Almost a decade ago, a young music producer named Jesse Rogg went to a house party in Silver Lake. Questlove, drummer for The Roots, was DJing for a small crowd in someone’s living room. Rogg sprinted home to grab a CD that had a song he had just produced for a new artist, Sam Sparro. He returned to the party winded and handed the disc to Questlove.
The Roots bandleader “chucked it over his shoulder,” Rogg remembers. “I was like, ‘Aw, man. What a dick.’”
Fast forward to today and Rogg, now CEO of Mack Sennett Studios, is hosting private listening parties, video and photo shoots, TV productions and other creative industry events just a few blocks from that house party. Artists including Interpol, Flying Lotus and, yes, Questlove have passed through the historic studio in the three years since Rogg took over the space. (Oh, and that Sam Sparro song, “Black and Gold”? It later went platinum in the U.K. and was nominated for a Grammy.)
Mack Sennett Studios, which turns 100 this year, claims to be the oldest continuously operated film studio in Los Angeles. Its eponymous founder was one of the original tycoons of Hollywood, a triple threat as producer, director and actor, and the guy who put Charlie Chaplin on the map. In its heyday, it was used for silent film shoots; more recently, it was the site of music video shoots such as Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” and No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak.” But in the years before Rogg came along, it had lost its luster.
Rogg has tried to recapture the spirit of Sennett’s hustle by establishing several companies under the studio’s roof and spinning multiple plates. There’s 1215 Creative, the production company he runs with Brandon Fuller, which produces shows such as Ovation’s Rough Draft With Reza Aslan; a music school, Point Blank; and Artists for Artists, an artist-run creative agency Rogg oversees with partner Chris Holmes.
In his three years of running Mack Sennett, Rogg has learned the ropes by embracing his naivete. Sometimes it’s better not to know what you’re doing. “If I had known all the money and struggles that went into running this type of business, I probably wouldn’t have done it,” he says. “But because I was naive, I had these rose-colored glasses on.”
Born in L.A. but raised in Munich, the 36-year-old Rogg has been an Angeleno since 2000 and considers himself a lifer. His parents (American father and German mother) both work in the health care industry and have roots in substance abuse counseling, and Rogg shares their sense of purpose, hosting fundraisers for Eric Garcetti, Children’s Hospital and the Silverlake Conservatory of Music, among others. Mack Sennett also has worked closely PATH (People Assisting the Homeless).
“We actually create content for PATH,” Rogg explains. “We went down to South Central and filmed success stories. We work with everyone from the mayor to the City Council, neighborhood council, Silver Lake Improvement Association. I consider myself now — geographically but also idealistically — as a cornerstone of what happens, at least in this area.”
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Rogg thinks he is sometimes painted as some sort of opportunist, coming in to profit off the Eastside’s hip cultural cachet. But he has lived in the neighborhood for a decade, and says he has invested a lot into making Mack Sennett Studios a vital part of it.
“It’s where I have my business, but it’s also my home. People have some weird misconceptions of me. People think I’m some kind of snobby elitist,” he says. “Honestly, I incurred a lot of debt, and it takes a while to get out of that. Now in the third year, we’re out, and we’re rolling. It’s been an intense, grueling trip.”