Culver City, CA

Amazon Studios in Culver City: The Future of Filmmaking is Here

Herbie J Pilato

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This isn't your father's movie studio, and certainly not your grandfather's movie studio, either.

According to the Los Angeles Times, filmmakers, directors, and special effects artists recently gathered to celebrate Amazon Studios’ new 34,000-square-foot virtual production stage in Culver City, California.

As Times journalists Anousha Sakoui and Wendy Lee reported, those like director Reggie Hudlin, whose holiday comedy Candy Cane Lane starring Eddie Murphy, "will be the first movie to shoot on the stage. He cut a red ribbon with oversize scissors to formally open the studio Monday."

Stage 15, constructed in 1940 and once the home to films such as It’s a Wonderful Life and RoboCop, has been converted into the largest virtual production stage in Los Angeles.

"Powered by the latest in gaming technology, these stages allow filmmakers to cut costs by reducing the need to rebuild stages and giving them the flexibility to film from any location with continuous daylight — regardless of the time of day," Sakoui and Lee revealed.

“This whole investment that we’re making is consistent with who Amazon is,” Albert Cheng, vice president of Prime Video U.S., said in an interview. “We’re investing in new technology and we’re trying to figure out how to innovate around production using new technology.”

As Sakoui and Lee continued to relay, "Planning for the project began back in the summer of 2020, as Hollywood was grappling with production shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic."

“The short-term challenge was how to safely shoot and create content with limited travel over the desire to shoot in multiple locations,” said Chris del Conte, Amazon Studios’ global head of VFX. “The long-term challenge was how does the Amazon VFX department support and supply our filmmakers with the latest cutting-edge innovative technology to create a world within shows beyond the traditional green screen post process? Virtual production checked boxes for both those challenges and we began to utilize it.”

Said Sakoui and Lee: "Virtual production technology uses advances in gaming software and goes beyond the use of green screens. Instead of performing against a static, blank screen, actors and crew on a virtual production stage can interact in real-time within a three-dimensional environment projected on LED screens."

"Walt Disney’s tale of an intergalactic bounty hunter, The Mandalorian, represents one of the most high-profile and expansive uses of virtual production," Sakoui and Lee explained. "About half of the hit Disney+ series’ first season was shot against a 20-foot-high, 270-degree semicircular LED video wall at Manhattan Beach Studios. The ability to cut location costs and re-create scenes from anywhere has made the technology increasingly popular among filmmakers."

"Last year," Sakoui and Lee added, "...Netflix purchased Vancouver visual effects company Scanline VFX. Netflix shows that have used virtual production stages include the drama “1899” in Berlin and the sci-fi film The Midnight Sky in the United Kingdom. The streamer also utilized virtual production in L.A. for some of the driving sequences in the movie Blonde.

Sakoui and Lee concluded: "Since announcing it was moving its headquarters to Culver City in 2017, Amazon Studios has expanded its footprint locally, with roughly 630,000 square feet in the city, according to CoStar, which tracks real estate data. Amazon has also diversified the type of content it distributes, becoming the home of Thursday Night Football and making big bets on original shows like The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power in an effort to encourage consumers to buy Prime memberships. Earlier this year, Amazon closed on an $8.5 billion deal to buy MGM, including its library of content of movies including the James Bond franchise."

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA
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