Burbank, CA—At the end of last year, Signature Post hung out its shingle at 919 N Victory Blvd. in Burbank, a building previously occupied by RH Factor that will perhaps forever be remembered as the former home of EFX. But any similarity between the current facility and its forebears begins and ends at the outside walls.
“We took it down to the bones and brought in the best architects, builders and designers,” says Ricky DeLena, Signature Post’s executive vice president. DeLena spent the first two decades of his career in the music industry—at the Record Plant in New York and then Los Angeles—before going on to build, revitalize or operate audio post facilities for the likes of Widget, AudioHead, Formosa Group and Pacifica. “Greg cut no corners and did it right.”
DeLena is referring to Greg Stone, owner of Signature Post and president of SPG Studios, a foreign-language dubbing specialist located a short distance away. Stone comes from the world of private equity and acquired SPG in 2016 as a way to anchor his family—his school-age kids and his wife, Jude Weng, who at the time was an episodic TV director—in the Los Angeles area. Barely a month after it opened, Weng was at Signature Post working on a big-budget Netflix feature.
Yet this is not dilettantism or a vanity project. Indeed, coming from outside the business, Stone may be more clear-eyed about building a new audio post venture than many industry veterans.
“These facilities are generally not the best use of real estate, no matter where they are put,” says Stone. “That’s why there are so few new facilities. If someone has access to the land, they want to put something else on it. We’re saying, if it’s done in the right place, at the right scale and done nicely, it can be a thriving business—and it’s a good use of real estate.”
The oft-quoted phrase that there are three things that matter in property—location, location, location—might almost have been coined specifically for the Los Angeles audio post market. With that in mind, what, or who, decides whether a show goes to a post facility in Burbank, Hollywood or the Westside?
“There are three or four constituencies and, based on the individual production, it is which of those voices is the loudest and most urgent,” says Stone, noting that commuting convenience is a major factor in the Los Angeles area. “Sometimes that plays to Burbank’s advantage, because the talent generally prefers to be in Burbank, but when you get to producer and executive convenience, it’s the Westside or Hollywood.” While client amenities are critical for most productions, he says, “Ultimately, the value is in the talent.”
Compared to the post facilities on the big film lots, Signature Post is small, says Stone. “We’re not going to massively disrupt anything. Where we are different is that we can be so bespoke. If ‘bespoke post’ wasn’t so hard to say, that was going to be my name for the company. Because we are unique, we can really tailor our recruitment and build a culture here.”
“We’re getting to hand pick our talent—mixers, editors, mix techs, engineers,” says DeLena. Already on board is veteran ADR mixer Alan Freedman, he adds.
To better attract the right talent, Stone brought in Scott Oyster as chief engineer. “I went to someone who had to operate the room, because he knows when a room is not done right,” says Stone of Oyster, who worked with DeLena at AudioHead. “I leaned on Ricky for client experience and Scott for what the mixer and mix techs would need.”
As for equipping the rooms, Stone continues, “I knew I was going to end up working with Westlake Pro; I’ve worked with [Westlake’s enterprise account executive] Stephen Bannister before. Westlake wanted to put in certain gear, so we went with that gear.”
Mix Stage 1 is certified for Dolby Atmos Theatrical and centered on a dual-operator Avid S6 console. Catering to broadcast and streaming clients and certified for Dolby Atmos Home Theater, Mix Stages 2 and 3 both house Avid S3 control surfaces. BSS Audio processing manages the JBL speaker arrays in the rooms. A fourth room is dedicated to ADR.
“Not many places of this scale are tilted up from scratch in this day and age; people put up a new room or do a remodel. What was exciting was spending the money in a way that we knew was particularly efficient,” says Stone, citing the benefits of Ethernet cabling.
To build out the new interior layout, Stone called on general contractor Kaiser Comm Construction. Kevin Kaiser, a former post-production engineer who has been building studios since 1985, was the project’s design director, while Carlos Gomez was the construction supervisor.
“Kevin represented the kind of person I like working with,” says Stone, “which is to say, someone with something to prove, someone who is looking to leverage me to get something more than just a commission check—and Kevin understood what needed to get done.”
Signature got off to a running start, but what of future business potential? “I think there’s a good chance there will be some changes coming soon with some places who are selling or moving out of the business,” confides DeLena. “I think the timing is good for us,” he says of the incipient facilities shortage.
There is generally little wiggle room on the rates as a way to attract business, it seems. “This industry is very price inelastic,” says Stone. “People pay what they pay; the budget is the budget. On the margins, if you’re in Hollywood, you just discount a little less. If you’re in Burbank, you discount a little more; maybe you throw in a little extra service compared to Hollywood—but not enough to reward entrepreneurs to come in and put up facilities. I don’t know how the industry reconciles with that.”
That said, “I chose to put down my roots in Burbank. Of the three markets in L.A., it’s the most sensible.”
Kaiser Comm Construction • www.kaisercommconstruction.com
Westlake Pro • westlakepro.com