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Studio liked what it saw from Effingham
The giant glass leaf will be the dominant feature of the planned amphitheater. - photo by Courtesy of Medient Studios

It didn’t take long for Medient Studios to like what it saw in Effingham County and make the decision to build their movie and DVD production in Effingham.

Effingham won out over two locations in Georgia and four other states, along with overseas locations, as the home of Medient Studios’ planned massive complex.

“We were looking for very specific parameters on what we need,” said Medient Studios CEO Manu Kumaran.

Kumaran said he has been trying for the last 10 years, and actively working the last five years, to find a place for the studio he had in mind. He started out in his native India and tried to make it work there. But India, which has a booming film industry, has many restrictions on foreign films being shot there, according to Kumaran.

Medient looked very closely at cities in England and also explored locating in Estonia and Germany, and the company nearly located in Poland, Kumaran said. The U.S. wasn’t on their radar at the time.

“We happened to shoot a movie in Oklahoma a couple of years back, and that’s how we started thinking about America,” Kumaran said.

The studio looked at Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and Louisiana.

“We had conversations with the senior bureaucracy in all those states,” Kumaran said.

Georgia was very aggressive in marketing itself, he added. The Savannah Economic Development Authority was instrumental in bring Medient to the Coastal Empire to look at the region, Kumaran added.

“Then we met John, and he showed us a couple of properties,” Kumaran said of Effingham Industrial Development Authority CEO John Henry. “It was just easier to do business with John. That’s the bottom line.”

Medient Studios and the Effingham IDA began discussing what was called Project Magnolia in late summer 2012.

“John has been quite the bulldog,” Kumaran added. “He knocked three states and two cities in Georgia out of contention.”

IDA Chairman Dennis Webb also praised the work of the board and of Henry and project manager Ryan Moore.

“Unless you’ve been involved in these things, you don’t understand how much time it takes,” Webb said. “The number of man-hours is enormous. John Henry and Ryan and the rest of the IDA staff have done an exemplary job of putting this together. And this is complicated. This is a foreign company and a non-traditional facility we’re putting in.”

Kumaran was glad to get the process completed, especially since the studio wants to start producing movies locally by the end of the year.

“We don’t have a lot of time to spend,” he said. “It’s one of those projects that could be in development forever. You could be looking at new properties, and each city has something spectacular to offer and each community has something that is unique. It could very much be scouting for locations and meeting with various governments and evaluating various support schemes on a permanent basis. That could be a full-time job.”

Kumaran said the company put a Dec. 31 deadline on making a decision for a new home.

“On that date, the Effingham offer was the best offer we had,” Kumaran said.

Under the terms of the deal, the IDA will provide $1.25 million in site development. There will be a 20-year lease, and the IDA will receive payments of $10 million over time. There are also penalty clauses if Medient does not reach anticipated employment levels.

“It’s a product of a lot of discussion, a lot of time and a lot of foresight,” IDA attorney Ted Carellas said of the memorandum of understanding signed Tuesday morning. “It’s an ambitious project. John and Ryan have worked hard on it, as has the executive committee.”