Atomic Productions Moves from San Leandro to Emeryville, CA
The Story of the Move
It’s a long story how Atomic started way back in the early ’90s, but this isn’t that story. Although in order to understand how we came about moving to Emeryville in February of 2017, it does require a little backstory.
I didn’t just decide to start a business one day and then had a grand opening, it evolved over several years. I got a business license in 1990, the same year I got a part-time job working at a local TV station whose studios were in San Leandro. The TV station became an incubator for what would eventually become Atomic. Using their equipment, working overnights or whenever the station would allow, we built a business. By 1994 I was able to hire a couple people, in 1997 we bought our own equipment and officially named the company Atomic Productions. For the entire 90’s and well into 2003, this was our home, we ran the business out of those shared offices until the TV station was sold in 2003. That sale facilitated our very first office move. There wasn’t much to move, we didn’t have a ton of equipment and found a spot literally across the street at a corporate office park. Over the years we built out the space to be just about everything we needed. If you stopped to do the math, we were on the same street corner in San Leandro for 26 years. After all this time, moving the office wasn’t the craziest of thoughts, a change of scenery might even do us good.
Now this wasn’t the first time we thought of moving. Before renewing our lease in San Leandro in 2011 we considered moving and looked at offices in Oakland and even Emeryville back then. The problem is we needed a very specific space that wasn’t easy to find, and we didn’t have a bucket of money to build out exactly what we wanted. Our list of requirements for any new office was substantial. We needed at least 7 private offices for edit suites, including 6 Adobe Premiere edit suites and one Autodesk Smoke suite. At least two client suites, these are larger offices with couches, big screen TV’s, somewhat fancy spaces a client can sit and edit in, or work out of. We wanted a conference room big enough for 8 or 10 people, a couple administrative offices for producers, an office for the production manager. (She had never had one before). Just as importantly, we needed a large room for equipment storage. We tend to not rent equipment, all the equipment we have, and we have lots, we own. A Red Dragon Digital Camera, a couple Nikon D800 DSLR packages, three JVC ENG cameras, a SteadiCam, a Teleprompter, jib/slider, tons of lighting gear… You get the idea. This takes a lot of space, and doesn’t include the wardrobe closets, IT equipment, or general storage of stuff. The camera gear, heavy lighting and grip equipment ideally need to be stored next to a door leading to the outside with easy access to load our company vehicles, which of course, required secure parking.
But wait, there’s more. In San Leandro we had the luxury of affordable office space, so having a large studio was no problem. We wanted any new office to have at least what we had before, if not better. We needed a large room with high ceilings where we could install a greenscreen wall, acoustic paneling, maybe curtains and a lighting grid. Overall, we’re talking 4000-5000 sq. feet of cool looking creative space. Very specific office space. Did I mention we also needed parking for 10 people, off-site storage, nearby restaurants and neighborhood amenities in a nice part of town, all at an affordable price? Right. This was the Bay Area. We wanted to move, but at the same time we didn’t want to reduce our capability either. No compromises. In these days of open offices, cubicles and shared spaces, we wanted none of it. This was a tall order. In reality it’d be a miracle to find this mythical space, let alone afford it. So, in 2011 we looked for 6 months and found nothing that fit us. We renewed our lease in San Leandro, settled into our airport corporate office park we’d been in for years now, with its free parking and not much else, and had a perfectly fine time for the next 5 years of our lease.
In the early part of 2016 we once again decided to start looking for a place to move, we knew the task was daunting, but we had 9 months to look, we were prepared, in fact, we were bound and determined to move! It was exciting, business was booming, people were giddy about the thought of nice restaurants within walking distance, shorter commutes, maybe even biking or walking to work. A new, larger, more creative space would be a dream come true. Then we started looking… The same places we had looked at 5 years before were still available, and still didn’t work. But this time, the price was twice as much. Parking was even more scarce. How does $185 a space per month sound? Or $4.85 a square foot. That may sound reasonable to you, but if it does, you’re probably not a video production company with 10 people, small margins and a million dollars plus in equipment that gets turned over every few years. There’s not too many post houses in the Bay Area that can afford $24,000 a month in rent, and we’re not one of them. We looked… and looked… Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville, San Francisco. Considered old spaces in bad neighborhoods, live-work spaces that needed a lot of build out. We looked further north, in cheaper areas of the Bay. We wanted to move north of San Leandro, most people in the company lived out that direction, we also thought more business would come our way if we were located closer to San Francisco. Wishful thinking, but we were full of wishful thinking. Maybe we were out of our mind.
Not a single place seemed to work, there were two offices we half-heartedly tried to work out a deal. One was an amazing space in Berkeley, 7500 sq. feet, huge private offices, a serious upgrade for us but even with the landlord getting burned with the last two businesses breaking their leases, they made it clear the space was not negotiable and they would rather have it sit empty than work out an equitable arrangement with us. Some steady rent from a stable company apparently meant nothing to them. Another place at the Towers in Emeryville looked promising. Expensive and hugely downsized from what we had at the time, it was a possibility. We sent a group of employees over to view the place and see what they thought. They came back disappointed. It was just too small, too cramped, too many compromises.
