Triple Horse to build film studio in Covington

COVINGTON -- Triple Horse announced Thursday it will build a Hollywood-style film studio in Covington, ultimately investing $100 million, with the goal of solidifying Covington's position as the "Hollywood of the South."

The studio is planned for 160-plus acres owned by the Newton County Industrial Development Authority at Ga. Highway 142 and City Pond Road.

The project will be developed in phases, with the first phase entailing a $38 million investment.

Once completely built out, features will include: five sound stages, including two 18,000-square-foot sound stages with a door in between that can be pushed back to create one large space, and one a 45,000-square-foot soundstage; a water tank with sky backdrop, similar to the set used for "The Truman Show," the first of its kind on the eastern seaboard, according to a Triple Horse representative; a green screen soundstage; a three-story building for makeup and wardrobe and dressing rooms; space for set construction; space for trailers; backlots and space to build customized sets; post-production buildings and viewing room; a bungalow village which will serve as office space for executives; space for special effects and prop storage; and an administrative building.

The studio would be different from anything offered in Georgia and even throughout the country, as it would provide a setting and structure similar to what exists in Hollywood, said Triple Horse Chief Operating Officer Dale Weller.

The entire filmmaking experience could happen right there, along with post-production, which typically accounts for one-third or more of a film budget, said CEO Karl Horstmann. Georgia offers tax breaks on post-production if a majority of a film has been shot in the state.

During construction, there will be approximately 300 employees on site, Weller said.

When the studio opens there will be between 50 and 75 full-time people hired, he said.

"If the studios open with a project (film or TV series) already scheduled, the number of employees would scale accordingly," Weller said via email on Friday. "We believe with an aggressive marketing effort we will be able to attract projects when the studio opens. Several film producers have already told us they would have shot their projects in Covington/Newton County this year if we were open.

"During a single production the studio would employee hundreds of skilled workers and with five stages we could easily accommodate three productions at the same time. So to say we could have over 1,000 people working at the studio is not a stretch."

Weller said Albuquerque Studios Chief Operation Officer Wayne Rauschenberger stated it employs 3,000 direct employees and another 3,000 indirect employees. That studio is approximately the same size as the one Triple Horse is proposing.

The project will be privately funded by "a small group of high net wealth investors," Horstmann said. The timeline on the project will depend on when those partnerships are sealed, but he said that filming could begin a year after ground breaks.

Filmmakers are using "warehouse" studios outside of Hollywood that don't provide such amenities, due to tax incentives offered in those locations, Horstmann and Weller said.

Films are increasingly being made outside of Hollywood, Weller reported.

California has lost more than 10,000 entertainment industry jobs and 25,000 related jobs in recent years, he said. Movies shot in California have decreased from 272 in 2000 to 160 in 2008, but the number of productions is increasing. Productions are instead heading to states that offer tax incentives. Twenty-one of the 23 new television dramas on the four major networks this year are shooting outside of California.

"Whoever has the right kind of studio is where they're going to end up," he said.

About a half dozen filmmakers, including those involved in major projects starring Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg and Arnold Schwarzenegger, have been pitched the project and said they would be interested in using the studio, according to the Triple Horse team.

Film budgets typically range from $15 million to $200 million; and as much as 50 percent of that remains in the state where filming takes place, Weller said. A production spends an average of $200,000 a day in the local area when filming, he said.

A studio in Pittsburgh, which Triple Horse representatives said is not on the level of the one planned for Covington, has generated $300 million in that area since 2009. Local businesses also benefit from the film industry: "The Avengers" filmed in Albuquerque, N.M., resulting in 3,200 nights in hotel stays there, Weller said. And as for tourism, just take a look at Dubuque County, Iowa, where "Field of Dreams" was filmed. More than 20 years later, 54,000 tourists still visit each year, generating $5.4 million, he said.

The Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce has been "driving" and structuring the project, according to President Hunter Hall.

"It is our hope and our goal for it to truly transform the future of Newton County," creating an "enormous" amount of jobs and sales tax, Hall said.

He added that 22 percent of the county's workforce is in manufacturing and this will provide diversification of the tax base, giving the economy greater stability.

Triple Horse, located off Bob Williams Parkway in Covington, provides a variety of services to filmmakers and writers. Through a number of subsidiaries, the company offers a production company, a design agency, filming, post-production services, equipment rental and set design and construction.