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Thursday, 17 May 2012 13:14

Staging a Production

Written by  Jennifer Marino
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pro_studios_universal_-virtual-stage-1-opening-demo_12-2-10_a-1Entertainment tax incentives have had a major impact on film production, and producers are now seeking studios internationally to accommodate their production needs and make filming more efficient. These studios and stages around the world can only thrive by being competitive to serve the industry with services and facilities that will continue to entice filmmakers.

NBCUniversal Studios
in Southern California is home to TV hits like “Desperate Housewives,” “Parenthood” and the “CSI” franchise, and it currently boasts 30 soundstages (measuring up to 30,000+ square feet) and over 30 backlot locations on 391 acres. Its New York City brownstones, Western streets and underwater tank are just some of the “locations” that make up the Studio’s impressive backlot. “We have a Post Production Media Services group offering complete post sound services, including editorial, mixing, mastering, ADR and Foley plus picture editorial equipment rentals and suites,” reports Aaron Rogers, NBCUniversal’s director of advertising and publicity. “Our Digital Services group offers picture postproduction, [including] editing, color correction, duplication, encoding and more.”

Heading south on the map, the picturesque state of New Mexico offers a refundable production-tax credit of 25 percent, and its close proximity to Los Angeles keeps Albuquerque Studios busy hosting new Hollywood productions, like The Avengers, The Host and The Lone Ranger (starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp). With eight soundstages and 100,000 square feet of adjacent production office and support space, Albuquerque Studios is well-equipped to host big-budget films like Terminator Salvation as well as independent films and commercials. The facility continues to house several local vendors, including Entertainment Partners, Rockbottom Rentals, Absolut Video, Clairmont Camera and Enterprise. And New Mexico Lighting & Grip, Hertz Entertainment Services and Star Waggons are all on-site to provide convenient and fast services and equipment to production companies shooting in New Mexico. Albuquerque Studios also continues to work alongside Studio Concierge (operated by Southwest Suites), which provides productions with local information, reliable service and the lowest rates on travel, housing and other key production needs.

pro_studios_suncenterstudios_img_4793Moving east, Pennsylvania has Sun Center Studios, the only purpose-built and design-built soundstage facility and campus in the state. Along with 20,000-square-foot soundstages, the Studio contains 30,000 square feet of office space and eight acres of woods with a running stream for location shots. “Currently, the Columbia Pictures sci-fi futuristic thriller After Earth, starring Will Smith [and] Jaden Smith, is filming on the three stages at Sun Center Studios,” reports Senior VP Adam Rotwitt. “Studio management is in preliminary discussions with a couple of network pilots, some cable television miniseries and one major studio feature film to potentially move in following the departure of After Earth.”

Rotwitt states that Sun Center is the newest facility on the east coast that was specifically constructed to meet the standards of the entertainment industry and the production activities of its creative community in filming big-budget features and episodic TV shows. “By virtue of Sun Center Studios being on a 33-acre campus, it allows for productions to be largely self-contained at the facility and perform as much of its physical production activities and stage work in one location, that in turn allows for efficiency and maximum productivity while taking advantage of all the great attributes of filming in Pennsylvania, i.e. the 25-percent tax credit, talented crew [and] diverse landscape,” Rotwitt notes. “The studio also has one of the largest solar arrays in the entire state of Pennsylvania and promotes sustainability and environmental practices throughout its business.” Sun Center’s growing list of clients shows it to be a favorable option for TV shows, features and other productions. Since opening in 2010, the Studio has hosted one big-budget film and three commercials for Arby’s, Powerade and the Pennsylvania Lottery.

East-coast neighbor Silvercup Studios is an extremely busy facility in New York City that hosts a slew of popular TV productions, including “30 Rock,” “Gossip Girl,” “White Collar,” “Unforgettable,” “Person of Interest,” “A Gifted Man” and HBO’s “Girls,” which filmed its pilot and first season at Silvercup. With a main lot featuring 13 studios and an east lot with 6 drive-on studios, the facility is able to simultaneously host a multitude of productions.

