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Medient CEO: We want to be good neighbors
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Manu Kumaran, CEO of Medient Studios - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Participants at the annual Effingham Chamber of Commerce community retreat welcomed what is about to be Effingham’s most recent addition to its businesses.

“My name is Manu Kumaran,” said the CEO of Medient Studios, “and I’m your new neighbor.”

Medient signed a lease with the Effingham Industrial Development Authority last Thursday for 1,550 acres at Interstate 16 and Old River Road. The studio will build a production complex for movies, DVDs and video games. A groundbreaking is scheduled for Thursday, and once it’s completed, Medient’s movie production facility will be the largest in the U.S.

“At full efficiency, this company will be the largest producer of movies in the world,” Kumaran boasted.

Kumaran also answered questions from retreat participants, and he was asked if his company was going to buy property and homes up to Bay and Old River roads.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” he said.

Kumaran also stressed the company wanted to be a part of the community. He addressed concerns that Chatham County would benefit more from the studio’s presence than Effingham County. A fraction of the 1,550 acres the company will occupy is located in Chatham.

“Part of the property is in Chatham County,” he said.

But Kumaran said they turned down a deal with the Savannah Economic Development Authority.

“We are fundamentally fair in what we do as a company,” he added. “It didn’t seem right to us that Savannah gets all the mileage when Effingham is doing all the lifting.”

Kumaran laid out his vision for the studio and other development at the site and also answered questions about what will take place.

“We know what we’ve got to do,” he said. “Now it’s figuring out what and how to do it in a way that is logical, financially prudent and will be stable and sustainable. We’re trying to create a paradigm that is going to shift the way movies are made.”

More movies are shot now in Louisiana than in California, Kumaran said, but the film industry’s operations remain in California.

“Historically, the film business has been centralized in every country and in every language in one city. What we are trying to do is create a base,” he added.

Though 400 movies a year are made in the U.S., though not all are shot in Hollywood, Kumaran said his project will draw resistance, because the decisions will be made here and not in Hollywood.

“That shifts the balance in a very dramatic way, from a rather homogenous way that envelopes Hollywood and India. It’s going to be fought at every stage by the industry, because the industry is controlled by very few people. It is an industry where six companies have ruled for 100 years. The studios control the business and have for so many years.”

Technology is changing the movie business in many ways, Kumaran said. People can download movies at home and he even noted how Hollywood won’t be making film prints of movies by the end of the year.

“Now it comes out on a stick,” he said. “We paid a heavy price for that transition. We had one of our movies pirated before it was even released. Honestly, we don’t know where this distribution change that is happening is going to end up. We don’t want to be in the business of distributing content. We want to be in the business of creating content.”

His studio will attempt to change the way movies are made, Kumaran said, making the process more efficient and more economical. For instance, a movie he made a few years ago cost $15 million to produce and paying the Teamsters accounted for $1 million of that expense, he said.

“What we’re trying to do changes this dynamic quite significantly,” he said. “It changes the power structure that exists in the industry. We’re going to be attacked by the unions and all kinds of associations and interests.”

Kumaran cautioned those in attendance that he expects resistance for his end-run around unions.

“I want you to be prepared,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot dirtier before it gets better.”

The leaf structure, an amphitheater that will seat thousands of people, is designed for the first phase, Kumaran noted, so that the company is assured it will be built and not placed on a waiting list of its massive project. He also said the company will build homes for its workers on the site.

The initial phase of construction is the key, according to Kumaran, since that’s when the studios, the heart of the project, will be constructed.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” he said. “It’s going to take some doing. It’s going to take some time before the vision we have comes into fruition. To achieve those goals, we have to be prepared for tremendous sacrifice. We hope you appreciate the enormity of the task that is at hand and show us patience and give us a little bit of wiggle room as we figure out the best way.”

The studio also will help put bring international attention to the community, Kumaran said. The project also can be a showpiece on how to turn large-scale visions into reality, he added.

“It’s about getting this thing built, making sure we have the right team and once we do all these things, this part of the world is going to be on the global map,” he said.