Hollywood comes to Syracuse: When will Gina Carano star in movie here?

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Actress and MMA fighter Gina Carano hasn’t signed a contract yet, but a start-up movie company to be located in DeWitt still plans to shoot its first movie, starring Carano, beginning in July or soon thereafter.

Local movie production will come fast and furious after that, according to Michael Haggerty, chief operating officer of The Film House. The company aims to shoot at least four movies this year in Upstate New York, Haggerty said.

“Once we get rolling here, we’re going to be extremely busy,” Haggerty said.

The Film House said in March that it was negotiating with Carano to make a movie called “The Opium War” in Syracuse.

That news followed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that The Film House would be the first tenant of a state-owned nanotechnology hub to be built at the Collamer Crossings Business Park in DeWitt. The Central New York hub will be part of the state university system’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, focusing on innovations in the film industry and other sectors, such as medical devices and energy.

Hollywood film producer Ryan R. Johnson, who has more than 20 films to his credit, founded The Film House a year ago. Haggerty, a friend of Johnson’s, became his business partner after retiring as an Albany police detective.

After signing up as tenant of the nanotech hub, Johnson and Haggerty announced that their first film would feature Carano, 32, a former mixed martial arts fighter who has starred in several movies. Most recently, Carano was in “In the Blood,” released April 4. In recent months, Carano has said she is also considering making a comeback as an MMA fighter after five years away.

The Film House is negotiating a few last details to sign her for “The Opium War,” Haggerty said this week. “We’re going back and forth on one or two minor points,” Haggerty said.

The Film House also is in discussions with potential male lead actors, Haggerty said. Stephen Lang, of “Avatar,” who was announced in March as the potential male star of “The Opium War,” is still interested in the movie but will not play a lead role, Haggerty said.

Johnson and Haggerty plan to visit Syracuse soon with director Justin Steele to scout locations for filming, Haggerty said. The team plans to start casting in mid-July, and expects to hire 125 people for the movie, Haggerty said.

Meanwhile, construction should begin by the end of this month on a 50,000-square-foot building to house the nanotech hub at Collamer Crossings, said Jeffrey Aiello, vice president of construction at COR Development Co., which is building the project. Site plans have been approved for the building, which will include a 49-foot-high film studio and a secure parking area for VIP movie trailers, according to town officials.

In the meantime, Film House principals are looking for a large, hangar-like building in Upstate New York to lease as a temporary location for filming and post-production work, Haggerty said.

Over the long term, The Film House plans to collaborate with the nanotech college on technical innovations, such as recent advances that allow filming in very low light, said Jerry Gretzinger, speaking for the college. No specific nanotech applications are currently anticipated for “The Opium War,” although the film will include extensive special effects, Haggerty said.

At some point, The Film House will establish a Syracuse-area work force to do post-production work, Haggerty said. He could not predict when the company would begin hiring permanent workers, or how many. Cuomo said that over time the nanotechnology hub – of which The Film House will be just one tenant – should create 350 high-tech jobs.

By establishing its operation in Upstate New York, The Film House can qualify for the state’s refundable film tax credit of 40 cents for every dollar of production costs. The company’s affiliation with the nanotechnology college also is expected to quality The Film House for Start-Up NY, the governor’s tax-free business incentive program.

Haggerty said anyone interested in working for The Film House should send an inquiry to filmhousejobs@gmail.com.