High-tech movie-making hub would grow in vacant field in DeWitt under state plan

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a brief stop tonight at Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney’s State of the County speech to announce a plan to bring the film industry to Central New York.

“Hollywood comes to Onondaga,” Cuomo said. “Who would have ever guessed?”

The Central New York Hub for Emerging Nano Industries would combine three state initiatives: investments in nano-technology training and research; Cuomo’s tax-free Start-Up NY incentives; and the state’s lucrative film tax credits. The plan is to build it in the Collamer Crossings Business Park in DeWitt.

Here’s a closer look at how these industries, tax breaks and college classes will work together, under Cuomo’s plan:

Start-Up NY and Film Tax Credits
It was the package of tax benefits that convinced Ryan Johnson, president of the newly formed Film House LLC, to move his film production business from Los Angeles to DeWitt, N.Y., he said.

“It allows for a significant savings,” Johnson said after Cuomo made the announcement at the Carnegie Library in downtown Syracuse. “Your savings on the budget of a movie could be 40 to 60 percent just off the top.”

Johnson said New York’s tax break package will give the company 35 cents back for every $1 invested in the new business. Johnson said New York beat other states — like Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina and Mississippi — that offer tax credits for film production.

In the end, Johnson said, Central New York also sold him on the relocation. “It’s the perfect place,” he said. “It’s kind of quiet and tucked away where we can do things like blow things up and not bother too many people, I think.”

Start-Up NY offers new businesses that locate on college campuses or designated land to qualify for up to a decade’s worth of no income, sales and property taxes. The Film Tax Credit provides refundable tax money back to film industries for bringing or keeping their business in the state. The film credit has an additional value to Upstate production companies – the benefits go from a 30 percent Downstate tax benefit to a 40 percent tax benefit.

SUNY’s role
This new film hub will be an arm of the state’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, which is headquartered in Albany. Students will study a core curriculum at the Albany campus, then move to the hub for on-the-job training, according to Alain Kaloyeros, who runs the college.

In the end, students would earn SUNY degrees, Kaloyeros said. Both Kaloyeros and Johnson said they hope to work with Syracuse University, Onondaga Community College and other schools.

Film House’s role
The Film House is the first tenant in the hub. Johnson said the company might be ready to accept students as early as summer or fall. He expects to move into the hub, which has yet to be built, within a year.

Johnson said the idea is to train the students in film production that relies on computer technology to improve on current uses like motion-capture to create movies like “Avatar” and video games like “Tron.”

The studio will do traditional shooting, both at the DeWitt site and around the area, said Johnson, who has visited the Syracuse area four times this year. He expects to produce three movies this year in temporary space in the Central New York area.

Johnson declined to say what the three films are that he’s working on. He said he’s still negotiating with the film producers and cast to relocate. He said he worked on “Enemy at the Gate” and “Sleepy Hollow,” among other films, with other companies.

Mixing film & nano
Kaloyeros said 90 percent of films made today rely on computer technology. The idea behind the film hub is to build a stronger tie between the state’s nanotechnology industry and the film industry’s increasing reliance on computer graphics.

“We’re going to work with them on all their graphics, high-definition, the computer-generated imagery,” he said. “They will not only be doing the technology of today. They’ll be working on evolving their shooting practices, the products.”

And, Kaloyeros said, the idea to train the students “in real time, while they are shooting movies,” he said. “We want to build that workforce, that right now, is only in New York City.”

New jobs
The hub would create 150 construction jobs and an initial 125 tech jobs that will eventually hit 350, Cuomo said. Some of those tech jobs would be permanent jobs with Film House, Johnson said, though he didn’t say how many or how soon. The jobs would include camera and electrical work, post-production and other positions.

“We’re going to attempt to train and keep everyone local,” he said, through the students and the community. “There’s going to be jobs here for a long time to come.”

There may be temporary jobs for various films, he said, such as extras needed in scenes.

Cuomo Announces New Film Hub at State of the County
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announces new film hub in DeWitt during the State of the County address.
Building the Hub
COR Development Co. is the builder for the project. COR is planning to break ground within the next two to three weeks, though the developer still needs to seek some approval from the DeWitt Planning Board, according to Steve Aiello, COR’s president.
The project includes two 50,000-square-foot buildings, Aiello said. The first building would cost about $8 million to $10 million, Aiello said. He plans to complete construction this year.

Other public money
Onondaga County has already put in $1.4 million in getting the site ready, before the film production hub deal came together. Cuomo said the state is putting $15 million toward the hub.