A movie ranch is a ranch that is at least partially dedicated for the creation and production of motion pictures and television productions. Originally, they were all within the 30-mile (48 km) studio zone, often in the foothills of the San Fernando Valley, Santa Clarita Valley and Simi Valley.
Movie ranches first came into use for location shooting in Southern California during the 1920s with the rising popularity of westerns. Hollywood-based studios found it difficult to recreate the topography of the Old West on sound stages and studio backlots, so they looked to the rustic valleys, canyons and foothills of Southern California for filming locations. Other large-scale productions also needed large, undeveloped settings for outdoor scenes, such as war films for their battle scenes.
To achieve greater scope, productions would conduct location shooting in yonder parts of California, Arizona, and Nevada, but travel expenses for production staff created a dispute between workers and the studios. The studios agreed to pay union workers extra if they worked out of town. The definition of out of town specifically referred to a distance of greater than 30 miles (48 km) from the studio, or beyond the studio zone.
To solve this problem, many movie studios invested in large tracts of undeveloped rural land, in many cases existing ranches, located closer to Hollywood. In most cases, the ranches were located just within the 30-mile (48 km) perimeter, specifically in the Simi Hills in the western San Fernando Valley, the Santa Monica Mountains, and the Santa Clarita area of the Greater Los Angeles Area. The natural California landscape proved to be suitable for western locations and other settings.
As a result of the post-war (WWII) era suburban development raising property values, rising taxes, and the resulting urban sprawl of Los Angeles, most of these movie ranches have since been sold and subdivided. A few of these have survived as regional parks, and are still used for filming. Movie ranches have gradually moved to other regions such as New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.
Below is a partial listing of some of these movie ranches.
J.W. Eaves Movie Ranch
Located in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the J.W. Eaves Movie Ranch was opened in the early 1960s with their first production being the CBS television series Empire in 1962. Over 250 other productions have filmed here over the years including The Cheyenne Social Club, Chisum, Easy Rider and Young Guns II. In 1998, a tornado touched down one mile from the film crew of Wishbone's Dog Days of the West as they were shooting the western scenes. It dissipated as it headed toward the set.
The Eaves Ranch is open to the public and has been home to the Thirsty Ear roots music festival.
The Skywalker Ranch is not a movie ranch in the conventional sense, but rather is the location of the production facilities for film and television producer George Lucas in Marin County, California. Based in secluded but open land near Nicasio in Northern California, the property encompasses over 4,700 acres (19 km2), of which all but 15 acres (61,000 m2) remain undeveloped.
Southfork Ranch is a working ranch in Parker, Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas, that is used for some location filming. It was the backdrop for the 1980s prime time soap opera Dallas and its 2010s continuation.
Circle M City
Circle M City, in Sanford, North Carolina, is the set for the Christian movie Cowboy Trail. Backing up to 50 acres (200,000 m2) of land, this town features a church that seats 50 people, a mercantile, bank, saloon, livery, jail, costumes, and horses.
Sable Ranch was a 400-acre (1.6 km2) ranch in Santa Clarita, featuring lakes, a western town, a hacienda, barn, fields, and a train. The large field enables the construction of large sets and has been used by numerous film and television series including The A-Team and more recently 24 and Wipeout.
The ranch was destroyed in the Sand Fire wildfire on July 24, 2016
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