|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 1, 2006
January 1, 2006
Celebrity pirate Jack Sparrow, a stadium-sized water tank and a picture-perfect subtropical setting: these are just a few of the qualities that have cast the island of Grand Bahama as a top international film location.
When crews began arriving on Sept 17 to shoot scenes for two sequels to Disney’s blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean on this island, 60 miles off the east coast of Florida, it marked the debut of The Bahamas Film Studios and its unique outdoor tank. The new recording and movie production facility at Gold Rock Creek, just east of Freeport, is set to add movie making as a permanent fixture in this island’s economy.
“The [film] industry has a huge potential of growing here,” says Paul Quigley, president and managing director of The Bahamas Film Studios. The studio’s parent company, Gold Rock Creek Enterprises, intends to eventually raise financing through the public capital markets in the US. Quigley, who lives in Toronto, brings four decades of industry experience, including producer credits for the long-running Disney Channel/CBC Danger Bay series, and Road to Avonlea. “It’s an idyllic place to shoot: people are very nice, and the place lent itself very well to this kind of infrastructure,” he says of the studio location.
Quigley, one of the venture’s original partners, began negotiating with The Bahamas government five years ago for a deal to lease the site of a decommissioned US Air Force missile-tracking station built in 1951. The 3,500-acre property includes an 8,000-ft paved runway that will ultimately be used to fly in producers, directors and stars. Barracks and administrative buildings are now production offices and makeup, wardrobe and set facilities.
The new outdoor water tank was the first phase of the US$78-million film studio development to be completed, to serve Disney’s most pressing needs. And with good reason: The Bahamas film commissioner says the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean III is, worldwide, “perhaps the largest in production for 2005.”(The Bahamas can be found in the Atlantic, by the way, not the Caribbean, whatever the movie title says).
“As Disney did not need studio space for Pirates, we focused more on developing the rest of the infrastructure,” says Quigley.
The tank, completed in the summer of 2005, is the largest open-water tank in the western hemisphere, measuring approximately 640 ft by 400 ft and 30-ft deep. Built as a sort of artificial cove and partially submerged in the ocean, the tank offers filmmakers nearly sea-level views, so action can pan across the horizon. The pool is equipped with a unique gimbal system for special effects control of the film’s featured pirate ships–Black Pearl, Edinburgh, Flying Dutchman and Endeavour–which were also products of The Bahamas marine industry, built at Quality Services in Freeport and fitted at Bradford Marine.
It’s called the Collyer Tank in memory of one of the original partners in the enterprise, Michael Collyer. The entertainment lawyer, a well-known officer of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, died in late 2004 at 62. (Another founding partner, Dutch-born tax attorney and financier Hans Schutte, who had been CEO of the Bermuda-based holding company, Ashby Corporation, died earlier the same year).
The two Pirates sequels, being filmed at the same time, star Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, along with Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom and Chow Yun-fat. Gore Verbinski is back from the original Curse of the Black Pearl to direct and Jerry Bruckheimer produces.
This one production will spin off tremendous benefits for Grand Bahamians and the Bahamian economy. The 10-month shoot is expected to generate 16,500 hotel room nights. More importantly, new skills and infrastructure will secure Grand Bahama’s place on filmmakers’ A list.
Complex will grow
Apart from major films, the studio’s facilities will be expanded to produce television episodes and series, commercials, music videos and in-house productions. By the fall of 2005, engineering work had been done and plans to build the sound stages were underway.
Plans also call for a 130-room hotel for production crews and tourists, plus development of a Bahamian village theme park that will include a market square with stores selling Bahamian crafts, along with an IMAX 3D theatre.
The studio complex is expected to create more than 1,200 jobs. About 300 trade and construction workers in the Freeport area will earn $6.5 million during the building phase.
One important aspect of the project is that it will train Bahamians, not just bring professionals from abroad, says Quigley. “We are very committed to developing an indigenous film industry in The Bahamas.”
“In the long term, the project would not be successful if we relied on foreigners. There is a huge opportunity for Bahamians in so many different fields in the film industry, and it is a wonderful calling card for us to have the largest Disney franchise of all time being our first production,” he says.
“I think the opportunities for Grand Bahamians are huge in so many different areas, not only in film production, but certainly in construction and in the hospitality industry,” Quigley says. “There are so many different companies that service film companies–caterers, local graphics companies.”
The developer is also committed to securing $250 million in production funding for film development, and forging a partnership with Bahamas Technical Vocational Institute in Grand Bahama.
As for the next act of The Bahamas Film Studios, Frankfurt-listed venture capital specialist Innovation Finance & Equity Exchange (IFEX) has taken US$1.5 million in stock to launch a round of public financing for parent company Gold Rock Creek Enterprises.
Industrial growth and a Chinese trade connection
buoys business on Grand Bahama
More than a year after a series of direct hits by hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004, Grand Bahama is shaking itself out of the summer tourism doldrums. Industrial growth and a growing Chinese trade connection are helping to buoy Grand Bahama’s economy.
The free-trade economic zone of Freeport/Lucaya–which just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement that created it–continues to encourage foreign investors to come to Grand Bahama with a variety of tax and duty concessions.
“We’re focusing on bringing in new business to Freeport, building on the foundation that has been established here over the last 50 years,” says Barry Malcolm, executive director of the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA). The agency manages and administers municipal and community services and is responsible for developing some 160,000 acres in the port area.
The industrial side of Freeport is being counted on to bring sustained economic growth to this island, the largest in the northern part of the archipelago and the most strategically located near the US.
“We need to pursue the industrial dimension of the Freeport economy,” says Julian Francis, CEO and co-chairman, GBPA. “That’s why I think the liquid natural gas (LNG) is so important,” he says, referring to interests such as US-based Tractebel and El Paso corporations, that have sought government approval to build LNG projects here.
“I think we need to find other ways of expanding our business which is linked to the Freeport Harbour–shipping, transport, those are the kind of things,” says Francis.
Securing a closer link to the China trade, and sharing in its rising wave of economic development, is also seen as strategically important. For example, in a joint-venture with GBPA, Hutchison Whampoa of Hong Kong, the world’s largest port operator, has expanded its Freeport container port over the past 10 years, and is now capable of moving close to a million containers per year.
Now, the Chinese-owned CITIC Group (China International Trust & Investment Corporation), China’s largest commercial conglomerate, is looking at developing a logistics center in Freeport.
“What they would do in Freeport is build a major exposition centre–a nine-million-sq-ft trade exhibition complex and commodities distribution centre worth several hundred million–that will manufacture and assemble Chinese products for distribution in the western hemisphere,” says Francis.
“Most of their clients are North American and European, so it’s easier to bring them here,” he says.