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Friday, April 19, 2019

Photo Essay: The First-Ever Public Tour of Blue Cloud Movie Ranch

If anything will perk up my ears, it's hearing that any particular place is "never open to the public"—except this one time.



Such was the case with Blue Cloud Movie Ranch in Saugus, which offered its first-ever public tour through the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival this year.



To be considered an official "movie ranch," a production facility needs to be at least 50 contiguous acres and have a buffer zone between it and the local residential area. Blue Cloud has 250 acres that are located in a wilderness area, partially bordering Los Padres National Forest and the City of Santa Clarita's Haskell Open Space.



It first opened for business in 2001 under the leadership of movie actor and stuntman Rene Veluzat—a member of the Veluzat family, who's got the Santa Clarita movie ranch market cornered. He sold it to new owner Dylan Lewis in 2015. 



Lewis and his team has renovated and expanded Blue Cloud Movie Ranch since that time...



...including adding a 3,000-square-foot mission-style church.



Eventually, it will anchor a town plaza-themed set...



...because what center of town doesn't have some kind of church?



The exterior could easily double as California...



...or Mexico.



But once you pass through those big wooden doors and go inside...



...it's more of a blank canvas, waiting to be dressed by production designers and set decorators.



Like the rest of the sets on the ranch, there's no potable water and no electricity (though it's wired for it, so productions can bring in their own generators).



One of the most famous sets at Blue Cloud Ranch is the insensitively-named "Third World Town"...



...where we saw Tony Stark as Iron Man come "to the rescue" [click for clip] in Afghanistan.



This set also functioned as Afghanistan for an episode of HBO's True Blood...



...although it's designed to portray the bustling side streets of any traditional Middle Eastern town (or even Mexico or Asia).



And because of its remote location, excessive noise (like explosions and helicopter landings) is permitted from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. As well, production companies can film here 24/7.



Clint Eastwood's production of American Sniper chose this set to portray an Afghan village...



...where Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (portrayed by Bradley Cooper) dines with a family of insurgents...



...and discovers a cache of weapons in the floor [click for clip].



As soon as it starts to seem real, you turn a corner and you're reminded that it's all just a Hollywood set.



However, one of two fully functional military base simulations at Blue Cloud—Forward Operating Base #1—is as authentic as any Middle Eastern "training towns" I've seen on real bases.



Between the tents, barracks, offices...



...guard towers, and other military infrastructure, it feels like you're right on the front lines.



Given Blue Cloud's proximity to undeveloped land—its oak trees and scrub oaks located on the Ranch are protected by state law—it can't exactly dig through the natural landscape if it needs a tunnel.



So, it built a free-standing culvert...



...that leads to a labyrinthine cave system that feels underground but is entirely above ground (and artificial, like everything else).

Visiting Blue Cloud Movie Ranch feels like stepping back in time—before LA was overcrowded and everything was owned by just a handful of corporations.

It's nice to see an independently-owned movie ranch thriving. Especially when the ones in the San Fernando Valley, Simi Hills, and Santa Susana Mountains got crowded out (or burned down).

But movie ranches like Blue Cloud do feel like an endangered species.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Fake Iraq in the Middle of the Mojave Desert
Photo Essay: Melody Ranch Movie Ranch, Closed to Public (Except this Once)
Finding the Minnesota Prairie in the Simi Hills

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