Filmmakers from all over the world are attracted to Silvercup because of its convenient location, full-service facility, recent investments in updated equipment, and offerings like Silvertrucks, which provides on-location lighting. “Producers also choose to film at Silvercup because of the size/number of individual shooting and support spaces,” says Silvercup CEO Alan Suna. “Currently, Silvercup is the largest film/TV facility operation in New York and can accommodate the greatest number of clients. Also, clients see dollar-for-dollar value by choosing to film at Silvercup.” Executive Producer Merrill Karpf, who filmed “Unforgettable” at Silvercup, agrees that the Studio is top-notch. “Silvercup is a first-class facility with superior and accommodating management as well as cost-effective pricing,” says Karpf. “It is easily accessible to Manhattan and the other boroughs, and anyone fortunate to film there would soon consider it their home.” Producer Alysse Bezahler (“A Gifted Man”) knows Silvercup well after working with the Studio for many years. “Silvercup is reasonably priced and the owners are good,” says Bezahler. “There are logistic issues, such as no elaborate backlots, but that’s all of New York. It would be hard to get in right now because of the tax credits, but there are short-term jobs in commercials. I recommend this studio, [as] it is a good studio right outside of Manhattan.”

When the New York State Film Production Tax Credit Program was created, Silvercup worked with other local film/TV industry stakeholders to have tax credit legislation passed. They recently worked together again to have the program extended last year. And Suna notes that another thing making Silvercup Studios special is that it seems to have good karma: “With ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘30 Rock’ leading the way, shows shot at Silvercup Studios have won more awards than any other New York studio facility!”

pro_sudios_pinewood-toronto-entrance-1Up north in Ontario, Canada, Pinewood Toronto Studios handles numerous projects ranging from commercials to blockbuster films, such as the remake of Total Recall (starring Colin Farrell) for Sony Pictures. The facility consists of nine stages, with the “mega stage” being the largest at 45,900 square feet, and a new multipurpose space at 54 Commissioners Road, where the sci-fi feature The Colony is currently shooting. The Studio also strongly supports independent film development and has a number of films currently in circulation, such as David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis (starring Robert Pattinson) and Sarah Polley’s Take this Waltz (starring Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen).

In British Columbia, Canada, Vancouver Film Studios is the largest production facility outside of Los Angeles. Its impressive list of clients include Universal, Fox, NBC, CBC and Warner Bros., and all help to keep the Studio busy with production. The facility boasts 13 soundstages (10 that are purpose built) and 6 production offices, and its production support services include production equipment rentals, telecommunication and IT services, and an aviation helicopter and jet charter company. Vancouver Film Studios also holds one of the largest special-effects stages in Canada.

pro_studios_raleighbudapest_img_6818On the other side of the globe, Hungary’s generous 20-percent entertainment-tax incentive and pocket-friendly exchange rate has made Budapest a popular filming destination. The versatile Eastern European city can double for many Western European or international cities, and it’s the home of Raleigh Studios Budapest, a major studio that’s well known to visiting filmmakers. Raleigh offers nine soundstages (including one at 45,000 square feet) as well as green screens and a 10-acre backlot. The studio’s international partners provide full transportation; set/location lighting and grip services with Hollywood Rentals; ARRI camera gear and services located on the lot; line producing with Raleigh Film; and a state-of-the-art postproduction facility and film laboratory. “Currently, our largest tenant is a large-budget movie for 20th Century Fox, Die Hard 5, but officially it has a longer title,” says Stephen Auer, director of studio operations. “We are also leasing several stages to local Hungarian productions, [including] a soap opera and several game shows. We aim for the larger feature films but also can accommodate miniseries [and] serial television productions, and we fit in commercials and events whenever there is space in our schedules.”

In the Czech Republic, Barrandov Studios is a full-service facility that offers 14 soundstages as well as a water tank and high-quality postproduction and support facilities. “We are at about 90-percent capacity,” reports Barrandov representative William Stuart. “Currently shooting at Barrandov’s Main Studios is the second season of ‘Borgia,’ the Czech version of ‘In Treatment’ for local HBO, a large-scale Korean feature called Snowpiercer, and a number of commercials. Our Stage 3 is dedicated to productions for Barrandov TV, and our satellite stages [Hostivar 4] are 100-percent booked with Czech TV projects.”

While tax incentives have helped to put some studios on the map, available services and stages are ultimately the deciding factor for securing a film/TV production. And while Southern California studios continue to bustle with productions, there are now many other options for film and TV projects worldwide.
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