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Sugar Studios Expands To Streamline

By Steve Harvey. Rising post-production company Sugar Studios recently expanded its mixing facilities in LA’s Wiltern Tower, building a Dolby Atmos room and more, reinventing itself as a streamlined, all-in-one production facility.

Los Angeles, CA (October 31, 2018)—Sugar Studios LA recently cut the ribbon on its expanded facilities in the Art Deco-era Wiltern Theater Tower in L.A.’s Koreatown, unveiling a dual-purpose 25-seat Dolby Atmos mix stage and 4K color DI theater on the building’s penthouse floor. The new addition also houses a 15-workstation bullpen for VFX and editing with an adjacent balcony offering panoramic views of the city.

Sugar began as a sizzle and trailer company before morphing into a production and post facility with a focus on features. The vision behind the company, says senior producer Chris Harrington, was to extend collaborative filmmaking through the post process to the final product.

“There’s this energy that happens on the set between the director, director of photography, production designer. Suddenly the project wraps, and everybody goes in separate directions. We thought, why can’t we bring that same collaborative energy into the post process, where they have everything under one roof and your data isn’t in five different places around town?

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“The whole concept here is for us to get involved in the development stage,” continues Harrington, “because if a director knows that this is where he or she is bringing their data, and they know they don’t have to go anywhere else, there’s peace of mind. Ultimately, it’s about creating a better, more seamless process.”

Sugar began six years ago on the ninth floor of the building, where company founder, CEO and creative director Jijo Reed moved into one room. “It was him, a laptop and no clients,” says Harrington. “But there were other offices on this floor and every time a lease came up, Jijo took it.”

Harrington had previously worked elsewhere with Reed on a project and after building an international film company in Canada, returned to L.A. and joined him at Sugar, where senior feature editor Paul Buhl was already onboard. “The three of us had been dying to get movies made somehow,” says Buhl.

Fast-forward a few years and Sugar has just released its first feature, a drama with a Latin music and dance backdrop entitled Shine, into 600 theaters, with Netflix hosting worldwide streaming. The team at Sugar is also executive producing Westerly, a documentary—six years in the making—about a womanizing ’70s-era Australian pro surfer who later underwent gender reassignment surgery.

“Filmmakers are always looking for a better way to make pictures,” says Harrington. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years as a filmmaker. I realized, post production is where you spend most of your time. I need to figure out what post is all about, learn about it from a technical standpoint as a producer. It’s invaluable if I can understand that; I can be of better service and make better pictures. And that evolved into this.”

To move Sugar closer to that one-stop collaborative vision, the new 800-sq.-ft. penthouse stage was designed for 7.1/5.1 as well as Dolby Atmos Home Theater mixing, which is becoming the standard deliverable format for Netflix and other streamers. L.A. facility integrator Audio Intervisual Design (AID) collaborated with Sugar Studios on the design, construction, acoustics, equipment selection, programming and management of the project, which took nine months from planning to completion.

“The acoustics were done by Sound Kinetics in Colorado, who we’ve worked very closely with on a number of projects,” says AID president Jim Pace. “This is primarily a Harman room,” he adds, pointing out the JBL speakers, including M2 and 7 Series reference monitors, as well as Crown amplification and Intonato speaker programming and processing. On the picture side, the room is outfitted with a Barco DP4K-P projector, a 16-by-9-foot screen and Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve system for color grading.

“There are USB chargers in the seats; it’s all about creature comforts for the creatives,” says Pace. “And we’ve tapped into the Crestron program to control the lights, projector, the Apple TV and Blu-ray player.”

One of the biggest challenges was building out the concrete shell of the penthouse floor in a 1930s building with strict fire safety regulations and small elevators. Kaiser Comm Construction supervised the build, Pace reports. “People had to carry things up 12 flights of stairs,” he says.

The new Dolby Atmos stage is also equipped with a Slate Media Technology Raven Z3C touchscreen system running Pro Tools. Senior audio producer Bret Mazur explains, “I have a relationship with Slate; we discussed it and thought it would be a great opportunity to start implementing it into the post workflow. They have amazing analog modeling software. The surface is awesome; it looks cool and it works well. And you get to interact hands-on with Pro Tools.”

Mazur, a multi-platinum producer with 18 million record sales to his name, has used the Raven a lot for music production, he says, and has another Slate touchscreen system in his audio post and scoring suite on the ninth floor, which houses a Whisper Room for vocals and voice overs. Going forward, Mazur will use a dedicated 14-by-20-foot area on the new Atmos stage for ADR and loop group recording, he says.

A green screen cyclorama stage on the ninth floor, between Buhl’s cutting room and senior colorist Bruce Bolden’s suite, is also central to Sugar’s service offerings, says Harrington. Filmmakers often miss inserts and transitions during production, he says. “So we can come in here and do them; you’d be amazed what you can do on this little cyc stage.”

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Sugar’s presence in the Wiltern Theater Tower is rounded out with two private and self-contained edit bays on the fourth floor, complete with a kitchen. Sugar recently completed a complete package of post services for QC Entertainment’s The Oath, starring Ike Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish, which was edited in the fourth-floor bays.

Things are going so well that the Sugar team is already considering further expansion. “There’s space opening up on the eleventh floor that we’re interested in,” Harrington reveals. “And it’s already divided into edit bays.”

Sugar Studios LA •