Film, TV production company opens studio in Granville

Tim Feran, The Columbus Dispatch

May 14, 2014

Big River Studios, a new company that will produce feature films, television series and other media efforts, has opened a studio in Granville.

The first film the company will produce is The Tank, which began shooting last week.

"Our goal is to create something where we have enough opportunity to have people working year-round," said Big River co-founder Leonard Hartman.

Big River is based in a 75,000-square-foot building that had been occupied by Longaberger Co. and is being retrofitted with production equipment. The company has only four full-time employees, but the goal is to grow, Hartman said.

Approximately 150 people are working on The Tank, and while some production workers are from central Ohio, others are from Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere.

"But the reality is, I've had about 30 requests from people who flew in for the production, saying, 'We love it here; we'd love to be here full time.'

"We're hoping to flow right into another film," Hartman said. "We're trying to create a business sector that doesn't exist."

The Tank, a sci-fi thriller, will also be shot at various Ohio State University locations, thanks in part to Hartman's efforts. Hartman is an OSU graduate and Academic All-American football player for the Buckeyes as an offensive lineman during the early 1990s. He has produced and written several films, including an adaptation of Goosebumps, the children's books written by fellow central Ohio native R.L. Stine.

For the past several years, Columbus has lagged Cleveland and Cincinnati in attracting movie productions. But the opening of Big River Studios and the start of filming for The Tank are evidence that the city's investment in the Greater Columbus Film Commission is starting to pay off, said Tom Katzenmeyer, president of the Greater Columbus Arts Council.

Last June, the Columbus City Council awarded the film commission $100,000 to create marketing strategies and convince producers, directors and location scouts that they need to shoot movies in Columbus.

While The Tank's budget of $3 million pales next to the $170 million budget of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was shot in Cleveland, "Columbus is poised to become one of the next hot spots for filmmaking," Katzenmeyer said.

"We've got locations and lots of talent," he said, "and between the mayor's investment in the Columbus Film Commission and the establishment of Big River Studios, we can look forward to more feature films, commercial productions and new media - all of which means creative-economy development in Columbus."

Luring big-budget movies such as The Avengers and Captain America "is great, but that's not the be-all, end-all," Hartman said. "I'm an Ohio guy. My partners are from Hollywood, New York and London. For me, the goal is to create something permanent right here, something that really creates an economic impact for the state and the city. You don't get that from chasing companies with tax credits."

Even so, in addition to providing production facilities for The Tank, Big River also helped the film's production company, Glacier Films, obtain a state tax credit of slightly more than $800,000 for the movie.

The Tank, written and directed by Kellie Madison, stars Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean and the BBC's Coupling), Brad William Henke (Pacific Rim) and Marguerite Moreau (Wet Hot American Summer).

The film, which focuses on six people who are placed inside an isolation tank simulating an extended spaceflight to Mars, is set for a 2015 release.