Huntington gets soundstage, could become hub
Prior to the 2006 production of “We Are Marshall,” which shot for three weeks in Huntington, one could count on one hand the number of studio produced films made in West Virginia, including “The Night of the Hunter” (1955), starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish in a surreal true story of a Clarksburg reverend-turned-serial killer, which shot in Moundsville, Sistersville, and New Martinsville; “Fools Parade” (1971) starring Jimmy Stewart, George Kennedy and Kurt Russell filmed at the West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville; “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1980) and “Sweet Dreams” (1985) starring Jessica Lange were also filmed in part in W.Va..
Prior to “Super 8,” the Wheeling/Weirton area was the location for the Academy Award-winning “The Deer Hunter” (1978) starring Robert DeNiro and “Reckless” (1983), which brought Daryl Hannah and Aidan Quinn to the big screen.
Various independent productions have also been shot in the state, including “Matewan” (1987), “Invasion of the Space Preachers” (1989), “Chillers” (1987), “Paradise Park” (1990), “No Drums No Bugles” (1972), “When the Line Goes Through” (1973), and the small budget exploitation picture, “Teen Age Strangler” shot in Huntington in 1964.
However, when Warner Bros. decided to bring the Marshall plane crash football tragedy and aftermath to the big screen in 2006, it hit a nerve.
Although many exterior scenes were shot in and around Huntington and Marshall University by director McG, the interiors were shot mainly in Atlanta. West Virginia did not offer filmmakers a tax incentive. Georgia did.
Then-Gov. Joe Manchin found a way to extend the studio filmmaker’s stay a third week, then, the state passed incentives to woo filmmakers.
Still, West Virginia had the natural location, but lacked one essential -a soundstage for shooting interiors. Not anymore.
Trifecta Productions teamed with Milton producer Darrell Fetty for “America’s Greatest Feud: The History of the Hatfields and McCoys.”
“We have a couple of scripts and we are entertaining some feature films to be shot and produced in their entirety in Huntington,” said Joe Murphy, president of Trifecta Productions. “We don’t want to get anybody too excited, but that is on the horizon, as well as scripted and unscripted series and concepts.”
Describing the 5,000 square foot sound stage as having twenty-two feet to the lighting grid, the soundproof facility will have a cyclorama green screen and a white screen for state of the art special effects.
Prior to the launch of Trifecta’s facility, which is located in a remodeled former television studio, Murphy explained, “We had limited studio space in West Virginia and, as far as I know no soundstage to speak of. We could go out on location or find spots to do interviews … the new facility brings a ‘controlled environment’ including a lockdown location, sound proofing, plenty of electrical access, and any lighting equipment you need to bring.”
MAYOR EVALUATING CITY FILMMAKING INCENTIVES
“Our city and region are blessed to have a company of the talent, caliber, and vision of Trifecta,” said Huntington Mayor Steve Williams.
“Joe Murphy and Jack Reynolds have complimented us by investing here and betting their business future on Huntington.”
Williams explained, “We will do whatever is necessary to assist them in their efforts. We are evaluating what tax and fee incentives as well as city services that will place Huntington in the forefront of film, commercial, and documentary production.”
The Mayor added, “Huntington can provide one thing to production companies that is not available anywhere else in the world … the hospitality and warmth of Huntingtonians. Film companies will be embraced here so they will feel at home … yet be given the space needed to produce their product.”
Pam Haynes, director of the West Virginia Film Office, expressed her excitement, too.
“The state film office applauds Huntington’s new soundstage venture. It gives our office the ability to promote yet another reason for producers to consider filming in the state – in addition to our competitive tax incentive. We have already announced its anticipated opening to production executives that I met with in Los Angeles this past November and will continue to incorporate it in other promotional opportunities.”
HUNTINGTON AND WEST VIRGINIA, ANYTOWN , USA ON FILM
Stressing the goal of turning the city into a film-friendly venue, Murphy, too, called the opening of the sound stage a “big step” for the city, stressing that it will be comparable to any stage of our size in New York or Los Angeles when completed.
“We want to make Huntington a hub for production,” Murphy said, explaining that “within twenty-five radius, I can create a Revolutionary War battle, see an 1890s – 1960s bustling epicenter, and turn the corner to find Anytown, U.S.A.”
Businesses and residents of Huntington have been enthusiastic in making out-of-town filmmakers feel at home. “We Are Marshall” director McG developed such a connection with residents he would have been a cinch to win election to public office.
Cooperation from the city and the state’s host of tax incentives through the WV Film Office means, “We can invite crews into our hometown and not only will they have facilities, but we can share our culture and heritage.
They will access to wonderful hotels, restaurants, entertainment right on our door step.”
The bottom line equals money and Huntington and the state have expense conditions well below the cost of filming in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, or Pittsburgh, which means a production company can get more bang for their bucks shooting in the Mountain State.
West Virginia writer/producer Darrell Fetty, honored as co-producer of the “Hatfields and McCoys” miniseries, indicated that he has already connected Trifecta “to a couple of productions” that may bring some film business to Huntington.
A few of the prospects surfaced after the debut of MTV’s Sissonville-filmed “Buckwild,” a realty series that follows a group of young West Virginians in their escapades.
Admitting that he has not seen “Buckwild” nor is he a fan of ‘reality television,’ Fetty explained “networks need programs that people will watch. Currently, viewers are watching more and more ‘reality’ programs featuring wild and crazy ‘regional characters’ in unique locales or occupations – from ‘Swamp People’ to ‘Buckwild’ – as long as people want to see shows like that, the networks will continue to program them. Every state and specific locale has its own wide range of eccentric, looney, and outrageous indigenous personalities along with the vast majority of normal, intelligent folks who live there.”
Unfortunately, most people do not watch shows about “normal intelligent people living normal intelligent lives,” Fetty said. Although not advocating “Buckwild,” the filmmaker explained, “the only way to fight low-brow programming is to develop more higher-quality shows about real people, real conflicts and real human emotions, like “Hatfields & McCoys,” to counterbalance any stereotypical or exploitive productions that come to our previously-underused area for filming.”
Murphy, who currently plans to expand his “A Brief History of the Keith Albee” to a one hour documentary explained the economic multipliers.
“Filmmakers who select the Mountain State as a shooting location may be eligible for state tax incentives as the ‘making of’ production process of television and film stimulate an economic multiplier, which benefit local businesses (i.e. hotels, restaurants), but create temporary jobs that range from acting and extras to a need for carpentry and electrical skills.”
The incentive is available to productions that do not present the state in a derogatory manner. “Buckwild” producers were denied the incentive due to the stereotypical nature of the project.
Despite the negative stereotypes exemplified by “Buckwild,” Murphy suggests, “We are [at] the beginning of the hillbilly chic revolution. It’s happening in West Virginia, right here in Huntington, and all over America, whether its country music or muscle cars,” Murphy said, explaining that “everybody goes back to the blue collar of America, the common man. You’re going to see dozens of television shows like “Buckwild” , just like you saw everything “Jersey Shore” – if someone doesn’t agree with the content, then, make better content. If someone has a better story or a better answer to “Buckwild,” we want to hear about it- and we have creative content to share. We can let outsiders come in and take away what they want or we can be stewards over our image.”