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This story first appeared in the April 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Early last year, when real estate developer Michael Hackman spent $89 million to purchase Culver Studios — where Rhett Butler once told Scarlett O’Hara he didn’t give a damn, where Rocky knocked down Apollo Creed, where E.T. took his moonlit bike ride and where countless other films and TV shows have been brought to life — there were rumors he was going to turn the 97-year-old historical site into condos. After all, who wouldn’t want to live on the exact spot where Sissy Spacek got doused with pig’s blood at Carrie’s senior prom?
The green neon sign placed above the reception desk offers a welcoming greeting.
Turned out, though, Hackman had far more ambitious plans for the 14-acre compound on West Washington Boulevard, which today still serves as one of the city’s busier production sites (Billy Crystal just wrapped the first season of The Comedians there). His company, Hackman Capital Partners (which also developed Dr. Dre‘s Beats headquarters a few blocks east), is hoping to turn the property into L.A’.s next big mecca for new media — “a technology campus right here in West Los Angeles,” he describes it — that will help fill the growing need for high-tech digital production space while also respecting and reflecting Culver Studios’ rich 35mm past.
“There’s such a unique history here,” says Shannon Wollack, founder of Life.Style., the firm HCP hired to rethink the design of Culver Studios’ reception lobby and conference rooms (she’s also done Chelsea Handler‘s office and Josh Duhamel‘s home), which reopened in February. “The goal was to remind people where they were — of what had been accomplished in this space — but doing it more subtly than with movie posters. We wanted to be creative in how we reminded people.”
The main conference room’s wallpaper is made out of old movie and TV scripts as well as historical stills from Culver Studios productions such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Steven Spielberg’s Hook.
They got creative, all right, spending $200,000 to turn Culver Studios’ 2,000-square-foot reception area into a showcase space. They hired street artist Good and Shiddy, whose work is often seen in New York subways, to fill one wall with a funky mural of characters from Culver Studios’ past (Rocky, Beetlejuice, King Kong) and California-based Sharpie-sketcher Sean Sullivan, who is known for his large wall murals, to decorate another with black-and-white drawings of vintage props and costumes, like Batman’s old TV duds (the 1960s show was shot at Culver Studios, as were Hogan’s Heroes, The Andy Griffith Show and the pilot of the original Star Trek). Wollack also commissioned one-of-a-kind furniture and appointments, including end tables constructed out of piles of old scripts and wallpaper made from screenplay pages and vintage film stills. “This is the hub where people first come to the studio,” she says of the reception space, “so we wanted to set a tone.”
One wall in the lobby is filled with a mural by street artist Good and Shiddy featuring characters that were all brought to life inside the soundstages of Culver Studios: Scarlett O’Hara, King Kong, TV’s Batman, Rocky, E.T., Pee-Wee Herman, Kill Bill’s heroine and Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter.
All the structures at the studio, some dating back to the silent era, when Cecil B. DeMille ran the place (David O. Selznick also owned it at one point, as did Lucille Ball and Lehman Bros., until it folded), have been refitted with high-speed wiring and other modern conveniences for 21st century-style digital production. But only the reception lobby and conference rooms were given a top-to-bottom makeover, which took five months to complete, and had to be done during weekends and holidays, since Culver Studios still is a fairly happening place (Cougar Town recently finished shooting its seventh season there).
Sullivan, who does much of his street art with Sharpie pens, was commissioned to make this mural — on a wall adjacent to a glass conference room — of a theatrical trailer filled with costumes, props and memorabilia, all dating back to Culver Studios’ earlier history. That’s his rendering of Uma Thurman’s Kill Bill outfit, Adam West’s Batman duds and Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice wardrobe.
At least two of the existing tenants barely even noticed the disruption. “We’re both film freaks,” says screenwriter Scott Alexander, who has been sharing a Culver Studios office with partner Larry Karaszewski for five years (where they wrote Big Eyes). “Knowing we could look out our window and see the mountains that were Skull Island in King Kong — that’s exciting to us.”
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