Why Top Hollywood Producers Are Choosing to Work in L.A.'s Historic Filipinotown: It's "a Community of Color"

Rideback Ranch - Publicity - H 2020
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Ava DuVernay and Dan Lin have opened production campuses in the working-class neighborhood near downtown, shifting power east as they work to support the locals: "I know that I'm a visitor."

When Dan Lin and Ava DuVernay each opened production campuses in Historic Filipinotown in 2019, both producers were concerned about the impact their projects might have on a Los Angeles community already at risk of displacement.

"We wanted to be in a community of color. We didn't want to be in Beverly Hills or Pacific Palisades. I wanted a place where we could take part in the culture," DuVernay tells THR. "But gentrification is a real thing."

DuVernay, creator of 2019's When They See Us, is discussing her Array Creative Campus, a 14,000-square-foot, three-building compound on Glendale Boulevard. Just a few blocks away is Lin's Rideback Ranch, a 35,000-square-foot mixed-use facility that transformed an abandoned post office into a sprawling Western-themed office and co-working space.

Array and Rideback have a common goal: to give diverse and marginalized groups of artists, writers and filmmakers a physical space to collaborate and showcase their work. Together, the campuses have turned Historic Filipinotown, located just south of Silver Lake and Echo Park, into a bona fide industry magnet (David Ayer's Cedar Park Entertainment rents space at Rideback, and Margot Robbie's LuckyChap production company is in the area).

In their own ways, Lin and DuVernay are formulating a blueprint for how the entertainment industry can balance its expanding footprint at a moment when L.A. is struggling with a housing crisis. Last year, tenants' rights groups in the neighborhood protested new zoning guidelines that they said included coded language that inevitably leads to the displacement of lower-income residents. The neighborhood, characterized by low-slung apartment and commercial buildings, is home to a largely working-class Latino and Filipino population. But the entertainment industry has been creeping eastward, and a growing number of writers and producers have been seeking more creative and authentic environments in which to work.

Jason Blum planted the industry's first flag in Historic Filipinotown. In 2012, the Us and Fantasy Island producer purchased the first of three buildings which now house Blumhouse Productions. "I was looking for a big space that was inexpensive, and we found this amazing building that fit the identity of the company," says Blum, who adds that he "fell in love with" the neighborhood.

To allay residents' concerns, DuVernay and Lin each spent weeks on listening tours. Lin, the producer of Aladdin, It and The Lego Movie, met with Sister Anne Tran of the Good Shepherd Center shelter as well as the headmaster of the local elementary school. DuVernay took meetings with arts and labor groups and Filipino community leaders.

Lin now sits on the board of the Good Shepherd Center, located across the street from Rideback. His conversations with Union Avenue Elementary resulted in a weekly program — in conjunction with the non-profit Young Storytellers — in which Rideback sends writers to help kids from immigrant families write and produce school plays which are then performed by professional actors.

"When I first met with [the school], I naively asked, "Do you need money?' " says Lin. "And they said, 'We don't need money; we need your superpower — storytelling — to inspire our school.' "

As Hollywood is moving in, Historic Filipinotown — sometimes called Hi-Fi — has emerged as one of the city's hottest culinary spots. Even so, Blum hasn't noted a huge transformation since he arrived.

One immutable element has been the response from industry colleagues over how far east it is. "The best thing for me is that this is the center where all the artists live and not the businesspeople, most of whom live on the Westside," Blum says. "The writers and the directors — they're all next to me. It's artist-friendly."

Striking the right balance in L.A. neighborhoods unaccustomed to entertainment, media and technology companies can be tricky. When Snapchat came to Venice Beach, taking over a slew of buildings, it triggered a yearslong revolt against the messaging app until the company was forced to pick up and move to Santa Monica. Meanwhile, downtown L.A.'s Arts District has struggled to find the right mix of established companies and startups. Carl Choi, founder of experiential marketing firm The Great Co., leased space in the Arts District for six years but recently moved to Hi-Fi. "It was fun seeing the organic stuff happening," says Choi of the Arts District, "but then it lost its creative energy and became more corporate."

DuVernay also responded to what she heard from local stakeholders. She recently completed the inaugural ARRAY 360, a six-week film series that celebrated films from a range of cultures including Filipino and was hosted in Array's Amanda Cinema. She'll be announcing further public programming in coming weeks.

Lin and DuVernay are also co-chairs of the Evolve Entertainment Fund, a public-private partnership with the city of Los Angeles aimed at creating new opportunities for communities that historically have been excluded from the entertainment industry.

DuVernay is worried, though, that efforts like hers won't always be emulated. "I know that I'm a visitor in a community with its own rich heritage and a history that came well before me," she says. "It worries me that companies are spreading out across the sprawl of the city and it will be done irresponsibly. But that's been the M.O. of Hollywood."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.