Photos courtesy of Eric Michelson unless otherwise noted
Lights! Camera! Action! Michelson Studios at iPark announces construction of eight soundstages and a Hollywood-sized backlot.
Move over, Georgia. The Hudson Valley is primed to take its filmmaking appeal to a whole-new level.
Eric Michelson, a transplant from “the real Hollywood,” recently announced the development of Michelson Studios at iPark 84. The former IBM campus-turned small business hub in East Fishkill will host eight soundstages and a giant studio backlot.
“I have a concept about building eight soundstages…This is a major motion picture studio. It’s not a one little stage kind of goofy thing. This is made by international architects,” Michelson says. “Because we’re doing it on an existing lot, we’re shovel-ready. We’re not going out in the middle of the forest and having to run power lines.”
As far as available spaces go, Michelson hit the mother load with iPark 84. Next to his movie studio stands a brewery, a bakery, and, eventually, an Amazon facility across the campus. One stage is ready to go, with another on the way shortly. The first soundstage boasts 23-ft-high ceilings, two loading docks, and 52,500 sq ft of space for building sets. The proposed stages include six 30,000-sq-ft facilities and two 15,000-sq-ft soundstages. They all will stand at 40 ft tall.
For those who aren’t familiar with the film industry, Michelson stresses that there’s nothing really special about a soundstage.
“It’s nothing more than a shoe box, you know that right? A 747 going into a hangar, that’s just a soundstage. There’s no magic, or secret, or special thing. It just needs a certain height ceiling without columns. Pardon me for not understanding what they do here on the East Coast, buying old buildings and event spaces that aren’t really right as a motion picture stage.”
However, there is something magical about Michelson Studios.
First, the IBM facility was designed by renowned architect Paul Rudolph in the Brutalist style. In Michelson’s slice of the campus, visitors will see bizarre concrete rectangles sitting in water.
“Totally like out of 2001 A Space Odyssey or dropping acid kind of thing,” Michelson says of the structures. Rudolph, who was commissioned by Yale to build its Art and Architecture Building, crafts designs that highlight quintessential elements of Brutalism. The menacing, minimalist structures at iPark 84 look like a Bond villain’s lair, perfect for a movie studio. Michelson decked out the existing stage building with ’60s furniture and solar lighting, illuminating the site at night.
Second, his plans for the new buildings at Michelson Studios are equally ambitious. Michelson hired the engineer behind the Tappan Zee Bridge, Wei Wang, for this project, along with creative architect Stephen O’Dell. Previously, O’Dell moved to Asia to build the W Hotels and Hilton Hotels and created inventive aesthetics for hotels in exotic destinations like Thailand.
“He was like one of the top architects because he’s doing all the W Hotels, and the W chain wants this more outrageous shit over and over and over again. They have to keep reinventing themselves so that they’re the hippest and coolest hotels. Steven O’Dell just went wild out there, taking pieces from sewer pipes and putting glass on one side and glass on the other and making really cool resort hotel rooms. So, it’s really outside of the box, and he’s the one designing the studio backlot,” Michelson explains.
Third: there will be a real backlot. The 10-acre space will host outdoor shoots, transforming into city centers, back alleyways, quaint villages, and anything else productions need, since almost anything can be built on a real studio backlot. Nestled in iPark 84, the area is shielded from take-interrupting noise by trees and other infrastructure. It’s a rare sight for not only the Hudson Valley, but the East Coast as a whole. Michelson Studio’s backlot is twice the size of Paramount’s New York, and that’s located in California. You’ll be hard-pressed to find another site of this magnitude outside of Hollywood.
And Michelson is well-aware of this. In fact, he has an intimate knowledge of movie-making; sets, lots, the whole nine yards. You could say that it’s in his blood.
“My father was a production designer on Catch 22, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Graduate, The 10 Commandments, Ben Hur, Terms of Endearment, The Birds, etc. You name it, wow, this guy worked on every giant film ever from the ’50s until when he kicked the bucket about 10 or 12 years ago. My mother ran [Francis Ford] Coppola’s studios for years, and worked at the original Samuel Goldwyn Studio,” Michelson recalls. He was raised on soundstages and backlots, in between takes.
In fact, the story of Harold and Lilian Michelson even inspired a hit documentary and an upcoming Broadway musical starring Michael McKean and Annette O’Toole. The film, Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, tells the tale of their elopement in 1947 through their impressive careers. They’ve worked on some of the most famous movies ever made.
“All I’m doing is stealing what already works. It’s what already exists and what’s been working in California and in England at Pinewood or Warner Brothers or 20th Century Fox or Paramount, or MGM. Give me a break. The buildings in California, the size that they are, and the height that they are have been sufficient for the movie industry for almost 100 years. Where in the world am I coming up with an original idea?” Michelson asks, rhetorically.
He does plan to have an active volcano on site that oozes lava and smokes through the cold, winter air. Michelson Studios will have manicured gardens and water features and other elements that make it a pleasant place to work. It will also have 150,000 sq ft of mid-century modern offices on three levels, so productions can move right into the space. Props, wardrobe, producer offices, and the entire production can fit under one roof and enjoy the resources of the Hudson Valley.
Larger productions filming in the region mean larger surges of income to local businesses. Restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, hardware stores, and everything in between sees that revenue. Michelson estimates that even for the duration of a quick shoot, it’d cost about $3.6 million just to house a small crew. Announced during the biggest year in Hudson Valley Film Commission’s history, Michelson Studios couldn’t come at a better time.
“Right now, we’re open for businesses. I‘m driving the IBM campus, every time I drive here I end up going, ‘I don’t believe this.’ The campus is gorgeous, they’ve got the place well-manicured, and I have this amazing team putting it all together. This is scale unlike anything around,” Michelson enthuses.