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Wednesday, 14 August 2013 02:32

Studios and Stages: Breaking Ground Worldwide

Written by  Valentina I. Valentini
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Studios and stages have always been a key element for film and TV production, and an explosion of new facilities have recently sprawled up across the globe like the finale of a July 4th fireworks show. P3 takes a look at some of the top studios and stages making a mark on production and what they are offering today’s filmmakers.

Down in the Caribbean, tax incentives were often high but a new 25-percent credit (based on a $500,000 minimum total spend) rivals the offerings in many U.S. states. The Caribbean also boasts the recently opened Pinewood Indomina Studios, which is located 40 miles east of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Many Hollywood productions have shot in the Dominican Republic, including Jurassic Park, The Godfather Part II and The Good Shepherd, so Indomina will surely continue this trend. Owned by Pinewood Studios Group (the company behind the impressive UK-based Shepperton and Teddington Studios), Indomina Studios offers a 35-acre lot with 74,000 square feet of soundstage space along with over 160,000 square feet of associated production support facilities. The Studio includes an eight-acre water effects facility with a 60,500-square-foot exterior water tank, natural ocean horizons, blue-screen capabilities and a fully equipped diving and marine department.

Indomina SMWith Indomina Studios set to be fully operational in the Dominican Republic by the end of the 2013, Felipe Vicini, the chairman of Indomina’s board of directors, sees the strength and reliability of the Dominican legal frameworks supporting and fostering a constantly growing foreign investment flow. “This was one of the key reasons why the Pinewood Studios Group [invested in Indomina],” explains Vicini. “The competitiveness of the Dominican Republic as a preferred film and TV production destination is a result of an array of the fiscal measures offered in the country.”

Based in Massachusetts, Plymouth Rock Studios had been gearing up to become “Hollywood East,” but it was announced in 2009 that the funding for the planned $550 million film production facility had collapsed. Located 40 miles south of Boston, the Studio was going to give a much-needed infrastructural boost to the growing film business in and around New England. Now four years later, it will be New England Studios (NES) to bring Hollywood to the state. “I knew it couldn’t be done with public money,” explains Chris Byers, the director of operations and marketing at NES. “So I was back and forth from Los Angeles, performing all due diligence and trying to figure out the size that was needed, the potential footprint it would bring, and tying in the local businesses as well. We still wanted to keep it a Massachusetts product.” When equity financing was secured, Byers and his team broke ground on NES in Devens, 30 miles northwest of Boston and centrally located between Lowell and Worcester, two small but busy production hubs.

Boston Magazine recently reported on the study “Economic Impacts of the Massachusetts Film Tax Incentive Program” and found that, since the state’s tax breaks in 2006, the current total of production employment had increased by 46 percent. More importantly for Byers, it’s noted that “upon its completion, the construction of New England Studios will have supported 440 full-time equivalent jobs across all industries, generating $35.6 million in personal income and $62.3 in economic output for the Commonwealth.” NES will open its doors on September 15 along with 17 production holds that will most likely keep the Studio booked through next year. 

“We’ve taken the technology from the old and combined it with the new,” says Byers. “There are four 18,000-square-foot stages on a 15-acre property with 45-foot-high grids. All of our permanents have better hanging capabilities than most studios, and we’ve taken the power requirements and run them up to the perms and into a dimmer room, so that it takes the cabling away from the floor and gives the power systems to the G&E team’s fingertips in a first-ever designated dimmer room.”NES also boasts nail-able floors (consisting of a cement base with a wood skim), hair/makeup/gold rooms, dressing rooms and production offices attached to each stage, all keeping crews out of Massachusetts’ often inclement weather. An up-to-40GB IT infrastructure runs into each stage and there are two 20,000-square-foot mill buildings. NES also offers an offsite paint booth for hazardous materials that require a separate room for painting. NES will secure a postproduction company for onsite post facilities, and near-future plans include an onsite camera company as well as VFX, grip and electric, sound and audio, and a catering company. And, if that isn’t enough, there will be viewing rooms, a commissary and a five-star restaurant open to the public.

