From the mural-sized drawings of skateboarders on its walls to its darkened War Room, equipped with video games, musical instruments, a green screen and a video editing station, ZEFR’s warehouse offices in Venice, Ca., are designed to inspire and enable creativity in its employees. And they respond in their work, as well as with extracurricular efforts including graffiti art, one-minute film festivals and a recent mannequin challenge they staged on a whim.
But few in the Venice warehouse – where the bulk of ZEFR’s 300-plus employees work – are aware that it was the longtime workspace of another creative force, Ed Ruscha, a leading light of the West Coast pop art movement. And fewer still have any idea that the art Ruscha (pronounced roo-shay) created there helped inspire the look of this year’s top awards season contender, writer/director Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land,” which won a record seven awards at Sunday’s Golden Globes.
The works of Ruscha and fellow L.A.-obsessed artist David Hockney were key visual influences for “La La Land” production designer David Wasco and his wife, set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, who previously explored the city’s dark underbelly in films such as Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown” and Michael Mann’s “Collateral.”
“Ruscha is our favorite L.A. artist,” says Wasco, who used Ruscha’s painting “Brother, Sister” in their previous film, “50 Shades of Grey.” “We don’t know him, but he’s a major inspiration for us. We’ve met him, we’ve had books signed by him.”
Ruscha’s presence is most explicit in the film’s climactic sequence, dubbed “Epilogue,” in which the protagonists (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone) sing and dance their way through fanciful recreations of L.A. and Paris on a studio lot, passing painted backdrops that include an homage to Ruscha’s series of Standard Gas Station lithographs.
Ruscha worked out of the 25,000-square-foot Venice building – a former Coors beer warehouse – for 26 years, sharing it with another fixture of the Los Angeles art scene, Laddie John Dill, renowned for his large glass and concrete abstract sculptures. He left in 2011, when plans to add parking spaces to the city-owned strip of land next to building where he liked to do his painting drove him to relocate to nearby Culver City.
ZEFR employees were originally confined to the Stronghold Building, a rustic brick structure on Abbot Kinney Blvd. that still houses most of its management team. But with its workforce rapidly expanding the company was soon in need of more space, a problem that was solved by the fortuitous departure of Ruscha and Dill from the warehouse, which stands behind the Stronghold on the other side of Irving Tabor Ct.
When ZEFR first set up shop in the warehouse in 2012, it lacked a few modern amenities, such as central air and insulation, but resourceful employees found ways to cope.
“On hot days, we would open up both bay doors to get a cross-breeze with the Irving Tabor entrance,” recalls ZEFR facilities coordinator Jeremy Kozeluh. “Once it got colder, there was a large heater hanging in the mezzanine that took a couple hours to warm up.”
In the years since, central air and insulation have been added, along with numerous other refinements, including various walls, bathrooms and staircases, as well as a boardroom and a half a dozen smaller conference rooms.
Today, time has erased almost all evidence of Ruscha and Dill’s past presence in the Venice warehouse, save for some paint overspray outside the building and handwritten notations on an old door (pictured, above), which is now stored in a shed in the parking lot. But some have yet to update their address books.
“We still get mail for Mr. Dill, despite our best efforts,” says Kozeluh.