Choose Your Own Adventure: Mack Sennett Studios’ Jesse Rogg on VR + Hollywood

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A little over four years ago, Jesse Rogg had just set foot into the nondescript building which he had driven past countless times in his resident neighborhood, Silver Lake. The music producer was scouting locations for a creative space and had stumbled upon the hidden treasure in his midst while scouring real estate listings. Five minutes later, he was inside the building, smitten. Months of hounding and “shadowing” the owner later, the property was his and thus set off a creative renaissance of sorts for the building, and, in some ways, for Jesse himself.

The music producer-turned-entrepreneur heads the space, now dubbed Mack Sennett Studios, which has grown to become a hub for the creative industry—from hosting Spike Jonze’s Oscar after-party, to filming the opening scenes of American Horror Story in the building’s basement—the space’s dynamic multiplicity of uses has made it a go-to destination for the movers-and-shakers of LA. The building itself is almost one hundred years old, built by early Hollywood’s “King of Comedy”—legendary actor, producer, and director, Mack Sennett—a man instrumental in bringing about slapstick comedy films and Charlie Chaplin’s rise to fame.

 

Jesse Rogg, President at Mack Sennett Studios
Jesse Rogg, President at Mack Sennett Studios

Sennett built the present-day Mack Sennett Studios in 1916 for his lover and partner-in-crime—silent film actor, screenwriter, director and producer Mabel Normand, though their relationship later deteriorated. The “Mabel Normand Feature Film Company” as it was then known, was later sold as the Great Depression hit and Sennett entered into bankruptcy.

Luckily, a small handful of consecutive owners kept the place continuously running, and some of entertainment’s most iconic music videos and films were shot in the space before Rogg came along – the studios still house the backdrop from Michael Jackson’s Remember the Time, and wardrobe crates from films such as Gone With The Wind. Antique relics such as midcentury camera lenses and ledger books can still be found in the studio’s basement. Indeed, the building is lovingly adorned in its own history.

Yet in its revelry of the building’s storied lifetime, the team at Mack Sennett are distinctly forward-looking in their trajectory. Rogg tells me the slogan for the space’s newly formed in-house creative agency and production studio, 1215 Creative, is “Connecting Hollywood’s History With Its Future.”

While the building’s bread-and-butter is renting out their two stages (Netflix’s hit series, Stranger Things just hosted their premiere there), 1215 Creative might just be what Rogg is most excited about right now. As I pepper him with questions about events and what exactly has been going down at the studio, the answers always come back to “VR,” that is: Virtual Reality.

 

Jesse Rogg, President at Mack Sennett Studios
Jesse Rogg, President at Mack Sennett Studios

Rogg visibly perks up each time it’s discussed. While 1215 Creative started off as traditional content company that also dabbled in events, Rogg and Brandon Fuller, his creative director, caught the VR bug and dove head-first into it.  

“It’s such a brilliant new art form that most everyone agrees is going to be the future, at least to some degree, and nobody’s really an expert yet […] everyone’s still figuring out best practices, better ways to shoot things, and it’s super exciting to be a part of that.”

Indeed, VR is having its moment and it doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon.

“For the first time in history, the director or the cinematographer isn’t directing what the frame is,” Rogg explains, “You have to think about all these different ways to direct people’s attention, to go down different rabbit holes. It’s a different, new way of telling a story.”

Rogg’s team began working with VR when they formed a partnership with the Virtual Reality Company (VRC), a company started by Rob Stromberg that counts industry titans such as Steven Spielberg on its advisory board. Rogg’s team have been collaborating on their live music shows, shot all in 360 at Mack Sennett Studios.

As I direct the conversation toward VR’s implications on filmmaking, Rogg postulates, “It’s gonna be a lot more ‘choose your own adventure.’ Different plotlines, depending on which road you go down. Also, the length is more fluid—it’s not like ‘here’s a 90 minute, linear film’—you can be in a five minute experience but hang out there for two hours if you wanted.”

With his realm of business opportunities seemingly growing exponentially, I ask Rogg what’s next, and what defines success if you’ve already hit your initial goal of cultivating a creative hub for Los Angeles? Rogg mentions continuing to give back to the community and incubating other endeavors (and, of course, more VR) but he ultimately says “I define success with happiness. It sounds like a basic concept, but at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters. You can make all the money in the world—and we see it all the time—if you’re not happy, then what’s the worth?”

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