By Michael F. Carmichael
May 7, 2009
It’s not often that we’re hearing good economic news these days, especially from states where the automotive industry predominates. But there was a reason to be positive in the last few weeks, according to Gilda Jacobs.
“I rise today with great enthusiasm,” said Jacobs, a state senator from Michigan, “to tell you that Los Angeles-based New Castle Entertainment is partnering with Parallax Production Studios, a Southfield, Mich.-based motion picture production and post-production facility for a two year $60 million- $60 million [she repeated for emphasis] partnership in the filming and editing of up to two dozen feature films-¦ This partnership [between Parallax and New Castle] would never have occurred if it were not for the hard work we did in this chamber by passing the Michigan Film Incentive,” concluded Senator Jacobs.
Parallax Production Studios? What’s that? Where did they come from? Corp! talked to the founder of less than six-months-old Parallax, Calvin Perry.
We asked about his movie production background. “I’m still learning,” Perry replied. “I come from financial services, so I don’t come from the movie business. I’m about eight months into it. I’m learning a lot and enjoying it. I’ve got a lot of great people around me that know it much better than I do.”
Perry continued, “I started out as a financial advisor with American Express in Dallas [he says with a definite Texas accent]. I was with them in Chicago for five years and ran a good portion of the Chicago market. I eventually wrapped up my financial services career with a southern California firm where, as senior vice president, I had oversight of about 20 states,” he told us. “By late 2007 I started doing a lot of research on possible entrepreneurial opportunities and started Parallax Productions in the third quarter of 2008.”
For a very young start-up company, Parallax has a very big head start in the rebirth of Michigan’s film industry. “We’ve got some unique technology,” Perry explains. “We’ve got some unique abilities here in our facility with our fiber optics network, our film transfer services - we’re even thinking of expanding our name because there’s very little that we can’t do. We have stages for production,” he continues, “we’re a full production services facility.” Perry explains that “we have some of the deepest talent in Michigan from the production side who sit on the advisory boards of various editing hardware and software companies, advising them on features that should be added and ways they could improve. One of our lead guys has 38 years of production experience.”
Parallax has also brought in some outside executive talent. “Carolyn Buchanan has been with the Disney Channel, Women’s Entertainment Network, as well as AMC - American Movie Classics. She’ll be heading up the majority of day-to-day operations for us,” Perry says. “She will also be using her contacts at the networks to bring more television production to Michigan, because episodic television [TV series] also qualifies for the 42 percent Michigan film production tax credit,” Perry clarifies.
In addition to providing production and post-production services to the film industry, Parallax has created a film transfer division, which focuses on companies, schools and colleges. “It provides archive and preservation services along with color correction,” says Perry. “We can create ‘best of’ excerpts of large quantities of films, and we can partner with those organizations to market and promote the best-of selections as DVDs to their constituencies.” Perry continues, “We talking to Harvard University about color-correcting and preserving 1,274 football games going back to 1926. We’re very encouraged about that division and some of the opportunities there.”
Much of the interest in the state mostly known as home to the Detroit Three as a center for motion picture production and post production is the result of the tax incentives, as pointed out by Senator Jacobs.
Perry explains that “there’s a reason why it was put together the way it was. The choice was to incentivize a business that was nomadic in nature, and could get underway quickly. And, sure enough,” he continues, “right after the bill was passed in April of last year there were production companies here within four to six weeks and within eight weeks there were four or five movies being shot.” Perry is a realist about Michigan’s potential as a year-round feature film capitol. “Of course,” he says, “until we get full-fledged stages up and running we’re subject to new films shooting exterior locations only - and only in warmer months and not year ’round. I expect until the physical facilities are built we’ll see studios working on four or five movies a month for Michigan’s eight months of good weather.”
In an earlier article on the film industry, Corp! had mentioned that new production studio facilities were planned for Pontiac, Mich. and elsewhere in the state. “We’re talking to the backers of proposed new studio facilities about partnering,” Perry tells us. “The Raleigh Studios facility, Motown Motion Picture Studios, in Pontiac [in the former GM Centerpointe Truck plant, backed in part by shopping mall developer Al Taubman] will be offering things that we don’t and we’ll have a lot of services that they won’t provide,” he says.
