My story of how Atomic studios came to be….
Do you ever get the feeling that studio owners forget what the word “budget” means
Does it seem as if they think you some how have an unlimited supply of money for all their “extra charges” just because you’re in the production industry? Imagine a huge 15000 sq ft studio with a 220 foot linear green screen and white cyc that was open 24hr a day 7 days a week, never charged overtime, with no stupid cleanup fees, no studio manager charges, Free power, free parking for up to 100 cars, Free wireless internet access, free 43 foot Star Trailer, with optional access to over 20 ton of grip, lighting, remote head Jibs, Steadicams, dollies, & special FX equipment, and most importantly an owner that is not a complete ASS!
I have some important questions for you. Think carefully as you answer…
* Are you given budgets that don’t allow for ridiculous hidden fees and outrageous overtime charges from studios or any other location?
* Ever wonder why studios charge you for their employee sit there and “run” the studio when just about any other business that I know of includes their employees salary in on the cost of goods or services. Isn’t that like paying a parking lot attendant his hourly wage plus the fee for the parking space?
* Does it seem a bit convenient that the studio owner tells you due to insurance reasons you must rent all the gear from them? Who the hell made up this BS rule? Btw, it’s a lie.
* Do you not understand why any service-oriented business would charge you for Internet access that they already have? When did they become an ISP and don’t you need a license for that?
* Have you ever asked a studio owner “How much does Xerox copies cost as if they were a Kinkos?
* Ever wonder if the studio owner had to max out his or her credit card just to the production
* Why would there be a last second emergency or rush fee to filmmakers? As if we could afford the time loss. They really want to charge us more in an emergency???
* Are you just plain tired of hearing what you cant do for the same price and how much more everything cost if you want your show to be better?
* Have you ever felt as if the studio owner was doing you a favor renting you his or her place even though you were paying full price?
* Does it seem like studios owners don’t give a crap about repeat business?
If you answered, “YES” to any of these questions, then I have some relieving news for you…
The news is that you are NOT alone. In fact, that list of questions above was created from my very own experiences having shot/directed/produced almost 50 of my own shows not to mention the many hundreds of productions I have worked on that are owned by friends/clients. The funny thing is that I never even wanted to be in the studio business at all. Truth be told if I could have found a studio that even pretended to care about how much money I made, I would have never took on the huge responsibility of studio ownership. I just like many of you was fortunate enough to get the green light on a few projects and of course the budgets were a joke but I had to get my foot in the door some how. It’s no secret that getting more productions under our belt helps us get more jobs. That’s the idea anyway. So if we aren’t going to make a decent amount of money for all the work put in at least we should walk away with a quality show as a sort of business card or part of a demo reel. Right? Having a good demo reel would without a doubt lead to more projects. Right? Well it seemed that most vendors in the film making industry did not necessarily agree or care about that little detail. It was like they were the only place or service in town and I had no other choices. I think this really killed me more than most because I grew up in the Washington DC area helping my dad in his limousine business where customer service is everything Years ago between Maryland, DC, and Virginia there were over 400 limo services all competing for the same high school prom job. Anyway, Not even once did any of these studios ever ask how they could help make my production or my life any easier. Keep in mind that it got to the point where I had shot over 40 shows. We’re not talking a one time deal here. I have heard about every excuse to charge more money in the book from studio owners and when I complained I felt like I had to be on eggshells or they would not let me back. (Quick tip: at the beginning of the first day at any studio make sure to use a behind the scenes camera to video as much of the studio and its belongings as possible. Pay special attention to scratches on wooden floors rips or scuffs on furniture and if you let the studio owner he may think twice about trying to stick you with paying for something that you or your crew did not break) Finally after being blamed for breaking something that had already been broken then proving it (on video) I straight out asked the owner if he had even heard of customer service and how he expected to keep the doors open in a industry that lowers budgets on a monthly bases. I went on to tell him how 10 years ago I was making $100.00 an hour for editing and now I pay my editor who is better than me $15.00 an hour. I guess my reason for telling him this was to somehow prove to him that the industry was getting harder and harder to make money in and that in the end those who look out for customers will be the only ones standing. I don’t remember exactly the words I used, but that was something like that. I bet you can guess what his response that my lecture was. “ It seems to me, you got it all figured out, maybe you should open your own studio before its too late and you forget all that knowledge” Yeah I know, it was a good comeback, but I still think I read something just like that on a bumper sticker or on the back of one of those shirts that you buy on the boardwalk. It was not really that original. With his quick little comeback he forgot another very powerful quote, the good old “Ask and you shall receive” quote. Little did he know just how much he would receive or where.
