Buffalo's biggest film production studio is embarking on the final phase of its buildout, even as its first major movie is about to come out in theaters and a new big-budget film is poised to start shooting as soon as next month.
Buffalo Film Works completed work on its Stage 3 facility a couple of weeks ago but is already preparing to start renovating the last major building on its campus.
The bulk of that onetime industrial complex at 1167 Clinton St. will house the company's Stage 4, adding another 80,000 square feet of film and ancillary space. Upon completion – expected by late summer – it will give Buffalo Film Works more than 120,000 square feet of stage and related space, plus 60,000 square feet of flex space for movie, TV and commercial production.
The business partners also plan to convert a smaller former industrial office building in front of the Clinton property into production offices, along with a couple of apartments to support visiting studio crews.
All told, the expansion represents another $4 million in investment into the project – $3 million for Stage 4 and $1 million for the administrative building, said Jennifer O'Neill, one of three company founders and partners.
O'Neill said the expansion will give Buffalo Film Works the ability to handle multiple productions at the same time, including a major feature film, while also offering a film crew more of what they need in one location – even a place to put up an actor or director's family if needed.
"You could have a mother come in who’s an actress or producer, and she has her children with her," O'Neill said. "This way, the children could stay with the mother, instead of having people running back and forth."
That could prove more of a draw for major studios that are already hearing more about Buffalo as an alternative filming location, she said. And that will help not only boost local businesses and revenues, but also support the growth of an experienced and skilled workforce, she added.
"We want to grow the film production industry here in Buffalo," O'Neill said. "It really does a lot for the city, these movies that come in. They spend a lot locally, and hire a lot of people, and the more we offer these productions, the more they’re going to come here ... which also helps to grow the crew base, so that every time a movie comes in, they just continue to grow the base for the film industry."
The 4.27-acre Clinton Street property is around the corner from Buffalo Film Works' primary operation at 370 Babcock St. However, both properties are part of the largely abandoned former American Car & Foundry Co. property that the partners purchased at foreclosure in 2016 for $400,000.
That company - which traces its roots back to the Buffalo Car Works and the Buffalo Car Manufacturing Co. in the mid-1800s - produced freight train cars, except for a brief period during World War II when it was used to make parts for munitions. ACF permanently closed the facility in 1954, but "you can see the old rail tracks from forever ago," even running through the middle of the building, O'Neill said.
The first three film stages – totaling about 48,000 square feet of space – are now complete and in use, but Buffalo Film Works only had six offices available for visiting productions. And that is no longer enough.
"We always did want to create additional office space," O'Neill said. "But now, because of Covid, the productions want everything in one location. They want to limit the exposure."
Housing has also become an issue for large productions, particularly in the Covid era, giving crews a place to rest or even quarantine. Some studios have trailers with bedrooms. One studio facility in Atlanta, developed by actor Tyler Perry, even added a hotel to meet film crew needs.
"They like to keep it as much self-contained as can be done," she said. "They shoot all hours of the day."
So Buffalo Film Works decided to take advantage of the smaller building to create more onsite administrative offices, as well as the two residential units. It's seeking a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals for the new use.
Buffalo Film Works, which calls itself the largest major motion-picture film studio in upstate New York, was launched in 2018 by Buffalo natives O'Neill, Kevin Callahan and George Pittas. Besides the four stages, it also has enough parking on its 8.75-acre property to handle 60 tractor-trailers or 250 passenger vehicles.
Clients include Fox Searchlight Pictures, Paramount Pictures and Universal Studios, as well as Fox Sports, Pegula Sports & Entertainment and New Era Cap Co. It's been used for various commercials and small-budget or independent firms. It scored a major coup by landing the production of "A Quiet Place Part 2," which is slated for release in theaters in late May.
"There’s a lot of interest in Buffalo lately. And once they come, they love it," O'Neill said. "2021 is going to be a good year for movie production in Buffalo."
The company's latest expansion comes as film production activity in Buffalo is picking up again, after much of the industry was suspended for the last year because of the pandemic.
Plans for two additional large studios were unveiled last year – Matt Fleckenstein's Buffalo Studios in South Buffalo and Great Point Media's Niagara Studios on the West Side. And Buffalo Film Works has productions lined up through the end of the year.
"It’s great for the local film base," she said. "We were shut down for all of 2020, and now we’re getting films back in."
O'Neill said several "small-budget films" will come to Buffalo in June and July, including one that will film at University at Buffalo's South Campus because it needs a school setting. Paramount Studios, which "had a really great experience with Quiet Place 2," is coming back, she noted.
And "there's another large major motion picture coming in soon," that will be filming all summer and using various sites as a backdrop. She said she could not identify it or the studio yet, but noted that "they have been scouting locations" quietly.
"It's a very large budget film," she said. "I'm sure people will be seeing some film crews out. There are a lot of scheduled shots at places throughout the city."