The Life and Times of The Mack Sennett Building
When you live in a city like Los Angeles, it’s easy to pass by the same buildings year after year and never realize they’re actually there. Mack Sennett Studios is housed in a grey, nondescript, irregularly shaped building on the corner of one of the busiest areas of Silverlake, and it contains almost 100 years of music and movie-making history—some of it still intact, like the hand-painted backdrop from Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” music video and wardrobe shipping crates from “Gone With the Wind." Milk Made recently sent journalist Cathleen Cher to talk to the studio’ owner, Jesse Rogg, in hopes of learning more about one of LA’s most historic gems, which he is currently determined to turn into a creative hub for other artists.
Milk Made: So, just a little bit of history first about yourself and where your background is.
Jesse Roog: My name is Jesse Rogg. I’m a music producer and studio owner. I was born in LA and grew up in Munich and lived there for almost 20 years. Moved back here in 2000 to LA and worked in various capacities in the music and production world. Ended up producing Sam Sparro including the song, “Black and Gold” and sort of started kicking everything off on the production end. That was kind of like my first big production gig and we ended up getting signed to Island Universal in the UK, went on tour, did that whole thing and DJ’d all along. Since then been producing all kinds of other people including BANKS who is just coming out now and doing really well.
MM: And now, a little bit about the history of the studio?
JR: The history of the studio is way more exciting than my history. It’s 97 years old, was built in 1916 by Mack Sennett who’s the guy who put Charlie Chaplin in his first movies. Laurel and Hardy, Keystone Cops… all the early slapstick stuff. It was built by him for Mabel Normand who was his main comedian at the time and girlfriend to film the movie "Mickey," which ended up being the highest grossing movie of 1919. I actually just acquired the original 35 millimeter negative film. I have the original negatives of the actual movie! So that’s pretty exciting! But, yeah since its inception it’s hosted various different companies. I’m only the 5th owner in 97 years so it was definitely held on for a long time by each owner. The previous owner brought it in the early 80s and did a lot of silent movies. William S. Hart owned it, who was the biggest silent movie era cowboy star. And then, Current Productions, who did a lot of backdrops and scenic stuff and drapery for all the theatres. The previous owner bought it in the early ’80s and shot every single big music video you can imagine from Cyndi Lauper, to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dr. Dre, No Doubt and the list goes on and on. And then, for the last 10 year though it’s been sort of sleeping.
So, it was a little bit sleepy and now we are obviously excited to be able to bring it back and give it new life again. It’s such an iconic building right in the middle of Silverlake, which is the original Hollywood, and now sort of obviously made a full 360 return in terms of its popularity. It’s an ideal location, perfect time for LA and such an amazing beautiful vibey space that that I’m in the process of creating or making into this creative hub for all of us to share and do creative things: film, do events, do work shops, do community outreach and food drives where we are in touch with the city a lot.
MM: What means the most to you? You found out it was shot here and you were like oh my gosh that’s crazy!
JR: It’s hard to pick just one thing because there are so many things. I mean, I tell you one of the most exciting pieces in the building for me is the Michael Jackson backdrop. That’s just kind of the one thing that everybody stops and stares and takes a photo of and is kind of in awe of because of the sheer size of it.
MM: And it’s such a memorable music video. [“Remember The Time”]
JR: Yeah, that was the most iconic music video besides maybe "Thriller" at the time and we have a piece of it, which is pretty sweet.
MM: And how long did this restoration process take?
JR: Probably, half a year. A good six months. We actually just found the oldest thing we have found to date in the building today. It’s a Mark Twain book that’s dated fucking 1899 and it’s inscribed! There’s an inscription in there with the name, I forgot the guy’s name, but it’s something unique. We looked him up on Google and found his fucking college yearbook photo, like the actual scan of a yearbook photo. Found a whole blurb about him and its fucking amazing!
We have the show “Diggers” coming. We are taking some of the floorboards coming out. The whole building is redwood and steel and you’re not even allowed to build with redwood anymore because it’s endangered but it’s super solid.
MM: Since it’s kind of creepy down here, I have to ask. Have you experienced any paranormal activity?
JR: I personally have not, but some of my guys say they have. I mean, I don’t know. I will say it is vibey. But you feel an energy in a place like this. It’s 100 years of entertainment and creation, comedy, drama. I mean there’s gonna be vibes in here.
MM: If you were to have to name one person that is watching over us who is the spirit that’s watching us now?
JR: I’d like to think Charlie Chaplin or even Mack Sennett himself. He’s the one who had it built. He was a really cool dude. He was the originator of a lot of comedy stuff. Like, he made the first feature length comedy. He’s the guy that came up with the comedy staples like the pie in the face, that’s all him. He was one of the first guerilla filmmakers too. He would insert his actors into like, parades or whatever and throw them into the mix and film it as if it’s made for the movie. Even when Echo Park was drained, he built it into his movie. He had someone pull out a plug and then the lake drained. Mabel Normand, who he built the stage for, was the original wild girl. They call her the original "I don’t care girl." She was a wild child. It was the roaring 20’s, there was all kinds of shit going down. She was a drinker, did a mass amount of blow apparently, had people whacked for sure. That’s actually why her career went downhill in the end, because it became a known thing that she was wilding out a little too hard. She had a chauffeur kill a couple of people that she cheating with to make them go away. Like, drive-by shit.
I like to think there is a piece of everyone here. Like I said, the people that worked here and owned the place were all here for a long amount of time for at least 10 or 20 sometimes 30 years. So you leave a piece of yourself here. I’m planning on being here for 20 or 30 more years here too. I see myself having a responsibility here just history-wise, but also just for myself and the current creative crew in LA. Like I said, I want to make this a creative hub were people can do a lot of fun stuff and there is no reason why they shouldn’t.
Photos By: Koury Angelo