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A new name for studio, but focus remains same, CEO says
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Moon River Studios CEO Jake Shapiro speaks to Effingham Chamber members at the Mars Theatre. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

The CEO of Moon River Studios said Tuesday they are eyeing an early 2015 start date for construction on a massive studio project slated for Effingham County.

Jake Shapiro addressed a crowd at the Effingham Chamber of Commerce’s Lunch and Learn session — held at Springfield’s Mars Theatre — and said the recently-renamed studio will be moving its offices from Savannah to the 1,560-acre property in the next two-and-a-half weeks.

The studio announced a name change late last month from Medient to Moon River, playing upon the song written by Savannah’s own Johnny Mercer that was featured in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Main construction on the studio should start early next year.

“We’ve got a great team of civil engineers, designers and architects in place,” Shapiro said. “We hope to have all the permits in place by the end of the year, which means real construction in January. We’ve given them a goal of sooner than that to keep the pressure on everybody.”

Foley Designs has been hired as the architect, and the studio is close to finalizing a deal with Choate Construction as its building contractor. Moon River also is working with Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung as its engineering firm.

“We have been bringing in great people from the region that we think are the best of the best,” Shapiro said, “and we certainly think Choate is in that category.”

Pinewood Studios has opened a large facility south of Atlanta, and Atlanta is becoming a hotbed of TV and film production. Shapiro doesn’t see that as competition. Instead, he said there is a shortage of facilities and space.

“The reason why they are all coming is to fill a demand,” he said. “Film production in Georgia is growing at a phenomenal rate. There are only two states with no caps on film tax credits — Louisiana and Georgia.”

Georgia’s weather, especially its lack of hurricanes making landfall, gives it an edge over Louisiana, and North Carolina did not approve its film tax credit, according to Shapiro.

“We’re getting resumes from all over the country that Georgia is the place to be for the film industry,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro added the new management team remains committed to building what is billed as the biggest movie production facility in the U.S. in Effingham County.

“None of us would be here if we didn’t think this would be completely financed,” he said. “None of us would be wasting our time if we didn’t have complete confidence in the success of this project.”

Moon River board chairman Charles Koppelman has an extensive background in entertainment and media, selling the world’s largest music library to EMI, running Martha Stewart’s empire and as a member of the boards of Six Flags and Las Vegas Sands.

“He believes in what we’re doing,” Shapiro said of Koppelman. “He believes we’re going to be successful in everything we’re doing. He has said publicly he will use all his financial relationships to make sure this will happen.”

The company announced a 1-for-1,000 reverse stock split two weeks ago. The stock price remains well below a penny a share, but Shapiro sounded an optimistic tone.

“The reverse stock split does not change the underlying value of the shares,” he said. “It’s equivalent to having one dollar in a pocket and 100 pennies in the other pocket. They have the same value, but the dollar bill is a more useful currency. There are a number of investors and investment funds that are prohibited from investing in stocks below a certain price. So by reducing the share count, and increasing the share price, it makes the stock far more attractive to a much wider audience of investors.”

The company is aiming to get its development of regional impact, or DRI, completed by the end of the year. Shapiro reiterated they will build two 20,000 square foot soundstages and a 40,000 square foot office building first.

Future phases will include more soundstages and backlots, and there also are plans for areas open for community use.

“We’re not looking to build the Taj Mahal,” Shapiro said. “We’re not looking to build Rome in a day.”

Moon River also will be hiring local workers for many of their positions, and Shapiro said they are targeting veterans as potential hires.

“The primary purpose is permanent job creation,” he said. “They’re trained to complete the mission. We love that. Film production essentially is logistics. And the military excels at that.”

Shapiro also said the film industry is broken and the company’s plan is to take it back close to its roots, when studios owned and operated the means of making movies, from having full-time crews to its own shops, sets, stages and warehouses. Studio board of directors member David Paterson, the former governor of New York, has said the first to do what Moon River has in mind will make money, Shapiro added.

“We believe that what we’re doing will literally change the way films get produced and financed,” he said. “We are going to do to the Hollywood system what Japan did to Detroit. It’s a complete paradigm shift and it’s almost identical to what Hollywood did when it was at its most profitable.”