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Business Observer Monday, Sep. 20, 2010 11 years ago

Movie studio revealed

The highly secretive move to Lakewood Ranch promises 117 well paying jobs.

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.

The top secret, $30-million movie-studio project in Lakewood Ranch, which was known only as Project Waterboy since it was first discussed in June, was finally unveiled Sept. 20.

Sanborn Studios hopes to begin producing TV shows and independent films in Lakewood Ranch as soon as November. The primary principle is Ken Sanborn, who started Gyrocam, which makes cameras for military vehicles and law enforcement vehicles and helicopters

“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 sold the business last year, so he then had the time to help his son, Harrison, make a film called “Paradise Lost” in Bradenton. “I realized I missed filmmaking,” said Sanborn. “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 will also begin to move into the old Gyrocam headquarters at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

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.

Sanborn promised that 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 may 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 costs about $1 million to produce, said Sanborn.

There should be plenty of opportunities for Ranch residents to watch the filmmaking take place.

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.

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