An indie filmmaker announced plans on Thursday to build a new film studio in Savannah, Ga., which he hopes will turn the coastal city into a hub for major studio filmmaking.
David Paterson, partner at Arcady Bay Entertainment, said the new studio will be the first one in the city built specifically for film and TV production. The Savannah College of Art and Design operates three sound stages in a converted meat-packing plant, and recently announced plans to expand the facility.
Paterson hopes to break ground in September on the new project, called KAT-5 Studios. He said that major productions often use Savannah for exteriors, but then are forced to shoot interior scenes on sound stages in Atlanta.
“That is one thing Savannah is lacking,” said Paterson, who has produced “Bridge to Terabithia” and “The Great Gilly Hopkins,” in addition to working as a stuntman and an actor.
Savannah is eager for economic development, and has seen a few studio projects get announced and then fail to materialize. Moon River Studios was a $90 million project slated to be built in nearby Effingham County. It was announced in 2013, but never got off the ground. The Securities and Exchange Commission later accused the company of falsifying documents to try to get investments, and the firm was ordered to pay a $1.8 million judgment.
More recently, Craig Gordon, a Democratic state representative from Savannah, rounded up investors for another studio project. His plan was to buy 15 acres of city-owned land on a former fairground site, and renovate hangars on the property. The city council rejected the plan, saying Gordon’s offer was too low. The city has since fielded two other proposals to develop a film studio on the site, as well as other ideas.
Paterson got to know the area as a member of the advisory board of the Savannah Film Festival, and said that during the pandemic he decided to try to make the project a reality. He partnered with Taylor Owenby, another independent film producer, and they have garnered local support and investors. In an interview, Owenby was circumspect about the cost of the project, saying it would be in the $25-50 million range.
“We are starting small at first,” he said. “What happens from there depends on the success of the market.”
The team was also cagey about the location of the project, other than to say it is within the Savannah city limits. In an email, Paterson said they are still looking at negotiating for adjoining parcels.
Georgia’s film industry has exploded over the last decade, thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars in state tax credits each year, which effectively provide a 30% discount on production costs. The Savannah Economic Development Authority provides an additional $1.3 million annually, which provides an additional 10% discount for productions that are able to take advantage of it.
“We have great locations, but we’ve been lacking the infrastructure when they want to also build sets and film interiors,” said Beth Nelson, the executive director of the Savannah Regional Film Commission. “It would be wonderful to have something purpose-built.”