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Plans for film studios on former Naval Base slow to materialize
Feature Story with Photos  

By Wayne Caparas

The motion picture industry is back in the South Carolina limelight.  But while few would argue that the building of film studios in the Lowcountry is inevitable, no one cares to predict when. While a number of film professionals and state legislators are united in the belief that soundstages, back lots, and pre/post production facilities (collectively referred to as studios) are both sorely needed and easily created, others believe that the current hoopla surrounding big dollar studio development will most likely amount to a familiar conclusion--nothing new. 

Same old story?

Despite five years of laudable efforts by North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey to see a  studio developed on the former Naval Base, the base properties are controlled by the  government agency known as the RDA (Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment Authority), over which Summey has no direct control.

“He has done everything within his power,” says film historian Howard Armstrong of Summey. “I’m sure that if he had his way, a major studio would have been developed on the base years ago.”

Debra Rosen’s proposed Carolopolis Inc. studio has been “in the works” since early 1995, triggering either grand expectations or mounting pessimism among local film industry professionals.  While a deal has not been closed, RDA officials report that the RDA board recently passed proposed lease agreements with Carolopolis Inc.  Start-up cost for the project is estimated at $30 million.  However, Carolopolis founder Debra Rosen has respectfully declined to comment on the financial backing necessary to break ground.

Build from scratch or retrofit?

Producer O’Neal Compton and some other state film professionals consider it unwise to build new construction sound stages on the Naval Base or elsewhere until all possibilities to re-fit mothballed buildings have been exhausted.

Compton points out that in North Carolina, which has thirty working sound stages,  Wilmington Studios were bought for just $3.4 million in 1996. The Wilmington Studios did not start from scratch; instead the former Dino De Laurentis Studios were retrofitted, saving millions.

Compton believes that the local film industry should not wait for “highly speculative” projects to materialize. “We should move immediately to convert one or more of the existing buildings on the base into a soundstage,” he says. “The relatively small investment would quickly prove profitable."

Debra Rosen disagrees. “O’Neal Compton talks about retrofitting a building for a soundstage, but soundstages have very specific requirements if they are to be state-of-the-art and competitive. We (at Carolopolis) are going to have a digital studio, which we believe will make us globally competitive.”

While film professionals agree that Mayor Summey’s plans should unfold, the immediate call for action still remains unanswered.  Where’s the beef?