An important component of the state’s burgeoning film industry is providing the highly specialized workforce necessary to help production companies achieve the necessary local hiring levels to qualify for the tax credits. Toward that end, Parallax “is talking to CBS about taking a leadership position for a two-to-three day symposium that they’re putting on in July at the Rock Financial Center. It would help educate the local market on film. They would also have a TV episodic section, as well as one on the electronic gaming industry, which is humungous. And all three of those areas get the incentives. Gaming is a huge opportunity - the video and computer versions - not the gambling kind,” Perry clarifies.
Showing that technology has taken so much of the “grunt labor” out of the post-production business (there used to be film negative trimmers, trim catalogers, rough editors, finish editors and a host of other skilled artisans needed to take miles of 35mm film and cut it down to an audience-pleasing 80 to 100 minutes), Perry says that “currently we have about 12 employees and may end up with around 20 to 25.”
Those few employees are working with some expensive and ultra-sophisticated equipment. Perry gives us a verbal tour. “We have a Cintel DSX 4K Real-Time telecine. [A device that transfers traditional film to digital images that can then be edited on equally ultra-sophisticated computers.] It transfers film to high-definition digital images on a four kilobit basis and it has an automatic scratch and dust removal system” Perry says with the pride of a new father, “it will view the film as it’s going through from multiple optical views and if it detects dust or scratches that need to be filled in it will do it automatically - in effect, it sees around the dust or scratch. That makes restoring old films almost magic. It works in tandem with a color correction machine called the DaVinci2K-plus that actually won an Emmy award.”
Parallax was the first to design a facility in Michigan specifically for the feature industry. “There are a lot of great post-production houses around here and they’ve done well for years at doing commercials,” Perry says. “However, from a set-up or technology standpoint, they’re not as geared toward the feature business as we are. We’re the first post-production company to sign a multi-year deal with a major motion picture production company. We’re the first one to deliver a feature to Lion’s Gate. The first one to invest in Hollywood technology with the DSX. Some of it is first and only - like there’s no one in the state with a DSX, nobody’s delivered to Lion’s Gate since the law passed but us - we’re the only ones set up for the Hollywood basis,” he concludes.
The entertainment industry is becoming so technology-centric that Parallax is in discussions with a long-time proponent of a unique technology to talk about adding that dimension to the gaming industry. “Kids can play a game in 2-D, sometimes in 3-D, but this would add a sense of reality that nobody else has,” Perry tells us.
Michigan, particularly the Detroit area, has been a center for the production of television commercials - particularly car commercials, but that situation is changing fast. The tax credit provides the opportunity for Michigan to become a serious player in the entertainment/film production business.
“We’re making connections with some of the most prominent film labs in Los Angeles,” Perry explains, citing another technological wonder Parallax has installed in its headquarters. “Feature film producers are used to shooting all over the country and then shipping what are called ‘dailies’ overnight to the labs on the west coast - which then develop the film and ship it back the next day. It usually then doesn’t get to the producer until two days have elapsed,” Perry says. “We have the only fiber ‘pipe’ in the state that matches up to the west coast film labs.” He lays out a typical timeline for us: “We have the capability to put film shot that day on an airplane at 5 or 6 o’clock; it gets to the lab at maybe 6 p.m. their time; it’s processed by 9 p.m.; it’ll be digitized and downloaded to us via our fiber optic network connection by 2 or 3 in the morning and ready for viewing. That shaves a day off the production schedule and represents one of the technology advances I think we have,” he concluded.
The first film completed at Parallax was New Castle Entertainment’s Intent. Eric Roberts, who starred in the film, talked about Michigan’s film credits, “I think the program is outstanding. Anything that inspires creativity and artistic expression needs to be expanded.”
Great hospitality also plays a part in Hollywood’s love of the state. “The people here are easy going and very helpful. Everyone went out of their way to make our film a success,” said Intent’s Director, Tim Crockett.
“The film office and the treasury have both been amazing to work with. They helped us throughout the whole process. We have four more projects on the slate for this year and they’re all coming to Michigan,” said T.V. Tran, managing partner at New Castle. Tran explained that one of their deciding factors to film here was Parallax. “We visited almost every large studio in Michigan and between Parallax’s staff, technology and equipment, there was no one even close.”
Not bad at all for a very young start-up.