Universal-Studios-SMBack on the mainland, Universal Studios is a giant among giants that continues to shine a beacon for a steady stream of productions. It has kept pretty busy with TV projects, filming hundreds of commercials, returning shows (like “Parenthood,” “The Mindy Project” and “CSI”), and new shows (like “Ironside” and “Sean Saves the World”). “What keeps us unique is the depth of services we offer and the sheer size of it all,” reports Willi Schmidt, VP of Universal’s stages and backlot operations. “At 391 acres with 30 backlot locations and 28 soundstages, production and post facilities, that’s pretty unique for Los Angeles. On the backlots you can shoot New York, London [and] Western towns. We [also] have three lakes, [so] there’s a little bit for everyone really.” 

One major change at Universal has been the rebuilding of the New York street in 2010. It now has numerous looks, including Wall Street, Broadway, the West Village and Little Italy, as well as modern and Brownstone sections. The Studio is also ripe with onsite specialty services. There’s a staff shop (where fiberglass, resin, plastic and concrete work can be done at competitive prices), an upholstery and drapery department that does installation, and a sign shop. And, of course, there are the more traditional services, like transportation and a full sound and picture editorial facility where work is done in house on the lot.

ABQ SMA bit newer, New Mexico’s Albuquerque Studios offers some of the biggest stages in the world on its 28-acre lot. Built in 2007, the studio has a five-acre open lot with nothing above or below, allowing for a totally flexible filming space. “They can bring trucks in, helicopters, build a back lot, whatever,” says the Studio’s Senior VP Matt Rauchberg. “We wanted to build a stage where a filmmaker’s imagination would be unlimited. And, to that end, our studios are some of the biggest and certainly the tallest in the world. We have four 24,000-square-foot stages and four 18,000-square-foot ones. They are built in pairs with moveable walls, which allows for a potential 48,000-square-foot stage. The grid’s height is 55 feet tall, and I believe that is the tallest soundstage as of yet.” 

So far, 15 feature films and 82 hours of television projects have been shot at Albuquerque Studios, including Disney’s recent popcorn movie The Lone Ranger. With a 20-percent tax incentive passed in 2002, New Mexico was one of the first states to create a big draw for filmmakers. The state now offers 25 percent and recently added an additional 5 percent for TV series and feature films that use qualified facilities for 10 days (for budgets under $30 million) or over 15 days (for budgets over $30 million). New Mexico has recently hosted The Avengers (and the construction of the film’s famous Helicarrier), Terminator Salvation, The Book of Eli, Due Date and six seasons of “Breaking Bad.” 

August 2011 marked the creation of Sun Center Studios (“SCS”), one of Pennsylvania’s leading production facilities that has been steadily attracting film and television projects, like After Earth and the upcoming feature Paranoia (starring Liam Hemsworth, Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman). SCS currently offers 60,000 square feet of state-of-the-art soundstages, 39,000 square feet of office support space, a 45,000-square-foot Mill space, full-service lighting/grip department, security services and much more. The success of its first two years in business has led to plans for expansion that include adding 110,000 square feet of facilities this fall. Pennsylvania also offers one of the country’s most competitive film incentive programs. It provides a 25-percent tax credit for in-state production expenditures and an additional 5-percent credit if a film or television project shoots at a qualified production facility like Sun Center Studios, making for an irresistible credit total of 30 percent. 

SCS SM

Across the country in New York, the popular Gold Coast Studios (GCS) welcomes film and TV projects in Bethpage, Long Island, just 40 minutes outside of Manhattan. GCS shoots qualify for the 30-percent tax incentives offered by New York State, but the facility isn’t bogged down by the crowds found in the city. “You wouldn’t think parking would be such a big ordeal, but in the city it really is a huge issue,” says Lyndsey Laverty, one of the principals at GCS. “You also don’t find 20 acres in the middle of Manhattan. We have stages ranging from 8,000 to 40,000 square feet, and a secure business park as well.” GCS opened almost two years ago with two stages and quickly secured the production for the film Man on a Ledge. “[That production] really held our hands and guided us,” recalls Laverty. “And we custom built things for them as we went. Anything they needed, we did, and we ended up better because of it.” Shortly after, GCS hosted shoots for the “Pan Am” pilot as well as a bunch of commercials and smaller independent projects. Eight months later, the Studio opened Stages 3, 4, 5 and 6. All of the stages are currently occupied with big productions, and Laverty is confident that GCS will stay busy in the years to come.

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