Vista Studios brings cutting edge technology to an industry in flux
By Andy Vasoyan
In a city littered with production studios, the Vista Studios is an odd bird. One of only a handful of independents with their production capability and size —and west of the 405 to boot — the Playa Vista-based company occupies a warehouse that last saw work under French automaker Citroën in 1969.
In true L.A. fashion, the parcel was still zoned for filming.
After a yearlong construction and reclamation process, Vista Studios soft-opened in May of this year; a client moved in before the city fully accommodated their new electrical setup, so an open house for their tech-savvy neighbors near Runway at Playa Vista included generators buzzing with the hors d’oeuvres.
By the time the juice was flowing in late July, multiple clients were inhabiting the four sound stages, which range in size from a cavernous 6,300-square-foot area to a modest 1,320-foot space.
By September, Vista had worked with networks like FX, hung with skateboarders shooting for Apple, and had taken out permits to film wolves for VR.
“When you have a place that can do so much, it’s easy to add elements of services and production value,” says Chief Marketing Officer Frank Gianotti. “We come from the world of creating production, building TV shows, running studios. We can do it all.”
Gianotti comes to Vista after a tenure at an independent studio in Culver City, where he worked with his future partner, Vista CEO Randall Heer. Heer has been in the industry in one form or another for 34 years, with three Emmy Awards under his belt, and says that the traditional film and TV model is in flux.
“It used to be that you have your own network and build all of the infrastructure to support that in-house with facilities, equipment, and so on,” Heer says. “A lot of businesses now are trying to grow and build content, but don’t want that kind of heavy capital commitment.”
That’s where Heer believes Vista Studios comes in (as a “turnkey, white-glove solution,” in the jargon), and that’s also where the studio’s Playa Vista location plays a role as well.
“It’s a center for [advertising] agencies and new media companies, and being here puts us centrally located to serve those companies,” Heer says.
One of their first clients was a company creating virtual reality content that’s now building their own space down the street. On either side of the Vista Studios lot is a special effects design studio and the headquarters of Samy’s Camera. A five minute walk leads to the WeWork space, and for being in a cul-de-sac, foot traffic around the studio is brisk.
“We’ve actually had a half-dozen walk-ins since we opened, and people were happy to find out ‘Hey, you’re a studio!’” attests Gianotti. “But we’ve also got the tech giants in the neighborhood, YouTube and Snapchat and TMZ as well.”
YouTube is, in fact, in the neighborhood, with their 41,000-square-foot YouTube Space LA less than a mile away. The converted helicopter factory is probably Vista Studio’s nearest comparison in regards to size. However, at 30,000 square feet, Vista is dwarfed by big-name mega studios. Disney’s plot in Burbank, for example, occupies 51 acres — more than 2,000,000 square feet.
Vista Studios’ smaller size belies its flexibility: Every room has been designed to respond to the varying needs of different productions. Control rooms can be edit bays; edit bays double as dressing rooms; the common area is a workspace. That also applies to Vista Studio’s
digital infrastructure, a partnership with British company Snell Advanced Media, or SAM.
“SAM put a lot of trust in us as a testing ground for their new equipment and, in return, we get to work with their cutting-edge technology,” Heer says. “The technology is very advanced, but it just works, so content producers can focus on actually making content.”
SAM and Vista Studios have been set up to record in a 4K format; although consumers have been a bit slow on the uptake for 4K enabled televisions, companies like Netflix are requiring their master recordings to be shot in 4K. The Advanced Television Systems Committee, which has overseen the transition to digital television, is updating its standards to include 4K. Heer says that’s another example of an industry in transition, which is exactly where Vista Studios can make their mark.
“There’s too much interesting stuff going on in the industry,” Heer says. “The corporate world is changing. It’s time for us to do our own thing. The hotbed of entrepreneurial activity is right here in Playa Vista, and we’re right in the middle of it.”
For more information about Vista Studios, call (310) 803-9080 or visit thevistastudios.com.