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Goodnight & Co. workers are behind the scenery at Academy Awards

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In a cluttered Sherman Oaks workshop, a craftsman uses a heat stripper to cut a rose petal shape out of a roll of blood-red fabric. The petals are pressed with glue, treated with fabric softener until the edges curl and left to dry on a giant wooden rack.

Then 10 petals are glued together around a plastic ball to create a single flower — one of more than 1,000 that will be displayed in a 40-foot-tall floral wall that will adorn Hollywood's biggest night of the year.

The upcoming 86th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood is a big event not just for actors, writers and directors, but also for a team of anonymous sculptors, painters, carpenters, molders and welders who build the sets and props for the show.

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Many work for Goodnight & Co., a leading Los Angeles set-building company that plays a vital behind-the-scenes role in creating sets and props for the Oscars and other awards shows. In addition to fabricating the wall of roses, Goodnight & Co. (formerly known as Company Inc. Sets) also will construct sets for the academy's red carpet show.

Owner Beth Goodnight says about one-third of her business consists of building sets for the Oscars and other awards shows, which have become an increasingly important source of work for sculptors, painters and set builders as fewer movies and TV shows film locally.

In the next few weeks, her workforce will swell from 20 to as many as 100 people to work on the Oscars as well as the upcoming Film Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, which is being held the day before the Oscars on March 1.

"Awards season is big for us," Goodnight said. "The benefit of these shows is the fact that we are able to keep these incredible craftsmen in town working, as opposed to the gypsy-like lifestyle that a lot of them are accustomed to."

Goodnight's company builds sets for several awards shows, including the Grammys — it created props for Pink, Lorde and other musical acts — the Billboard Music Awards and last weekend's Screen Actors Guild Awards, which featured giant chandeliers and a rear-projection screen supplied by the company.

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In addition to building podiums, lights, monitors and background scenery, the company also gets unusual requests for props, including a 62-foot-tall tree sculpture of steel and foam for a Miranda Lambert performance at last year's Grammys.

The company built a giant rhinoceros head for "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson," one of several talk shows that Goodnight works with, including "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

For the 2012 BET Awards, Goodnight had to construct a 30-foot-wide model of a white Lamborghini, which singer Kanye West used as a musical prop.

"I was in Mt. Rainier [in Washington state] with my kids when I got a call. They said, 'Can you make a 30-foot Lamborghini in 10 days?' I said, 'I think so.' I'm not afraid of those jobs."

A quick turnaround is a requirement of the business. Goodnight often receives design plans at the last minute, giving her two weeks or less to build sets and scenery according to certain design motifs. She has yet to receive drawings for the Oscar red carpet show, for example.

"We are often working three shifts for the last three or four days because of the short time frame for us to finish all the scenery pieces," she said.

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The company's sales exceed $5 million annually and have tripled in the last two years, Goodnight said. She cites increased spending by awards shows and new jobs she landed after signing union agreements with local workers who belong to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

"It's just good for business," she said.

A 46-year-old mother of two, Goodnight never planned on a career in the entertainment industry.

Her dad was a computer major and her mother was a schoolteacher. The L.A. native was a math major at UC Santa Barbara when she took a part-time bookkeeping job at the visual effects company Rhythm & Hues. She was quickly drawn to the creative side of the business.

"I absolutely fell in love with it," she said. "I had no idea I could do something so fun for a living."

Goodnight worked for several years as a production designer before she and her brother, Bill Horbury, launched Company Inc. Sets in 2000. (The siblings recently split the company so Horbury could focus on building sets for music venues and videos and Goodnight could concentrate on awards shows as well as TV and film projects.)

During a recent tour of the Sherman Oaks facility, two warehouses spanning 33,000 square feet were bustling with activity.

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In one, workers were busy constructing a courtroom set for the late-night talk show "Chelsea Lately."

A crew had just returned from a seven-day shoot for a Ford "Eco Boost Challenge" commercial filmed at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, where they built a faux track in the parking lot, complete with tents, cars, stands, flags, clipboards and stopwatches.

Goodnight also does frequent commercials for the Wendy's fast-foot chain, storing a drive-in set that can be assembled in seven hours for a commercial shoot.

In another building, two workers were busy making the flowers for the Academy Awards, one rose petal at a time. They had completed 50 of them, which were scattered on the floor; they had 965 more to go.

"I love doing these artistic, huge scenery pieces," said Goodnight, inspecting the work. "They are very stylized and not just anyone can build them. I'm fortunate that I've got these really creative artists that work for me that enjoy this kind of work."

richard.verrier@latimes.com

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