Because of how well distributors pay, (whole other story) I had to light and shoot for other people just to make ends meet. Being that I am the luckiest guy on earth to have the best two parents ever that taught me good manners (thanks mom) the value of customer service (thanks dad) I had no problems finding work. I already had a lot of lights and cool gear for my own shows. I had so much gear I had to sleep on the floor on my one bedroom condo in Hollywood Hills because there was literally no room for a bed at all. Luckily I had vaulted ceilings because there were 16 foot shelves from the front to the back and pathways to the front door and bathroom. The kitchen was so packed with kino cases that I used them to eat breakfast off of. My Phantom hydraulic Dolly was also my computer chair. I remember a producer friend of mine Michael Baumgarten asking me if the condo floor was made of wood or cement truly worried if the floor would cave in if it were wood. On top of that I had 2 other filmmakers renting floor space to sleep on. All in less than 1000 square feet. Needless to say I was ready for a bigger space. Back to the point (Sorry) Understanding customer service and having a 1-ton, 3-ton, 5-ton truck and a condo packed full of gear finding work was not so hard. I ended up shooting all over the world and of course more times than I could count here in LA. While working in LA I ended up shooting quite a bit in a very odd 8,000 square foot 2nd floor studio with about 15 standing sets and a very cool white cyc in Korea Town that appeared to be a former adult studio based on all the couches that were there. The owner was not much there much because he was also a set photographer that stayed very busy. I even ended up working with him on a few shows he told me he had the studio to shoot his own gigs in and store his gear but the studio was losing money every month. Turns out the overhead is crazy in a commercial facility. He went on to tell me that he option on another 2 years was coming up in 6 months. He was considering letting it go after that 6 months because of the loss but thought it was ashamed because he was at the end of a 20-year lease and the rent would be dirt cheap for the next 2 and a half years. Always quick to make a win-win deal I asked if he would mind letting me take over the 2 year option giving him the right to shoot anytime that the studio was down for no charge. That would also give me 6 months to move all my gear and redo all the sets at the same to cut a very long story short he ended up not being able to move after the 6 months so I kind of inherited a partner and as much as I hate partners I have no complaints about him at all in fact I learned how to run a studio much faster because of him. With good manners and customer service truly being the number the one priority I took on what was what to be a full time job with in its self. Btw lets define true customer service because all of the studios that I had dealt with bragged about how good their customer service was too. According to my dad customer service is the assurance of a clients good experience even at the business owners own expense. See, what my dad understands is what’s called the lifetime value of a client not just the profit of the one job its what is ultimately profited and sometimes that means no profit and maybe just a referral to another client. He never tried to win them all Some times he lost but he never lost the client. Now don’t get me wrong he has fired clients on several occasions there are always bad apples in any crowd. While I’m on the subject of bad apples it turns out that one of the biggest lessons I learned was why these studio owners acted the way that they did and it was not 100% their fault or our fault. It was those few bad apples that would break things and not tell the owner and often steal equipment right out of the studio. You would not believe how often these same things happened just to me during those two and a half years and I was cool to the producers. I quickly realized was it was not always the producers that were breaking or stealing it was usually the underpaid crew members that nothing to lose. The problem with most of the studio owners was that they began to resent and maybe even want to punish innocent producers for what had happened in the past. They thought by acting rude and obnoxious they would minimize the future loss and by hitting us with surprise fees, make up for pass losses. Well it may work in the short term but it ends up killing the lifetime value of a client. The bad realization that I came to was that if I did not do any thing to change what was going on I would end up just like the studio owners that I so wanted to get a way from. I had to come up with a strategy that would reduce the possibility of damage and minimize the easy of theft. Of course dreaming that we producers will stop hiring low end help is a waste of time. Hell, I even hire thugs and $50 -$100 a day labor on my own shoots especially in other countries. As we all know there is almost no room left in the budget for profit let alone $350 – $500 a day grips and electrics. Keep in mind I am not at all talking about keys positions at all. With that said there are exceptions where budgets do allow for more efficient crews where time is of the essence based on actor schedules extremely dangerous stunts or capturing once in a lifetime events. In these cases it only makes sense to hire the very best at a healthy day rate. So the only thing I could do is rearrange what I had control of and that’s where timing came in.
