San Marcos studio project enlists ally

Spirit Horse Entertainment founders Michelle Hartly and Shari Hamrick want to create a “Canada South” film-friendly environment with their new production facility in San Marcos, Calif. To bolster this effort, the duo have formed an alliance with the Film Studio Group as consultants.

Located an hour and a half south of Los Angeles, the unfinished 190,000-square-foot studio is already in use as a shooting space. Once construction is completed, the facility will boast 70-foot-high ceilings, ranking it among the top North American and Australian studios suited for large-studio CGI or live-action projects. The facility will offer a fully operational back lot, six soundstages ranging from 18,000 to 27,000 square feet, and a 120,000-square-foot, six-story office building.

“Shari and I have spent so much time filming internationally that we just got tired of giving away American jobs,” Hartly said. “Our goal is to keep U.S. productions here where they belong by working with unions, studios, production companies, whatever it takes.” The team expects to employ 650 people on the 15-acre site.

Added Hamrick: “We are thrilled to be working with Steve Smith and everyone at the Film Studio Group, which is engaged in studio projects around the globe. They are the perfect partner.”

FSG will work with Spirit Horse in the studio’s initial startup and is talking with Spirit Horse about managing the facility, though no deal has been formalized. Hartly and Hamrick are looking for a commercial developer and additional partners to round out the team.

Discovered while scouting locations with the San Diego Film Commission, the site of the yet-to-be-named studio was originally a recycling and sorting plant. It’s an appropriate choice, says Smith, Los Angeles Center Studios founder and FSG partner. “This is certainly a dramatic adaptive reuse project.”

Bastien and Associates Inc., architects for Raleigh Studios, Manhattan Beach Studios, Los Angeles Center Studios and the $88 million Ciudad de la Luz 12-stage facility in Alicante, Spain, will design the studio and retrofit the existing buildings as soundstages. The architects are also FSG founding members with William F. White and Smith, Hricik & Munselle.

“The San Diego area has a long and successful history of movie and television production. It’s about time they had a state-of-the-art studio in San Marcos to support this tradition,” said the firm’s prexy, Gary L. Bastien.

This history — Stu Segall Prods., for example, has pumped $600 million in film and TV revenue into the San Diego economy over the last 16 years — will help make the new studio competitive, Hartly and Hamrick say.

They also cite the $50 million-$73 million in yearly production revenue that trickles down from Los Angeles, L.A. Center Studios’ production overflow and those 70-foot ceilings. Besides, they say, film crews won’t have to return to L.A. to complete post-production.

San Diego film commissioner Cathy Anderson says: “Stu Segall has created a template that has been crucial to their success. So the thought of having Spirit Horse do their magic here is fantastic. Our work is not done, however.”

Anderson cited the need to provide infrastructure for the “zone” around the stages: crew base, services, hotels, and government and community cooperation with the filmmakers. Anderson’s commission has offered San Marcos City Manager Rick Gittings assistance in cutting red tape and creating an easy permit system.

Spirit Horse encompasses feature-film development and Spirit Horse Prods., which produces more than 60 hours of TV programming, including “In the Valley of the Kings,” “Egypt: The Tomb of the Pharaohs” and “Secret Tunnel, Hidden Treasure,” airing internationally on the Discovery Channel.

Providing location and production services, Spirit Horse has worked with Universal, DreamWorks and Columbia TriStar. It is currently prepping four feature pics, including “Pegasus,” helmed by William Katt with producer Scott Duthie.

* * *

Mega-action pics in search of a bridge to blast next month can contact the Colorado Film Commission and get two of them. The Penhall Co. is seeking a film industry partner to help blow up two concrete box-girder bridges in an urban setting at the intersection of Interstates 25 and 225 in Denver. The explosions can possibly be incorporated into movie scenes.

Each bridge consists of two concrete piers, two approach spans and one center span. Each approach span and support pier will be drilled and blasted.

Penhall is working with officials of the TREX (Transportation Expansion) project to ensure compliance with all regulations on blasting inside Denver city limits. Demolition is scheduled for Feb. 21 and 22. Interested parties should contact Jim Zappavigna, Penhall Co., (303) 934-3866.

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