News and Events

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Posted: September 25, 2015 @ 2:42 pm

Mole-Richardson interview in the ASC Magazine

Mole-Richardson Relocates to the Valley

By Andrew Fish


It was the mid-1960s when recent USC graduate and future ASC associate Michael Parker strode into the Mole-Richardson Co. facility for his first day of work. With a degree in industrial management, he made it his top priority to counsel his dad, company President Warren Parker, on the state of the modern corporate world and its shift toward multinational conglomerates. "My father said,  That's nice,'" Michael recalls. " But what I want you to do,' he told me,  is to go down the hall, open the third door on the left and walk in the office. At the desk there's going to be a phone, and when it rings I want you to answer it.' I said,  What do I say?' He said,  Talk to the person. If you answer his question or give him a solution to the problem he's working on, you will have a reason to be in business. That person is why this business is still here today.'"


Mole-Richardson's beginnings can be traced back to 1897, when Michael's grandfather, future ASC associate Peter Mole, arrived at Ellis Island from Sicily at the age of 6 with his father, two brothers and a sister. He left school after the 6th grade but later returned to earn an electrical-engineering degree from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. Employed at General Electric when Thomas Edison still walked the halls, Mole worked on World War I military searchlights. As the story goes, dissatisfied with the oldguard mindset of GE at the time and likely pining for warmer weather, he won $1,000 at the local parish lottery in 1923, split the winnings with the church, and he and his wife, Cecilia, drove to Los Angeles with their 3-year-old daughter, Anna - Michael's mother. Mole found work as an electrician at MGM Studios, which led to his employment at a Hollywood rental house, where he met Elmer C. Richardson. When their boss decided not to transition the company's war-surplus carbon-arc lights as Kodak introduced its new tungsten-balanced film stock, Mole and Richardson spun off to form a new operation with a mandate to provide the studios with lighting solutions based on the very latest technologies.


Michael joined Mole-Richardson shortly after his grandfather's passing. His brother Larry, a future honorary ASC member, had started working at the company a couple of years prior, right out of high school. The two began with the basics - "learning how to load a truck, pull parts, make materials and handle receiving," Larry explains - and grew into respected leaders at what became arguably the oldest family-run entertainment-industry company in Hollywood. Indeed, the Mole-Richardson logo has been an abiding symbol on production stages since 1927. "Engineers like my grandfather interpreted the technology of the time," Michael says, "and for the past 88 years, that's what we have continued to do."


Now, after nearly nine decades on North Sycamore Avenue, Mole-Richardson is open for business at a new state-of-the-art facility in the San Fernando Valley city of Pacoima. "The new building represents the family's commitment to sustaining this business for the future," says Michael, who chatted with AC alongside Larry in the old boardroom shortly before the move. "This place is going to get torn down and disappear; it's going to be a memory here in Hollywood. And everybody that was involved in it will always say,  I loved that old factory.' It had the grit; you could wipe your finger across the dust and say,  This dust has been here for a heck of a long time, and I was able to touch it.' But in the end, you're going to give an opportunity to that person who walks in and wants to work for you, who looks at the new shop and says,  Wow. This is up to date.'"


Throughout the siblings' tenure - much of which they shared with their father, who ran the company for more than 40 years beginning in 1960 - Mole-Richardson has been instrumental in such upheavals as the quartz-iodide transition and the introduction of HMI. "Fluorescents [became widespread] in the Nineties, and power distribution changed in the industry during the Eighties and Nineties," Michael recounts. The company's most recent technological milestone has been its move into the world of LED lighting.


Given that Mole-Richardson introduced the industry's first Fresnel lens for use in motion pictures in 1935 - based on the French technology designed for lighthouses - it's fitting that in 2013 its first LED release was the MoleLED Fresnel. The siblings readily acknowledge that they took their time bringing the product to market. "There are a lot of people who get into our industry as quickly as they can with the newest gadgets and get people to buy them and use them - and then reverse-engineer them to correctness," Michael notes. "We said,  If we're going to get into this, let's do it right.' We started to manipulate [the LED] blue chip so that the color quality was pure tungsten and pure daylight. We included ASC members in that endeavor, with testing and discussion and a lot of engineering." The company's latest achievement in this arena - showcased at this year's NAB and Cine Gear - is the LED Senior Fresnel, a 5K equivalent unit that draws only 900 watts and can be plugged into a standard household outlet.


With space lights, Skypans and all manner of Mole-Richardson specialties undergoing LED upgrades, Michael and Larry see their new facility, with its 50,000 square feet of factory space, as a boon to production. In addition, Michael quips that 60 years after his classroom training in managing an assembly line, he may finally get to do it.


The Pacoima location is also the new home of the company's Studio Depot and warehouse, along with an equally large space for Mole-Richardson Rental. A smaller store, reception area, museum, hospitality area, and a full floor of offices round out what Michael describes as "two football fields" of space.


Larry - who is also a photographer, producer and occasional actor - is particularly excited about the facility's soundstage, the new location for his renowned lighting classes, in which groups of 30 or so students learn the basics from the man who worked with the likes of ASC members James Wong Howe and Stanley Cortez. "I teach them all about the different lights, what they do, how to operate them, how to hook up the cables to a generator, and how to be safe," Larry says. And perhaps most importantly, he advises them on "etiquette on the set and how to get a job." Along with these classes, which both educate and help create a network of skilled professionals, the stage will also serve as a workshop for ASC related projects.


"You feel energetic," Larry says of the company's move to the new facility. "It's a different vibe and a different atmosphere. We'll be streamlining the factory to make things come off the line better and faster, and to build them the way we want. [In the old factory] we've got Band-Aids, but now it's all being [modernized]. Also, it's cleaner - with parking and fresh air and mountains." Mole Richardson's relocation comes shortly after their opening of an Atlanta office in January of last year.


With Mole's move from what Michael refers to as a "spaghetti mess" of exposed wires to the "pristine conduits" of the new space, he notes his enthusiasm for a future crop of workers who will someday take on leadership roles at the company. He and Larry would like to be at the helm through Mole-Richardson's 100th anniversary, but beyond that year it's unlikely that family members will be the hands-on managers - which is why this move is for the next generation.


"When someone asks what we do," Michael relates, "I say,  We make things. We create, imagine, draw and build things that have never been built before.'" And they're always on the lookout for the likeminded. "You've got to love what we do and have a thrill about design," Larry says. As to what it takes to be a leader in the field, Michael offers, "You don't have to be an expert, but you ve got to be curious about technology."


The spacious new facility is now up and running, and Michael expresses appreciation for its potential. "Anybody that's in the creation business wants to sense the beginning," he says. "This is creation, and whether it's building a building or making a film, that's what we do."


The new Mole-Richardson Co. facility is located at 12154 Montague St., Pacoima, CA 91331. For additional information, visit www.mole.com.

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