Mack Sennett Studios exists as a working archive, a case study to explore the historic arc of an industry that continues to undergo tremendous changes as digital technology replaces the materiality of traditional cinematic techniques. In the past century, the small number of owners have shared an interest in the building’s history and little was discarded as the property changed hands. Under the visionary direction of current owner Jesse Rogg the facility continues to expand its identity as a soundstage, creative event space and a hub for a variety of cultural producers, functioning as the home of Los Angeles’ current cultural renaissance.
History of the Soundstage and Production Studios
When the studio opened in 1916, Los Angeles was establishing a relationship with the nascent film industry that continues to define its identity to this day. There was room for the likes of entrepreneur Mack Sennett and comedienne Mabel Normand to carve out a creative space in an industry that became the nexus for art, commerce and craft. The neighborhood of Edendale, as the Silver Lake/ Echo Park area was known at the time, was the site of many of the original studios. While women gained the right to vote in 1919, Normand was running the studio and working as one of Hollywood’s first female directors. She directed unknown British vaudeville comic Charlie Chaplin in his first short films and shares credit for inventing the pie in the face gag that would become a Sennett comedy staple. In Normand’s time, eighty percent of films seen around the world were made in Los Angeles; in 2013 only two studio films were shot in LA. Mack Sennett Studios like the city itself has evolved in response to a changing industry characterized by reinvention. The once open-air filming platforms topped by canvas tarps were eventually enclosed as cinema technology allowed for sound recording and artificial lighting. Over the course of a century, the site has operated as a shop that produced hand-painted backdrops, later housed a studio lighting and equipment company and its stages have been used for countless music video, film and photography shoots. — forward written by Nicola Goode