The revised master plan for a planned massive studioplex in Effingham County could be finished within two weeks, Industrial Development Authority members learned Thursday.
Jake Shapiro, who took over as CEO of Medient Studios last month, said he and the remaining board of directors remain committed to building what is being billed as the largest studio in the U.S. in Effingham County. There will be changes, he said, as the site of the studioplex will be moved closer to Old River Road.
“We have completely restructured the master plan and the siting of the soundstages, the office buildings, along with the public spaces,” Shapiro said. “These have been to minimize the cost and maximize the efficiencies.”
Moving the site for the soundstages closer to Old River Road could cut the infrastructure cost by as much as 70 percent, Shapiro said.
“These changes will lead to an expedited process for construction, the grand opening and permanent job creation here in Effingham,” he said.
The studio will not be building a suspension bridge over wetlands or the giant leaf amphitheatre, Shapiro reiterated.
“There will be no circular stages that look like they came out of an old episode of ‘The Jetsons,’” he said. Shapiro added the board is committed to the Medient business plan, which calls for using the same sets and stages to film the same movie in four different languages. It also calls for using robotic cameras and permanent crews to work on films.
“I wrote the original business plan for Medient Studios, crafted the original PowerPoint presentation and I have been an evangelist for these changes in the industry that need to happen,” Shapiro.
The studio also plans to start shooting movies before the soundstages are finished.
“We have gone through a slate of films that can be shot in location in Savannah, Effingham County and our property as well,” Shapiro said. “We’re gearing up for production.”
IDA Chairman Dennis Webb said he was encouraged by Shapiro’s presentation and is anxious for the entire IDA to get the master plan.
“It’s a more reasonable business plan,” he said. “It’s something we can grip on. They still have a long way to go, obviously. It’s critical we get the new master plan. But it looks like the people behind this company are serious, funded and ready to proceed.”
The IDA and Medient have been working on a supplemental agreement, but the IDA needs to have the master plan in hand before it can finish that document, Webb said.
Shapiro was named CEO after he and other board members voted out Manu Kumaran. Kumaran has filed suit against the studios and the remaining board members in Nevada and was granted a temporary restraining order. A hearing on an injunction will be held later this month in Nevada, and Kumaran has asked the company be dissolved and placed into receivership.
A shareholder also has filed suit against Medient and the studio in Effingham County Superior Court, and former vice president Jay Self has filed against the studio in Chatham County court.
Shapiro called Kumaran’s move a “nuisance lawsuit” and amounts to “nothing more than sour grapes.”
The Securities and Exchange Commission issued a suspension of Medient stock trading, citing questions regarding the accuracy and adequacy of publicly available information about the company.
“The SEC had a number of questions about disclosure under the former CEO,” Shapiro said. “We have adopted a policy of overdisclosure in every aspect of our business.”
The company also has paid all outstanding invoices to vendors who had been involved with the studioplex construction.
“Many of these vendors had never been paid a penny up to this point,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro also said the studios will be moving its office to Effingham County from Chatham Parkway and he also will be moving to Effingham.
Medient entered into a 20-year lease on Aug. 21, 2013 for the property with a total rent of $10 million. Under the terms of the agreement, the studio will not have to pay rent the first two years but is obligated to 18 equal annual installments beginning in February 2016. The rent will increase if the studio does not meet the stated goals of $90 million in investment and 1,000 jobs created before the end of the fifth year. Shapiro said the final total investment could top $90 million.
“We look forward to making Effingham County and the studioplex a very exciting place that we’re all proud of,” he said. “We want this to be a member of the community in and of itself that the community can enjoy.”
See Tuesday’s Herald for more.