Tucked into a nondescript business park hugging Bob Hope Airport in Burbank is the home of Action Theatrical. Run by co-owners Rich Porter and Miguel Fuentes, Action Theatrical has been providing grip equipment, truss equipment and stage lighting services since 2005.
Porter reached out to the Film Works campaign after visiting the Warner Bros. lot and noticing many campaign truck wraps on production vehicles. Earlier this month, campaign staffers paid Action Theatrical a visit to talk about runaway production and its effect on their business. Porter said he and Fuentes decided to start Action Theatrical because they were dissatisfied with the lack of emphasis their former employer placed on client needs. Believing they could do a better job, they secured financial backing from partner Marvin Metcalf, and Action Theatrical was born.
Porter and Fuentes eagerly point out that many other tenants in their business park are also entertainment businesses, including another grip and stage lighting rental company and a picture car company, among others. The owner of the adjoining grip and lighting company only recently returned from working on a project in Louisiana.
“We see a lot of work go to Louisiana,” said Porter, “and we are sick of it.” Porter said that if more of the work was able to stay in California, Action Theatrical could offer each of its two part-time employees a new full-time position. “We are ready to grow, and we want to grow,” Porter said. All the state needs is more projects.
Porter said Action Theatrical has developed very close relationships with both the major studios and small vendors, like the metal fabricator who builds Action Theatrical’s stage trusses. Porter and Fuentes point out that the trickle-down benefits of local film and television production aren’t just dollars, but also jobs and vendor networks.
“If Warner Bros. can send us more business,” Porter explained, “then we will need to send more business to our vendors. If we have to add people to meet demand, so will they.”
Beyond the immediate benefits Porter and Fuentes highlight are the more indirect, though no less personal, side effects from runaway production. Fuentes’ wife, for example, earns a living as a hairdresser and has seen a drop in business as many of her clients work in film and television. Similarly, Porter’s wife is an agent in the entertainment industry who sees local talent getting recruited to work in states other than California.
Despite the threat runaway production poses for California, Porter remains cautiously optimistic. He said there has been a small increase in business as of late and he hopes the trend will continue. Porter and Fuentes had effusive praise for some of the studios, Warner Bros. in particular, for their commitment to keeping their stages and crews busy. Action Theatrical also got a decent boost from Sony Pictures’ decision to shoot the majority of the upcoming film Amazing Spiderman in Los Angeles, even though its large budget made it ineligible for the California Film & Television Tax Credit.
Interestingly, Porter said the lack of an established infrastructure in states that offer incentives sometimes brings new revenue to his California-based business. “In Louisiana, they don’t have sound stages like they do at Warner Bros. Studios,” said Porter. “They shoot in warehouses, which means they need a company like us to rent them trussing equipment to turn it into a temporary sound stage.”
For Universal Studios’ upcoming film Battleship, which shot extensively in Louisiana, the studio chose to import equipment from Action Theatrical. It was good news for them, but Porter and Fuentes still shake their heads over the wastefulness of leaving purpose-built production facilities in California to film in warehouses in rural Louisiana.
“Wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to shoot right here?” Porter asked. Indeed it would be, all things being equal. But since Louisiana subsidizes 30-cents of every dollar producers spend while filming in their state, things are far from equal.
But, when asked if Action Theatrical would ever consider moving to another state, the answer was an unequivocal “NO!”
“We are here to stay,” said Porter. “We want to grow our business here, and we aren’t going anywhere.”
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