Expect the traditional film cue of "lights, camera, action" to be heard a lot more around Buffalo with the announcement Tuesday that a $50 million-plus film and television production complex will be built on the West Side.
Great Point Capital Management, a media investment fund, purchased the land at Niagara Street and West Ferry from Rich Holdings, a holding company for Rich Products, whose corporate headquarters is across the street. The privately financed, full-service film and television production facility will include two 20,000-square-foot sound stages, soundproof, hangar-like structures used for motion picture and television productions, and 70,000 square feet of office and support space that includes editing bays and sound mixing.
Groundbreaking on the first sound stage is expected in September, with completion expected by September 2021.
"Buffalo is an ideal city for a state-of-the-art film and television complex," said Fehmi Zeko, who co-owns Great Point Capital with Robert Halmi, an Emmy award-winning producer and former studio head who founded the Hallmark Channel.
"A combination of great locations, well-trained crew and tremendous support from local government has made Buffalo a desirable destination for filmmakers," Zeko said. "With the addition of the studio, Buffalo will see year-round activity."
Great Point Capital is building a larger, 600,000-square-foot studio complex in Yonkers in partnership with Lionsgate Studios. It is also looking to open a third production facility in the United States and two more in the United Kingdom.
"We talked to producers and talented filmmakers, and people have a great time making films here," Halmi said. "They feel welcomed and feel people go out of their way to make it easy to make films. There are local crew here that are very talented and an incredible abundance of locations to choose from."
"We can't wait until next year comes around so we can start filling the studio with product," Halmi said. "It will be a state-of-the-art, best-in-class facility that will attract the big players to want to film in Buffalo."
Halmi said they got a call out of the blue about a year ago from Bob and Mindy Rich, who met them at a coffee shop in New York City to sell them on the idea of opening a production facility in Buffalo. They were then flown to Buffalo to get a look around.
"We couldn't find better local partners anywhere in the country than right here in Buffalo," Halmi said. "The Riches are like dealing with family."
"When we got here, it only took a few days to realize this was absolutely going to be one of our selections for a film and television complex," he said.
Former Sabres General Manager Larry Quinn, who will be supervising the project for Great Point Capital, said the company would seek sales tax waivers during construction from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency.
Halmi said 50 full-time jobs would be needed to run the production studios, with an average of 250 to 350 people working on a daily basis.
"This is very exciting for our region. It's just fantastic," said John Scardino, regional representative for Local 52 of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, which has around 4,000 members in Western and Central New York.
There will also be a local intern program for youths to train for a career in film and television, Halmi said.
The film production facility on land where a vacant manufacturing facility was demolished two years ago will be the latest addition to Niagara Street, which has seen several apartment buildings and new businesses open in recent years and which is having its streetscape redone.
"It's good news for the city but particularly the West Side," said Niagara Council Member David Rivera. "The West Side is coming back in many areas, and Niagara Street is one of those areas. This is going to be an impetus for other development on Niagara Street as well."
The decision to locate in Buffalo follows a failed state-financed effort to put in a film production facility in Syracuse. Halmi, a graduate of Syracuse University, said what happened there was "studied with great interest," but he concluded that the situations had little in common.
"Clearly, the big difference in that project was Syracuse is not a place known for filmmaking or a place that's friendly to making films," Halmi said. "That is our first criteria, and Buffalo is a destination for filmmakers. People want to come here and make movies, and that wasn't true in Syracuse."
Great Point Media started in London in 2013 and is one of the largest financiers of single pictures, Halmi said. Great Point Capital, which began in 2018, is the U.S. counterpart and focuses on building film and television studios.
Mayor Byron Brown said the announcement was great news.
"Film is a solid industry for Buffalo and today, with this investment, it grows exponentially," the mayor said.
The private investment is also a sign, he said, that Buffalo's progress isn't being curtailed by the novel coronavirus.
"This significant investment being made by Great Point Capital Management is another sign that while the Covid-19 health pandemic has been challenging, people's faith in Buffalo's resurgence has not been shaken and they continue to place their bets on Buffalo."
The responsiveness of the Buffalo Niagara Film Commission and the Brown administration, as well as New York State's 25% film production tax credit, were also cited as incentives for locating the movie production facility in Buffalo.
The Buffalo movie industry has garnered a lot of film attention recently.
'Nightmare Alley' extras help reimagine Buffalo City Hall in 1941
Buffalo News staff photographer Robert Kirkham chose to display his collection of images featuring local movie extras for "Nightmare Alley" dressed in the 1941 period style in black and white to aid in the nostalgic theme that Academy Award-winning director Guillermo del Toro and J. Miles Dale are hoping to achieve in their movie "Nightmare Alley" being filmed in and around Buffalo's City Hall and Niagara Square.
Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro was here in February with stars Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, taking advantage of Buffalo’s art deco architecture for a remake of “Nightmare Alley.”
“A Quiet Place Part II,” the big-budget sequel for Paramount Pictures, filmed throughout Erie and Niagara counties in summer 2019 with director John Krasinki and his wife, actress Emily Blunt. It is scheduled for a September release.
In November and December, actor John Rhys-Davis (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”) was in Buffalo making the feature film “Prick’d.”
In recent years, other movies shot in the region have included "Marshall," starring Chadwick Boseman; "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows"; and "Cold Brook," from actor and former Cheektowaga resident William Fichtner.
Mark Sommer covers preservation, development, the waterfront, culture and more. He's also a former arts editor at The News.