A movie entrepreneur near Windsor, Ont., plans to harness green energy to build a Hollywood-style film studio.
Businessman Jim Shaban announced Thursday that he has secured a contract with Great Lakes Energy Inc. to put solar panels on the roof of his future sound stage. The revenue from selling 500 kilowatts of power back to the Ontario grid will allow him to finance the development.
"Last year, I discovered a pamphlet on my front porch saying, you know, put solar on your roof, and it just put a light bulb in my head," said Shaban who has been trying to finance his project for five years.
"We're going to take any revenue that we take from green energy, and we're going to put it back into creating film jobs."
Shaban is a self-described popcorn maker with a dream. He has worked for production companies in California putting movie deals together. He worked for Cineplex Entertainment for 16 years and owned two independent movie theatres in Windsor, which he sold three years ago to finance his dream of building a 50,000-square-foot studio.
Shaban said he's got a lot riding on the development of a film industry in Windsor-Essex, including his children's post secondary education, the money which he invested in the project.
Shaban made the announcement standing shoulder to shoulder with local MPPs and the Windsor-Essex Development Corporation, both of whom want to see the area's beleaguered economy diversify its industry base.
Build it, and they will come
Film industry tax incentives also played a role in green-lighting the project. Ontario tax rebates, combined with "lucrative" rebates in Michigan make Windsor-Essex ripe for growing a film industry, said Shaban.
Shaban believes the incentives bringing filmmakers to Michigan could "spill over" into Windsor because, he said, Ontario's special effects technology is "most preferred amongst [directors of photography]" in the film industry.
"To see this starting in Essex County and to see our tax credits bearing fruit and to see the green energy act coming in and to see solar panels on the roof — it's really remarkable — and one of those unintended consequences," said MPP Dwight Duncan.
Now that there is word the project is going ahead, some young filmmakers have decided to move to Windsor from Toronto. One of them is Sean McConville.
"You know, we see that there is the opportunity to build up a film community and infrastructure and be involved in the movement of attracting other filmmakers here," McConville said.
Many of the area's filmmakers have said that an entertainment industry isn't viable in Windsor because there's not enough work to support the talent who would come here for employment.
When asked why he's chosen to pursue such an uphill battle, Shaban said there are lots of examples of pioneers who built industries somewhere because they called a place "home", such as the Kodak family in Rochester, N.Y.
"What they have to understand is that I'm taking a chance, but if it works, it's a benefit for all of us," he said.
Shaban said he has filmmakers waiting to make their films here because of the incentives; he just needs to build the infrastructure to make it happen.
The studio, to be located near Highway 401 in Lakeshore, Ont., about 30 kilometres east of Windsor, could be completed as early as April 2011.