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Studio promising big things from the start
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Medient CEO Manu Kumaran said he expects to start filming in the first quarter of 2014. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Cameras are expected to start rolling by the end of March at the Medient Studioplex in Effingham County, with the studio’s first film rolling out about a year later.

The movie studio to be built on more than 1,500 acres in southern Effingham County is on schedule to be up and running by the end of the first quarter of 2014 with its first film “probably released (at the) beginning of ‘15,” Medient CEO Manu Kumaran said at Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony.

“I’m feeling very good about it,” Kumaran said of the ambitious timetable. “We are on target, so there’s no reason to assume that we are going to get delayed.”

As for what that first movie will be, Kumaran would say only that “our team is working on a few projects” and will decide which one to produce.

However, he did offer one promise.

“It’s going to be a big one,” Kumaran said. “The first movie is going to be a very ambitious, big-scale film.”

Medient is headquartered in Hollywood and has offices in England and India. It projects have included the critically-acclaimed film “Yellow” starring Ray Liotta, Sienna Miller, Melanie Griffith and Gena Rowlands.

Kumaran’s goal is to produce eight movies a year in Effingham, with each taking about a year to complete. Medient will focus on making horror, action, thriller and science-fiction fantasy films, he said.

“It’s just the market,” Kumaran said, adding that films of those genres will make better use of the infrastructure of the Effingham County sound stages.

“We have a lot of technical reasons why we should focus on those areas rather than look at drama or comedy,” he said. “To start with, to get it all going and make sure it’s profitable in the long-term, we have to focus on genres that have ready-made markets.”

The budgets for the movies made in Effingham will range from about $2 million for low-budget horror films to $40-50 million for the science-fiction films, according to Kumaran. The movie business has changed over the years so that the bulk of the cost now is not in the shooting of the film but its visual effects, he said.

That shift has led Medient to adopt a production technique some in the film industry would consider radical. While Hollywood has dubbed English-spoken movies to other languages for years, Medient plans on actually shooting the same movie in as many as four different languages.

After English-speaking actors shoot a scene, actors speaking languages such as Spanish, Chinese or Hindi will shoot the same scene on the same set with the same crew. Kumaran predicts the approach “is going to be a break-through” in the industry.

The idea is that not only will the films be higher-quality than dubbed ones, but audiences will respond better to movies shot in their own languages. The cost of having multiple crews of actors for the same movie is minimal in the big picture, Kumaran pointed out.

“It’s just the actors — it’s not a big incremental cost at all,” he said. “We have the staff, we have the infrastructure, we have the costumes, we have all the props, we have everything — it’s just a different actor. It’s rolling the camera one more time, that’s it.”

Rather than focusing on how many actors will need to be hired, Kumaran prefers to discuss the permanent jobs the movie studio will create. Medient has pledged to create 1,000 jobs in Effingham over the next five years.

“We’re not even counting actors because they’re coming and going,” Kumaran said. “Those are transient jobs; those aren’t permanent jobs. We’re talking about the permanent jobs that people will be working at the facility.”

Along with potentially revolutionizing the movie-making process, Medient also has its eye on the video game industry. The studioplex will also include DVD and video game production facilities and an area open to the public for shopping and dining — and Kumaran sees an opportunity to intertwine those.

“When I grew up, comic books were the staple for all kinds of fantasy. Today, for the young children, it’s the video game,” he said. “But video games still remain something that you play by yourself, and we want to make that a social experience. We’re experimenting with some technology on that side, and hopefully that will be the driver on the tourist-access areas.”