make their home available for filming, what do they need to know? They have to be realistic. There is no shortage of location services that represent houses. I live out in Santa Clarita and the Santa Clarita Film Office has its own website where you can actually list your own house. The staff at the film office will walk you through what you need to look out for, what you need to ask for, what the film companies are going to want. You have to have a realistic expectation of what your house is like. It’s the curb appeal of your house. It’s the floor plan. What kind of rates are charged for private homes? It depends upon impact. Are we taking over the whole house; in other words, bedrooms, kitchen, living room, dining room? It depends on the size of the house. In your overall property itself, it could be $2,500 a day. Pasadena houses are sometimes $8,000 to $10,000 a day, depending if it is a mansion. What are the risks or challenges of making a private home available for filming? You want to be sure that you have someone who can be present during filming. They will know where your air conditioning turns on and off, they will know where your sprinklers turn on and off, they will know if they need to unlock a certain door or furniture that needs to be moved. You want to make sure the company coming in has insurance, that your name is on the insurance policy, that they have a contract. Any other advice for homeowners? Make sure you get paid upfront. Absolutely make sure you get a security deposit. You want to make sure that you know what their hours are going to be. Are they going to have special effects? For instance, we did this thing for (“Ball Street”) where everybody was smoking in this office. Well, a lot of people don’t like that in their home. You’re going to want to know what the scenes are, if you don’t want questionable things in your house. Do you work with the movie ranches? Yes, quite a bit. How does that work? Their value cannot really be understated. You have Melody Ranch out on Placerita Canyon. They have the best western town, hands down, that is available. They also have a stage there that sets can be built there. You have Disney’s ranch on the other side of Placerita Canyon. It has a bunch of barns, a couple of big ponds that don’t require you to go to a lake. They also have a commercial district and a residential street. You have Big Sky Movie Ranch in Simi Valley, which is gigantic vistas of flowing grass and mountains. You have smaller places like Sable Ranch, where you can basically build anything you want to do. Each ranch has its own uniqueness to it, depending upon what the need of the picture is. What are the benefits of the ranches? Most of them are fair in their pricing. Where base camp and crew parking and everything is in a very small area, the accessibility and logistics of it make it super film-friendly. How important is the Thirty Mile Zone designation? The Thirty Mile Zone is pretty strict. (Production companies) have to pay a per diem (for union crew) and I believe housing in some circumstances, depending on how far it is we go. In the last few years, they have added different aspects to that. They added Piru in there, they added Crown Valley Road. There were places that we were going to a lot that were considered outside the zone but now they have been incorporated within the zone. Do you have a preference of being inside or outside the zone? I love to go outside the zone because there are so many different places. I can go to the Trona Pinnacles out in Ridgecrest. I can go up to Convict Lake just below Mammoth, where we did a “Star Trek” (film) years ago. Fresno has a very unique city hall. The things inside the zone (have) been re-shot, re-shot, re-shot. Are more TV shows being filmed here? Yes. How does that affect your job? I am a Southern California native and for me to be able to sleep in my own bed and not go out of town as much as I used to has been great. For my family, it is awesome. I feel blessed to be able to be working here pretty much exclusively. I know the studios are trying to do more and the state has really stepped up with the film credits that are being offered. I have been fortunate enough to be on few shows that have been allotted those tax credits. Do you ever become star-struck? Sure, with some of the bigger actors. I have been fortunate to work with some pretty well-known names. For instance, years ago when I was a (production assistant), I got to drive Ernest Borgnine from his motor home to our sets. To be a twentysomething guy just getting into the business and Ernest Borgnine was somebody who my dad loved. And he was such a nice man. Any favorite stories from your time as a location manager? I’m working right now on a show called “The Orville.” It’s Seth McFarland’s dream to do something along the lines of a “Star Trek” homage. I am getting such an education in visual effects. To sit back and watch the creature makeup and the special effects, from somebody who was able to work on two “Star Trek” pictures years ago, it is really neat.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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