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A Tour of YouTube's Los Angeles Studio

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The entrance to YouTube Space LA
The entrance to YouTube Space LA

Bunkered beneath a cliff a couple miles north of Los Angeles International Airport sits arguably YouTube's most important real estate: YouTube Space LA. Google broke ground on the filmmaking studio last year -- converted from Howard Hughes' airport -- and has opened it up to the video site's creators to borrow equipment like TV-quality cameras, shoot their series using green screens and man newsroom-style control rooms.

Next month YouTube will begin to extend the invitation to brands, a handful at first and up to 100 by the end of 2014 (and will open up an East Coast counterpart in downtown Manhattan next year). The idea is to improve the quality of marketers' YouTube content and indirectly play matchmaker between those marketers and YouTube's creators who flit in and out of the production facility.

Basically YouTube Space LA aims to be online video's version of the Chauteau Marmont or Chelsea Hotel. Advertising Age took a tour of the studio to see what marketers may expect.

Like YouTube's Bay Area headquarters, YouTube Space LA is pretty nondescript, holed up near the hillside with little ceremony to signal that one of the hearts of New Hollywood is housed here.

Hillside view of YouTube Space LA (building at far right)
Hillside view of YouTube Space LA (building at far right)

YouTube has redone most of the hangar previously used by James Cameron to film "Avatar," though it has kept Mr. Hughes' old offices that cover the upper floor of its east wing. That's where the Google employees sit. In keeping with Google's typical policy -- and in the spirit of the space's hermetic former proprietor -- no photographs are allowed to be taken of those offices (If you've seen one tech company's office, you've seen this one).

Typically the showpiece of YouTube Space LA's lobby is a long table. That got subbed out for a full-on film production when Ad Age dropped by. A crew had overtaken the lobby to shoot the latest in YouTube's Pro Series.

YouTube Pro Series is a new monthly talk-show-slash-how-to-session for YouTube creators to talk business. The series co-producers can explain it better.

YouTube Pro Series wasn't the only show in production. YouTube is also ramping up for its next theme week, Geek Week, to kick off on August 4 and set up a mock news desk in a room next to where the Pro Series was shooting to film the Geek Week's promotional trailer.

Nerdist Channel is producing Geek Week with YouTube, and the company's head of production Seth Laderman took a turn behind the desk to explain its plans.

Part of YouTube's pitch to creators and marketers is that each visit to YouTube Space LA could lead to chance encounters with the site's top talent. Lo and behold, Freddie Wong -- whose freddiew / BrandonJLa channel counts more than 6 million subscribers -- at work.

Freddie Wong on set
Freddie Wong on set

Mr. Wong is YouTube Space LA's unofficial creator in residence and is using most of the studio's 41,000 square feet to film the second season of Video Game High School; the first episode of the series' second season garnered more than 1.3 million views within three days of last week's premiere.

Given the Pro Series shoot plus Nerdist Channel, Freddie Wong and Demand Media all filming on site, it's not that surprising YouTube's backlot was pretty bare. But there were a few top-notch cameras to be had, including one that captures high-resolution 4-K video that was all the rage at this year's International Consumer Electronics Show. YouTube Space LA also keeps a few TV-quality cameras on hand for creators eyeing a more traditional look.

One of the studio's control rooms
One of the studio's control rooms

Whatever resolution a filmmaker chooses, YouTube Space LA features a screening room for creators to watch their videos at maximum resolution in order to pick out any blemishes. And while filming, creators can have people man the control rooms to make sure everything runs smoothly. YouTube claims it has enough wires stretching through YouTube Space LA to span the 350-plus miles between the Southern California studio and the site's Bay Area headquarters, which helps to connect the filming rooms on its west side to the control rooms on its east side.

YouTube Space LA's sound stage
YouTube Space LA's sound stage

The control rooms are best for complex, multi-camera productions like the Pro Series shoot, which could have been situated in the studio's large soundstage were it not in use for a company offsite (er, onsite).

Busy as YouTube Space LA seemed during Ad Age's visit, there were some spaces still available, such as a green screen, a classroom set and a room that had been constructed into a jungle set, though all that remained was a large piece of hanging canvas with vine imagery. Of course that likely won't be the case as the studio crowds with creators and marketers alike over the next year.

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