Movie People Build Town In Desert Wastes
By J D SPIRO
On a high plateau in the Colorado (This Should be California) Desert country 125 Miles Southeast of Hollywood there has lately emerged out of the sand and sage a unique village, Pioneertown, built to serve primarily as a movie set and now being developed as a permanent film-making site. Designed especially to meet the needs of Western and other outdoor pictures, it is about to become headquarters of Philip N. Krasne’s Inter-American productions, Currently making a new series of eight Cisco Kid features for United Artist release.
Krasne, who expects Pioneertown to provide a happy solution to his problem of turning out low-cost pictures in high-cost times, has taken a twenty-five-year lease on the town and has acquired filming rights to some 30,000 surrounding acres of desert and mountains. His leasing arrangements, he says, give him exclusive use of the area or motion pictures proposed, but he expects to open it up to other producers on a rental basis.
Representing an investment of $600,000 and with a present population of 300 to 350 persons, Pioneertown, to the eye, is a typical frontier community of early wild-West days. It’s one business thoroughfare, specifically called Mane Street, is lined on both sides by twenty-six commercial establishments of various kinds, including age 65 bed hotel, the Pioneer Town House; a restaurant, the Golden Stallion, and a combined saloon-dance hall, The Red Dog.
Automobiles are not allowed on Mane Street, which, under the terms of the city charter, is never to be paved. Bisecting the roadway and extending its full length is the once inevitable hitching-rail. At one end of the street Krasne is erecting a soundproof stage, 60 feet wide and 100 feet long, it’s exterior conforming to the character of the business buildings already constructed. The other end of the street are stables and a large corral.
Did Curtis, an actor in the screen’s saddle-and-spurs drama, first proposed the founding of Pioneertown and subsequently organized a company to carry out the project. On a trip into the region about two years ago he was impressed by the scenic beauty and its possibilities for outdoor filming. Situated in the Yucca Valley, 35 miles north of Palm Springs, at an altitude of 4500 feet, it presents sweeping vistas of colorful tablelands and rugged mountains, some raising 9000 feet above see level.
Curtis’ plan to develop the area, first, as a location spot for Hollywood companies, and, secondly, as a winter resort. About $300,000 went into the construction of roads and water lines, another $300,000 into the towns buildings. From various parts of the desert country, settlers came to join in the enterprise and make there home in the new community. Finishing less than a year ago, Pioneertown, however, failed to thrive. Although Hollywood was largely to the site is fate, relatively few persons here even now are aware of it’s existence. Isolated and unsung, it might soon have become another ghost town had not Krasne heard of it last August while searching for locations with Duncan Renaldo, the Cisco kid of his screen series.
Home Site, Too
Today Krasne, A former Iowan from Council Bluffs, who practiced law here for seven years before becoming an independent film producer in 1936, is moving about 15 of these key technicians and craftsmen to Pioneertown with their families. When Aldo and his family are also expected to live there, and the Krasnes Will make it there home eight or nine months of the year.
Although I am her town is relatively remote from Hollywood, the producer regards the advantages to be gained there as greatly outweighing any handicaps distance may impose upon him. With its new soundstage and the addition of a large scene dock just required from Enterprise Productions, which recently gave up a studio here, and considers the little desert community as largely self-sufficient in the matter of facility for Western films.
Regarding actors and extras, he said: “Most of my principals will come from Hollywood, at least for the present, and others will be available right in Pioneertown. In fact, the entire town will participate, one way or another, in making our pictures. We shall be particularly well supplied with horses and horse. I have put a stable of horses under contract there and, since the people living in the town are mostly lovers of outdoor live, many have their own horses and are good riders.”
As to the natural scenery provided by the 30,000 acres, the producer of served: “they contain such a diversity of magnificent desert and mountain country that we have right at our very door no less striking backgrounds and those for which the major studios have been sending companies as far east as Colorado. Thus, for us, location trips will be virtually a thing of the past, and we shall be able to shoot without having to transport, house and feed whole companies for days at a time. Only those who are familiar with the making of outdoor pictures and their present costs can appreciate what this means.”
Climbing production expenses have made the filming of low-budget pictures extremely difficult, and a large factor in these increases is the waste and added costs attached to location expeditions. Making the first two Cisco kid pictures in his car series, “The Gay Amigo” and The Valiant Hombre,” headed by Renaldo and Leo Carrillo, to Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley. They’ll relatively near Hollywood, it involved A round-trip of 90 miles, and transportation costs alone, including trucks to move the horses, or more than $5000. Since the pictures, in order to return a profit, have to be made for $100,000 to $125,000, this was 4 or 5 per cent of the total.
Moreover, on location trips the pay of many members of the company almost automatically rises, being calculated on a portal to portal basis and inevitably including much overtime which would not be earned in the studio. “take the little matter of wranglers, or stable boys, for example,” said Kranse. “they used to be paying $10 a day. Now they get a minimum of $20. Because we went to Chatsworth, though it is only forty-five miles from here, they cost me $35 to $38 a day. Since a wrangler is required for each lead horse, I had ten of them. That means an outlay of nearly $400 a day for this small item alone.”
Because Pioneertown is high and dry and the desert air ordinarily clear and free from fog, Krasne expects to escape many of the bad weather hazards frequently encountered in the Los Angeles area.