SARASOTA — Introduced with a car chase, overturning police cruiser and exploding helicopter, the producers of the biggest suspense thriller in Sarasota County revealed their final act this week.
Officials for the top-secret movie-studio project intended for Lakewood Ranch, known only as Project Waterboy since it was first discussed in June, finally unveiled their plans to the public Sept. 20.
Sanborn Studios hopes to begin producing TV shows and independent films in Lakewood Ranch as soon as November.
“This is a win-win for the community,” said Rex Jensen, president and CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch. “We’ve had a lot of near misses, but this is one of the biggest transactions I’ve seen.”
Running his own studio has been Ken Sanborn’s longtime dream. The Longboat Key resident’s father was a filmmaker, and Sanborn started his own career as a cameraman for WLFA-TV in Tampa, before he began shooting and directing documentaries and TV commercials.
“I’ve always had a passion for film,” he said.
Sanborn got away from his passion when he built a company called Gyrocam, which made cameras for military vehicles and law-enforcement vehicles and helicopters.
“I was not doing what I really loved,” he said.
Sanborn sold the business last year and then had the time to help his son, Harrison, make a film called “Paradise Lost” in Bradenton.
“I realized I missed filmmaking,” Sanborn said. “So I told my son I wanted to start a studio.”
The plan is to retrofit the existing TVC building at 7321 Trade Court in Lakewood Ranch so it can house two sound stages and the studio’s production offices.
The company also will begin to move into the old Gyrocam headquarters at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
Phase two of the project includes four stage buildings on vacant land at Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and Satellite Court. Construction is expected to begin in six months and be complete a year later in 2012. The total project is estimated at $30 million and is expected to have an economic impact of $164 million.
Sanborn has committed to hiring 117 people with an average salary of $72,000, which according to Kathy Baylis, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, is nearly double the current average salary in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
“As an economic developer, you can imagine what I lie awake in bed and think about … that big one,” she said. “The one that’s going to be a game-changer. This is one of the biggest ones I’ve worked on in my career.”
Sanborn promised, though, he would not be shipping in all of those employees from California.
“We want to mentor young people to work in production,” he said. “These are jobs people will have for a long time.”
That aspect of the project was encouraging to Dr. Larry Thompson, president of Ringling College of Art and Design.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for our students,” he said.
The school has digital-animation and digital-filmmaking programs, and Thompson said Sanborn Studios could keep his graduates in the area instead of fleeing to California to seek careers in film.
“I’ve been looking forward to having opportunities for our students and to now be able to interact with a real studio is amazing,” Thompson said.
Sanborn Studios first production is a 22-episode television show called “Miami 24/7,” which will begin shooting in November. Each episode will cost about $1 million to produce, Sanborn said.
There should be plenty of opportunities for Ranch residents to watch the filmmaking take place.
“Lakewood Ranch is essentially our back lot,” Sanborn said. “It’s not just a place to put (our buildings).”
The new studio head said Sarasota County has a big advantage over Miami and even Southern California because it’s easy to get around and within a 30-mile radius there are a variety of backdrops, such as beaches and country towns.
The announcement was treated as a major event, with three of Sarasota County’s state legislators, four Sarasota city commissioners and all five Sarasota County commissioners in attendance.
Said Baylis: “This truly is a dream come true for Sarasota County.”
Contact Robin Roy at email@example.com.
Longboat Key resident Sanborn vacationed in Anna Maria Island throughout his childhood, but it wasn’t until around 1999 that he returned to the area. At the time, he owned an aerial-photography business (which became Gyrocam Systems in 2000), and he realized that to expand the company, he needed a facility with a private hangar. Because large Fortune 500 companies surrounded the airports in New Jersey, he thought that he would have a better shot at getting such a facility in Florida.
Sanborn met with officials in his native Lakeland, who weren’t interested. Finally, he met with Nancy Engel, executive director of the Manatee County Economic Development Council, who helped him get permission to build his facility at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
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