The studio had been very successful with unbelievably heavy bookings but even with all those bookings a standing set studio required the help of several builders, full time cleaning crew, and a lot of my personal attention making sure everything came together for the clients but when one of the builders could not make it, I had to build same thing with all the other positions like cleaning and repainting. To sum it up it was a hell of a lot of work for very little return on the time investment. At the same time I am being hired out as a DP, Gaffer, Camera operator, Jib Operator, and Steadicam operator 12- 18 hours a day. My lease had only 2 months left before it was time to renew it for another 5 years but because I was finishing out a 20 year lease the owner of the building thought is was worth three times more than what I was currently paying. As crazy luck would have it the recession hit full swing right about the same time and building owners started losing tenants left and right the square cost plummeted to sometime less than half. This was my chance to compete with the big boys. I was finding 10,000 – 20,000 square foot buildings everywhere for $.40 – $.50 per square foot with big time parking. After having 2 offers rejected and looking at more places than I can remember, me an my realtor almost by accident stumbled on the ultimate film making studio with its own mini back lot and double fenced parking.
Here is just a small list of what this place had to offer:
* 15,000 square feet (with almost 14,000 shootable)
* All open space (no columns to get in the way)
* 20 foot ceilings (great for those low angle shoots)
* 5 space loading dock (no need for lift gates)
* Parking for up to 100 cars (at no extra charge!)
* 4 stall bath rooms (No lines!)
* 2 huge roll up doors (to bring in cars trucks or large props)
* 400 amps of house power (not bad for free)
* Heavy duty over head I beams (for wire work & stunts)
* Almost 200 feet from one end to the other (for the long lens shooting)
* Smooth concrete floor (for when there is no time for track)
* T-1 internet access (great for uploading movie files)
* Amazing under bridge day or night exterior (with access to power)
* Amazing industrial/urban exterior (in the rear of the facility)
* Awesome shootable roof top (with downtown view)
* Spacious green room (great for separating talent from the set)
* Huge private shootable ally (easily fits 3 cars across with room in between.)
* Craft service Kitchen My favorite (part of a studio)
* Private Office (for the production team)
* Double fenced in entrance (for extra security and control)
* Multi car capacity in studio (big enough to get driving shots too!)
* Wardrobe/dressing room (great for privacy from the rest of the studio
* Modern sprinkler system (in case pyrotechnics get out of hand)
* Production size trash dumpster (fill it to the top for no extra charge)
* Within one mile of 4 major freeways (convenient for privacy form the ma And I then added the following:
Then i added:
* Green Screen Cyc (Over 200 linear feet with a 6 ft radius on the cyc even the big boys only have a 5 ft radius on their cyc)
* Green Screen Treadmill (In case 200 ft is not enough but that’s like 3 tractor trailers)
* White Cyc (Over 200 linear feet also with the 6 ft radius on the cyc)
* Black Void (48 linear feet)
* Large assortment of flats with windows doors and bars (Just in case you need a jail)
* Hi-End Modern Furniture (To be used as you wish)
* All kinds of Props (Including hospital, Asian, Egyptian, & many prop guns)
* 20 ton of grip and lighting (Enough to handle most shoots up to 2 million)
* 150 linear feet of heavy duty pallet rack (To store everything. Maximizing shoot space)
* A huge movie distro package (A must for powering those big lights that your DP loves)
* 43 foot Star Trailer (To be used anytime your production team or star needs privacy)
* Remote head jib by Jimmy Jib (and nothing says “production value” like jib shots)
* Phantom Hydraulic Crab Dolly (by Premier Studio Equipment)
* ProVid Steadicam with low mode
* 3 Final Cut Pro editing stations (In case you just cant wait to get home)
* 24 possessor Macintosh render farm.
