What we learned about the planned Syracuse-area film and nano-tech center

It’s not just movies.

The first tenant to sign up for the Central New York Hub for Emerging Nano Industries in DeWitt, announced Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will be the Film House, a movie production company that will relocate from Los Angeles.

But that’s just the beginning, said Alain Kaloyeros, CEO of the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany.

Kaloyeros said the DeWitt hub will concentrate on attracting companies in the medical device and energy industries, as well as other companies focused on innovations powered by nanotechnology.

Cuomo estimated the hub will eventually employ 350 people, many in high-tech jobs.

The Plot

A governor seeking to boost the Upstate economy extends a branch of the state university to a suburb of Syracuse, hoping to attract private investments and to create high-tech jobs.

The CNY Nano Hub will be an arm of the SUNY Nanoscale College, which has already expanded operations into Buffalo, Rochester and Utica. Students will study a core curriculum at the Albany campus, then move to the CNY hub for on-the-job training, Kaloyeros said.

The Stars

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In a scene-stealing appearance Tuesday, Cuomo delivered the news about the SUNY hub after the State of the County address delivered by his Republican ally, Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney.

“Hollywood comes to Onondaga,” Cuomo said. “Who would have ever guessed?”
Alain Kaloyeros. The head of SUNY’s Nanoscale College has accompanied Cuomo to launch several initiatives across Upstate New York. He is based at Albany’s NanoTech Complex, where more than 3,100 scientists, students and faculty work among companies like IBM, Intel and Samsung.

Ryan R. Johnson. The head of Film House LLC, grew up in Boise, Idaho, and started out in show business as the Green Power Ranger on the TV series, according to his biography on the movie-centric website IMDB. In 2013 he formed The Film House, a full-service movie distribution company with offices in New York and Los Angeles.
Johnson said he expects to produce three movies this year in temporary space in the Central New York area, after he completes negotiations with film producers and casts to relocate. The IMDB website lists Johnson as a producer or co-producer of three films that are expected to be released this year:

– “The Sons of Summer,” a true story of a family, baseball and small-town America.

– “Land of the Outlaws,” a Western that takes place in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.

– “Oceanside Place,” about a brilliant teenage girl who clashes with her father’s new girlfriend.

Johnson said the films he worked on with other companies included “Enemy at the Gates,” a 2001 war film starring Joseph Fiennes, and “Sleepy Hollow,” a 1999 horror film directed by Tim Burton.

The Location

The CNY Nano Hub will be at Collamer Crossings, a business park in DeWitt minutes away from the intersection of the New York State Thruway and Interstate 481.

COR Development Co., the only company to bid on the project, plans to break ground within the next two to three weeks, although the developer still needs approval from the DeWitt Planning Board, according to Steve Aiello, COR’s president.

The state chose the Collamer Crossing site, which is owned by COR, because it already has stormwater systems, parking and other site work.

The project includes two 50,000-square-foot buildings, Aiello said, the first costing about $8 million to $10 million. He plans to complete construction this year.

Samuel Gordon, DeWitt’s director of planning and zoning, said the town’s planning board is likely to complete its review of the property in time for an April 1 start of construction.

The SUNY Nanoscale College will own the facility as an extension of the college’s main campus in Albany.

Companies that locate at the facility won’t receive direct cash grants. The state will pay for construction of the building and provide the equipment that goes into it, which Kaloyeros said be an incentive to attract companies.

The firms also will benefit from being located near other companies involved in nanotechnology, including potential customers, he said.

Johnson provided one other reason for locating in CNY: “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.”

The crew

Construction of the hub should employ 150 people.

Cuomo said he expects an initial 125 tech jobs at the hub, with that number eventually growing to 350. 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. “There’s going to be jobs here for a long time to come.”

Kaloyeros said the site will employ executives, managers, software engineers, directors, editors and cinematographers, among others.

Many of the jobs, especially those involved in post-production, require advanced degrees and high-tech expertise. Software engineers who work at the facility could have salaries starting at $95,000 to $100,000.

Bankrolling the production
Cuomo said the state is putting $15 million toward the hub. Onondaga County had already invested $1.4 million in the Collamer Crossings site, before the SUNY hub deal came together.

Because the hub will be a SUNY operation, companies that locate there will be eligible for lucrative tax breaks through the new Start-Up NY program. New businesses that locate on college campuses are exempt from income, sales and property taxes for up to 10 years through the program.

In addition, a state Film Tax Credit will benefit the first tenant, Film House, which stands to gain a refundable tax credit of 40 percent.

It was the package of tax benefits that persuaded Johnson to move his film production business from Los Angeles to DeWitt. He said New York’s offer beat those of other states, including Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina and Mississippi.

“It allows for a significant savings,” Johnson said. “Your savings on the budget of a movie could be 40 to 60 percent just off the top.”

Special effects

Nanotechnology allows researchers to design new materials from the ground up and imbue them with specific characteristics by altering them at the atomic level, Kaloyeros said.

In filmmaking, the science can foster the ability to produce movies in ultra-high definition through better equipment, computer graphics and editing capabilities.

“That’s how Superman flies now with this amazing resolution,” Kaloyeros said. “It’s a nanotechnology achievement.”

Modern filmmaking involves plenty of computers, he said. All phases of production increasingly rely on high-powered hardware and software.

That equipment requires the kind of nanotechnology-powered computer chips now manufactured and researched in New York at facilities like GlobalFoundries in Malta and the Nanoscale College in Albany.

“If you look at what a modern production studio looks like, it looks like Google or Apple office space,” Kaloyeros said. “It’s all computers, displays, all innovation that goes into making things look like what they’re not.”

The CNY Nano Hub will train students in computer technology, such as motion-capture techniques that were used to create movies such as “Avatar” and video games such as “Tron.”

The studio will do traditional shooting, at the DeWitt site and around the area.

“We’re going to work with them on all their graphics, high-definition, the computer-generated imagery,” Kaloyeros 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 is 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.”