Months passed, nothing worked out. November rolled in, our last month under lease at our current office. Just in case, we had grudgingly negotiated a new lease, added some modest tenant improvements, agreed to it… mostly. But the lease papers sat on my desk, I never signed it. By this time, we had become resigned with our fate. There were no new places to look at, our realtor had even given up. We wouldn’t be moving after all, there was simply no place that fit what we needed. Weds, November 30, 2016, the last day of our lease. The papers sat on my desk still unsigned. The landlord called and said they’d be by to pick up the signed copy later that day. I emailed our realtor and told him thanks for trying, but we’re out of time, maybe in a few years we can talk about buying a building or looking again. He got back to me shortly thereafter and said sorry it didn’t work out, maybe next time. “But” he said, “there is this… It’s a bit of a Hail Mary.” I didn’t even look at it. I had had enough. A few minutes later Matt Ruby, (a member of the “Relocation Committee” as I had jokingly dubbed it) who had spent months looking through listings online, walked into my office. He asked, “Did you see this?” I didn’t want to hear it. “This place has 13 private offices, two of them are large enough for equipment storage or a studio space. It has a gated parking lot with 9 free spaces! It’s in our price range….”. I was barely listening; the landlord was coming over to pick up our renewal lease in a few hours. “One more thing” Matt said, “It’s a block from your house.” It also was a bike ride away for him. Although still skeptical and defeated from getting my hopes up yet again only to be disappointed, we had to look at it. It could never work out… could it? It’s too late, the final hours of the last day? This new space was too good to be true. There had to be a catch, maybe it was overrun by possums, missing a wall or two, there was always something. I was convinced the place we were looking for doesn’t exist.
Now typically you need 24 hours to give a tenant notice that you’re sending a realtor and his clients over to view an occupied property. But Ron Silberman is no typical building owner. He happens to own this building as well as 6 others around Emeryville, he’s someone you meet the first time and feel like you’ve known him all your life. He was willing to accommodate us and made the arrangements for a visit to tour the property within the hour. It was 3pm. Our current landlord would be over around 5pm on her way home from work to pick up the signed docs. We left for Emeryville immediately.
While it’s true the place needed a bit of work, for the first time in 9 months we saw promise. And it wasn’t a mirage, it was real. Virtually everything we needed or wanted. Everything. It was a difficult moment driving back, I dreaded calling our landlord and filling her in. I’m sure it was a shock, after 14 years, on the last day of our lease, we informed her we found a place and may be leaving. Graciously, she allowed us to hold over our current lease to explore the possibilities. At double our current rent.
Working with Ron it couldn’t have been easier, we met with him, told him what we were hoping for regarding a build out. He approved our plans, and put us on the fast-track for getting a deal done. He knew we were paying twice as much as we should on a month-to-month, and that the old landlord wanted us out. Maybe more out of spite than anything but they really wanted us out. I understood, we blindsided them, although I was always upfront with them the whole time, they knew we wanted to move, they knew we were looking. It was just tough timing. We signed a lease in December of 2016 and the move-in was scheduled for February 18, 2017. There was a lot to do. Ron had his contractor begin immediately. Walls were taken down, others were put up. Miles of cable was run, we built an entirely new state-of-the-art 10gbps network on a backbone a CAT 6A cable for highspeed data transfers to keep up with the rigors of 6K+ footage. Installed a dedicated synchronous gigabit internet connection, a 96TB Facilis server, SpectraLogic LTO archival storage, 10 security cameras throughout the building. SDI video was routed to each office, we built a 20×30 corner cove wall greenscreen stage in the studio, custom built by Pro-Cyc, we fully furnished two large client suites, one with a reclaimed wood accent wall and barn doors leading to an outside patio. 7 edit suites total, with two rooms for our camera equipment, lighting and grip storage and IT equipment. We installed a new phone system, video conferencing built into our conference room, and AT&T U-Verse throughout the building. (Comcast wouldn’t install at our location).
With all the buildout, the huge installation of network infrastructure and equipment, moving all the edit suites over from San Leandro, computer systems installations in every office, even air conditioning added in some places, our editors were off-line for just two days. We were back up and running while the contractor was still painting and hammering. It was incredibly stressful, expensive, and worth it. At the same time, we were packing up over 26 years of memories in San Leandro and restoring the old office to its original state. Bittersweet without a doubt, but we can only hope we have as many good memories in the new place as we did in the old.
This was the dream, a nightmare move for sure, but in just 45 days, we did it. With our new facility, we now have a full-service production house just minutes from San Francisco, walking distance from great restaurants, shops, all rich with business opportunity, and to top it off, a neighbor of Pixar. We never really moved before, and I hope we never move again.
Come visit our new offices, bring us some business, we’re open and waiting for you.