BERKELEY, CA—“What always struck me when I went into what is now the Fantasy Film Center is that it felt like you were going inside of a musical instrument,” says Jeffrey Wood, director of Fantasy Studios. The 1,820-square-foot mix space originally opened its doors in 1981 and, after a decade of use as a screening room, has recently been fully refurbished by Fantasy Studios to return to its original purpose.
“I always felt like I was inside a violin, because of the way it’s built,” says Wood. “Everything is wood, and it’s got such a warm feeling to it, a comfortable feeling. That’s the first thing people say when they walk in: ‘I could just stay in here.’ The sound quality is so detailed and pristine that you can work in there for hours with no fatigue.”
The mix theater—indeed, the entire building—has quite a history. The first phase of construction began in 1969 after Fantasy Records executive Saul Zaentz and partners bought the label from its owners. The building, at the corner of Tenth and Parker in Berkeley, initially housed the three Fantasy Studios (still in business) plus offices. After Zaentz and his partners struck Oscar gold with three Best Pictures—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus and The English Patient—the seven-story Saul Zaentz Film Center was built alongside to house additional recording and post-production studios and other facilities.
In 2004, says Wood, Zaentz and partners divested themselves of the label, selling it to Concord Records, and the building was snapped up by a commercial real estate development company. Two years later, Concord pulled the plug on the studios.
“We decided to keep the studios open and put together a plan,” he says. But there was one more hurdle: “That was right at the 2008 financial crisis.”
Up to 70 percent of the business had been from Concord, he reveals. “When that left, after Concord moved the tapes out of the building and down to L.A., we lost all of that business. So we had to rebuild from scratch, essentially. The first thing we did was put a lot of money and energy into maintenance. It took two or three years to really get it rolling, but every year just kept getting better and better.”
Then, about five years ago, Wood began entertaining the idea of opening the Jacobs screening room, on the first floor of what is now known as the Zaentz Media Center. He asked all the Bay Area mixers if they would work there. “Everybody said yes. The next question was, how much business could you bring me? It would go quiet and everybody would look at the floor. I knew that it wasn’t time.”
Bookings in the music studios have been solid for the last few years, he reports, including a good number of video shoots. Studio A now features an SSL Duality SE console, and Studio C has been home to Michael Romanowski’s Coast Mastering facility since the end of 2015.
But over recent years, the studio business climate has changed, opening up an opportunity to renovate the third-floor film mix room to meet the demands of the Bay Area tech community. “Everybody is producing content and narrative content. We’re getting so many calls, because we do so much voice over and Foley work. I’ve been entertaining a lot of meetings with VR people as well. We can do surround mixing in two of our rooms down here” at Fantasy Studios, he says.
Fantasy Film Center’s renovation was overseen by Jim Austin, a wellknown Bay Area audio expert and former chief engineer at the facility, together with Fantasy staffers Alberto Hernandez and James Gangwer. The room was originally built by Jeff Cooper, with whom Wood recently spoke on the phone. “He said, ‘It was actually my second project after graduating from architecture school, the first being Francis Ford Coppola’s room.’ I said, you must have done wonderfully with that, because you got the call from Saul to work here.”
Wood took the city of Berkeley’s promotion of local businesses to heart, renovating the room with equipment from Avid, who have offices in the building, and Meyer Sound, who are just three blocks away. “They’ve both been wonderful companies to work with and deal with. They’ve both been very supportive,” he reports.
The theater’s Meyer Sound cinema system was updated by adding three Acheron 80 screen channel loudspeakers and 10 HMS-12 surround speakers to an existing pair of 650-P subwoofers. A Galileo 408 provides management of the 5.1/7.1 system with a Galileo 616 for system drive and optimization.
The studios have been using Pro Tools since 1999, so the decision to install an Avid S6 control surface is perhaps unsurprising. The theater also offers ISDN connectivity plus direct links to Fantasy Studios’ renowned reverb and chamber collection two floors below.
But there is more to a facility than equipment, as Wood observes. “Everybody concentrates on the gear, but anybody can buy gear. It’s about the rooms and the people that work in the rooms. And this room is wonderful.”