Audio Head’s Dub D is home to mixer Eric Martell’s Martell Sound and a large new Euphonix console.HOLLYWOOD, CA—Originally established as a film studio in the early 1900s, the lot at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Formosa Avenue in Hollywood has had many titles. Now known simply as “The Lot,” this historic location, which has seen some of the greatest films ever made visit its soundstages, is home to an audio post-production operation— Audio Head—that has positioned itself to meet the 21st century demands of the major studios and independent production companies.
In the 1920s, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford owned the 18-acre lot and made such classics as Robin Hood and The Thief of Bagdad there. Later, Fairbanks and Pickford were joined by Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith—their partners in founding United Artists. In the 1950s, it became the Samuel Goldwyn Studios. In 1980, Warner Bros. purchased the lot and established Warner Hollywood Studios, before selling it in 1999 to its current owners, leasing back the sound facilities for a further six years as part of the deal.
The historical context is important. Even with Warner Bros.—and other major studios—building their own post operations, there remains plenty of demand for independently operated mixing facilities. “There are still scheduling conflicts,” reports Rick DeLena, executive vice president of Audio Head.
Indeed, Audio Head has hosted audio post projects from each of the five major studios, as well as smaller production companies and individual directors. “We’re not a competitor to the majors; we’re a location that’s properly run, and we can house and host anybody they send over, or I’ll put a package together. Being a neutral party keeps us busy,” explains DeLena. To date, projects have been split evenly between “four wall” deals and packages, he says.
DeLena spent the last half of 2009 upgrading the sound facilities for Skye Partners, operators of The Lot, after the previous occupant, Widget Post, left. When Skye Partners sold the sound facilities to the owners of Picture Head, a picture-finishing facility located nearby on Vine Street, he made a deal to rebuild and run the operation.
DeLena, who was formerly at Technicolor, looks after four buildings that house four large dubbing stages, an ADR stage, a Foley stage and a 130-seat screening room. Dub D is home to mixer Eric Martell’s Martell Sound and a large new Euphonix console. Audio Head’s three other dub stages house an AMS Neve DFC (in A), and two multi-position Avid Icons (B and C). In addition, DeLena handles the scheduling for 24 production office suites.
“We’re working side by side with Picture Head to create a new environment for filmmakers,” he explains. “We’re getting requests for whole packages, picture and sound. We can provide office space, editorial facilities, dailies, color, DI and sound. Not a lot of other places are able to do that.”
Certain mixers, when they have the choice, like to bring their projects to Audio Head, DeLena reports. “This is a very well established facility. Over the years, it has become ground zero for post production and sound and mixing,” he says of its drawing power. Indeed, some of Hollywood’s most memorable movies have passed through these mixing stages, including The Godfather, Raging Bull, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars and West Side Story. But, as DeLena also notes, that’s no reason for the facility to rest on its laurels. “There’s not enough work for everybody right now. You need the right combination of things to bring it into your house.”
Happily, Audio Head hit the ground running, thanks in no small measure to DeLena’s industry connections. Director Terrence Malick’s, Tree of Life, winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes, helped put the facility back on the map. Malick will return with his next project in a couple of months.
“We had three or four Number One movies released in a row,” DeLena adds, including Paranormal Activity 2, Hop and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. Current projects include features Contagion, Dolphin Tale, Rock of Ages, Glee 3-D and Bless Me, Ultima.
Despite the uncertainty of the economy and the recent downturn in Hollywood film production, DeLena has reason to be optimistic. “I just hope the economy and the business continues to regain the luster of yesterday,” he says. “It used to be that there was enough work for everybody, with some left over for nighttime shifts. But I’m proud of these rooms and of what we’ve accomplished in a year and a half, and I feel positive.”