This story is part of First City Progress, a weekly series on new developments in Savannah and the Coastal Empire. If there are any projects that interest you or that we have omitted, email Zoe at [email protected]
Vampires might be to thank for the new $ 40 million investment in Savannah’s film and television industry.
Taylor Owenby grew up in Covington, a small town in Georgia where the popular teenage show “The Vampire Diaries” was filmed for eight seasons. He followed film crews throughout his hometown and saw familiar haunts transformed into Mystic Falls, Virginia on the small screen. The experience triggered his decision to attend SCAD.
After several years making films in Atlanta, Owenby returned to Savannah with writer and producer David Paterson (the inspiration, writer and producer behind the film “Bridge to Terabithia”, based on the book written by his mother. Katherine Paterson) to open Kat-5 Studios, a 130,000 square foot soundstage in West Chatham, west of Interstate 95 at 2442 Fort Argyle Road.
Scheduled to be inaugurated this month and open at the end of next year, the $ 40 million studio on 30 acres of rural property is a “direct investment” in the community, Owenby promised. “And from there, we’ll look at aggressive expansions over the next three to five years.”
The studio represents the shared dream of Paterson and Owenby, who met several years ago at the Savannah Film Festival, where Paterson served as a judge, contestant, and advisory board member for over a decade. After the pandemic brought many of his plans to a halt, Paterson decided to invest in the country’s “largest untapped film market in the United States:” Savannah.
Georgia’s tax incentives, coupled with the moving allowances and cash back that the Savannah Film Commission offers crews and actors, are enough to attract productions here, Paterson said. But, there is not enough infrastructure to accommodate them.
âThere is a necessary infrastructure in the Savannah market. And we believe that with added soundstages specifically designed for the industry – not for political programs or educational initiatives, but in fact for the use of production – we think this film economy is going to grow exponentially over the next three to five years, âOwenby said.
Paterson said sound stages in Los Angeles and New York were overcapacity reserved in the COVID-induced streaming boom. In Atlanta, that number is approaching 100%.
Beth Nelson of the Savannah Film Commission echoed the need for more infrastructure.
âWe have a few facilities that have been used for production, they are converted warehouses and they work well, but they are not ideal,â said Nelson. “And, they are not enough, we need more.”
Nelson attracts productions to Savannah to stimulate the local film economy, which has been growing steadily for years. As of 2019, there were 135 professional productions in Savannah, including films, TV shows, commercials, and print photo shoots. This work is equivalent to a direct investment of $ 125.7 million in Savannah’s economy, Nelson said.
But, “our big goal for all these years has been to create a specially designed stage here in Savannah so that we can really take it to the next level,” said Nelson. A “bespoke” soundstage is a stage specially designed and constructed for film and television production. It has higher ceilings for large complexes and is better insulated from outside noise.
Kat-5 will strengthen community through FEMA housing and workforce programs
Nelson said Savannah had an “excellent crew base” but was not large enough to meet current needs. By training the locals, Owenby said Kat-5 hopes to fill the labor shortage and provide a stable, union-supported income for interns.
Paterson and Owenby plan to work with local film unions and technical colleges to create workforce development programs to train carpenters, costume designers and other key roles needed on set. IATSE Local 320, the local theater jobs union, did not respond to a request for further information when contacted for this article.
The production partners also drew on their passion for community development when designing the very first sustainable studio, which will use solar power.
And, since the property is west of I-95, away from the storm surge line, Paterson said Kat-5 has also entered into a mutual aid agreement with the Federal Management Agency. des emergencies (FEMA) to establish the studio as a shelter during natural disasters. like hurricanes and floods.
âWe want to make it a fully functional businessâ¦ that breathes 24 hours a day,â Paterson said. “And so if they’re not making a movie, we should be doing something else that helps the community.”
Kat-5 Studios is leasing land in rural West Chatham, which will prevent gentrification from seeping into surrounding neighborhoods, Owenby promised.
âOf all the failed studio projects in the Savannah area, it boils down to one thing: They came to Savannah and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to come here. What can you do for us? It is not us. We say to ourselves, âWhat can we do for you? “” Owenby said.
Kat-5 Studios will also have an on-site restaurant, which will be an original concept and connect to a gift shop. They hope to open the restaurant next summer, months before the soundstage.
Zoe covers growth and its impact on communities in the Savannah area. Find her at [email protected], @zoenicholson_ on Twitter and @zoenicholsonreporter on Instagram.