By Oren Peleg
On the site of an old gravel pit in the northern reaches of the San Fernando Valley, Local 40 members are wiring up a state-of-the-art soundstage facility to meet increasing demand for next generation production techniques.
Though the project was first approved in 2015, shovels only hit the dirt in 2020 after overcoming local opposition. A tax credit boost from the state of California arrived in 2021, allowing Sunset Studios to ramp up construction on its fourth soundstage facility in Southern California.
A $190 million, 10-acre project, Sunset Glenoaks studios will have seven new soundstages with adjacent production support and office space, allowing film and movie projects to centralize onsite.
Dwayne Cook, a Local 40 Second-Year Journeyman, has watched several soundstage complexes rise from nothing but dirt and concrete into structures that he and other union electricians have connected to the grid in increasingly sophisticated ways.
Seeing the progress from nothing to something is “the thing that I enjoy most at job sites,” Cook said.
These days, upgrading stages from analog to digital is a common task for IBEW 40 members, said Cook, who has worked on older soundstages and modernized them at Paramount.
“Seeing the soundstages being built with these newer technologies in place is more interesting than ever before,” he added.
At Sunset Glenoaks, even the ubiquitous and iconic “Now Recording” light – also known as a wig wag – is getting a 21st century upgrade.
Most studios use an analog system for the red lights that signal when a soundstage is in use and filming. In those old systems, even the wig wag’s buzzer that sounds at the beginning and end of a take comes from an internal motor.
Sunset Glenoaks will use a digital system that “allows more flexibility and way less conduit,” Cook said.
For Matthew Lyneis, a Fourth-Year Apprentice who has never worked on a soundstage before, the integration of these new technologies between the soundstages and the attached office space has been eye opening.
“Seeing how they separate [production offices] from the soundstages they’re building has been fascinating,” Lyneis said. “We have metering where they’re able to track what each production is utilizing, what energy they’re using, and they can charge the production from that.”
Lyneis is a fourth-generation union member whose lineage stretches back to his great grandfather, who was in the Aircraft Workers union, through to his father, an IBEW member.
Lyneis is also an active member of Local 40’s Reach out and Engage Next-gen Electrical Workers, or RENEW, program.
“We go to high schools, do community outreach, try to get younger faces into our hall,” Lyneis said. “We’re basically like a minor league program [for the business manager and the executive board] who are getting us set up to get into the office and see how the union works.”
Edgar Figueroa, IBEW 40’s Journeyman of the Year, also works on the Sunset Glenoaks site. He is equally committed to helping grow union membership for future generations.
After more than 20 years in IBEW, he sits on the Executive Board of the Local and serves on the Apprenticeship Training Committee, but this is his first soundstage project.
For Figueroa, projects like this represent Local 40’s future. “We’re getting big,” he said. “We’re getting stronger, and we are proud members building Hollywood. That’s unique in itself. Not a lot of people can say that they’ve built a soundstage.”