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Southland Lumber to close, hammered by film flight

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Southland Lumber & Supply Co., one of the leading suppliers of lumber to the entertainment industry, is shutting down next week after nearly seven decades in business — another casualty of runaway production.

The closing of the Inglewood company, founded in 1946, marks the end of an era for one of the industry's oldest vendors, whose customers include Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures and Sony Pictures.

“It has become too difficult to keep going with the big features being taken out of state,” co-owner Johnny Crowell said. “It became too much for us to overcome.”

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Crowell's father started the company, which in the late 1970s began selling lumber not only to contractors, but also to studios that needed supplies to build sets for big movies filming in the L.A. area.

When the area's movie production peaked in the late 1990s, Southland was generating as much as $15 million a year in lumber and hardware sales, with at least half coming from film and TV crews.

The company's lumber has been used on hundreds of movies, including “Jurassic Park,” “Gone Girl” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

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But the flight of film production has led to a sharp falloff in business, Crowell said, noting that annual sales have fallen to $3 million to $4 million.

Studios shoot almost all of their big movies outside of California to take advantage of tax breaks that are more generous than what are available in California.

A recent report in the Los Angeles Times revealed a 60% drop in the number of top-grossing movies that filmed in California in the last 15 years, fueled in part by a growing trade in film tax credits in Georgia, Louisiana and other states.

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The downturn has forced the closing or bankruptcy of several visual effects shops, prop houses and other vendors. House of Props, one of Los Angeles' oldest prop houses, recently closed its doors.

“I would love California to wake up and think how important this industry is to small businesses like us,” Crowell said. “We're losing all this business to other states.”

Crowell said he would close next Friday after paying off vendors.

“We want to close up and pay off all our vendors instead of filing for bankruptcy,” he said. “They've been good to us over the years.”

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Twitter: @rverrier

richard.verrier@latimes.com

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