* Movable speed rail lighting grid (Easily get that back light anywhere your DP wants)
* 18 foot rolling scaffolding (To safely reach and light from grid or ceiling)
* Le Maitre Radiant haze generator
* Le Maitre low smoke generator
* An assortment of 650 watt – 12k watt dimmers, variaks, flicker boxes (For next level of light control)
* A couple of HVX-200s with the mini 35 adaptors
* A Ziss super speed F1.3 prime lens package 18-25-35-50-and-85
* A huge assortment of tools, power tools, air tools, and a sturdy work bench)
* Tele-prompter (for when your talent didn’t the script revision and needs a little help)
* Canon Copy Machine (and we don’t charge for copies)
* Access to every type of crew member from PA’s to AD’s
My studio set up to help many of us filmmakers especially if you:
* like unsupervised studio experiences (No know-it-alls telling you how to shoot)
* need an extra piece of equipment in case yours breaks down. (at no charge.)
* love giving testimonials when you are treated right (just kidding)
* to treat your peers with respect and expect the same in return
* are of the attitude “I must finish this production at all cost”
* have a ambitious shoot schedule that is tight on budget.
* don’t take good customer service for granted.
* need a one stop shop filming solution.
* are ready to really think big.
* are totally trust worthy.
* are just plain cool.
But my studio is defiantly not for everyone. Atomic Studios is not for you if:
* you’re the nose in the air type (snob) and you’re just better than everyone.
* you are a short term thinker and try to take advantage of free offers.
* you are one of those people that look for reasons to complain.
* you think stealing is OK as long as you don’t get caught
* you like to blame other for your budget shortcomings.
* you are in need constant babysitting.
* you need a bigger tax write off.
* you write rubber checks.
* you are dishonest.
* you are an ass.
What makes Atomic Studios different?
* Free build days
* Free casting days
* Free Pre light time
* Free rehearsal days
* No hidden fees at all
* Free T-1 internet access
* Free on site studio manager
* Free trash removal (one dumpster)
* Free reshoot day if needed (100% completion guarantee)
* The studio is open 24/7 (shoot any day, all day, for no extra charge)
* Most importantly we understand that if you don’t finish or profit from your shoot, you most likely won’t turn into a repeat client.
To sum it up:
For a totally flat rate you are going to get 24 hour access to a 15,000 square foot studio including a 200 foot linear green screen or white cyc, 48 foot black void, all the flats, all the modern furniture, all the high-end props and we even offer packages with our 20 ton gear package and a full crew if needed and again no overtime on anything not even the crew! Price: Other studios charge as much as $6,000 per day for any thing close to what Atomic Studios offers. Now fraction of that price you can shoot at my stage Guarantee: I have the only 100% completion guarantee that I know of in the film industry. if you don’t get 100% of your shots done within the time you rented the studio you can come back on a down day shoot the pickups for free no questions asked…
The choice is yours…
Risk the potential of not finishing your shoot and paying overtime to some old, jaded, tired, rude, studio owner, who doesn’t even care if you ever sees you again, or take your production value to the next level by all the extra time and money saved with our 24 hr shoot day & 100% completion guarantee and get the green light on a show with the budget you deserve. Call me as fast as you can at 323-851-3825 and it does not matter if its 3:00am we are open 24 / 7…
Thanks for reading,
P.S. Many of us have left our families and long time friends to come
here to LA for chance at the big time. Lets make them all proud. Every
decision, every second, every frame counts…
Copyright © by Atomic Studios All Right Reserved.