Economic Development

Producer Envisions Film Studio for Youngstown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A local film and theater producer has a vision to convert the former Republic warehouse at 460 E. Federal St. into a production studio that could attract top film and television projects to the city.

Michael Anthony Forney – he goes by the name Michael Anthony — said redeveloping the 32,000-square-foot building would be the first phase in a long-range plan that would include additional studios in the city.

But first, the producer and his company, Michael Anthony Productions, would have to raise $1.5 million by November to make it happen. 

“I haven’t sat down with anyone or anybody. I know the value of what we bring to the table – I know that conversation is going to happen,” Anthony said.

Anthony said he has an option to purchase the building.  The $1.5 million would cover the purchase of the facility, renovations and startup.  He said he hopes to begin full operations by the spring of 2020.

A wall inside the offices will display the names of donors who have contributed to the project, he said. 

Anthony noted that the city in 2017 loaned $1.25 million to a film production company from Los Angeles to shoot here.  The movie, “Them That Follow,” is to be released in June.

Should another company look at the Mahoning Valley for a location and the city opts to loan it money, then it should be spent with a local film studio as well, Anthony said.  That means these dollars would translate into additional development in the local film industry and local businesses. 

His plan is to turn the former industrial warehouse into two studios that could employ between 15 and 30 people.  Should his company expand to 12 or 14 studios, he said that the number of employees could be in the thousands. Key to attracting investors and supporters of the project is the intellectual property that the production company owns.

“We have scripts that I’ve written, that were sold to me or given to me – we have lots of content,” he said.  “We have more than 20 scripts that we own.”

That translates into 20 film or television productions in the industry, enough to make the company busy for the next five years and beyond. “My business plan goes past five years,” he said. “Content is a big, big thing.”

Anthony said that there is intense competition over intellectual property within the industry.  “Networks spend over $1 billion annually on content alone,” he said.

The warehouse area – which makes up the bulk of the square-footage in the building – would be converted into the two sound stages.  The rest of the building would be redeveloped into offices, pre-production and post-production operations. 

Three years ago, Anthony operated a theater and cafe in Sharon, Pa., but sold the building. He then considered Columbus as a site, but opted for Youngstown.

Meanwhile, Anthony has produced shows in local theaters, including the DeYor Center for the Performing Arts, he said. 

Redeveloping this former industrial site in Youngstown would also add to the economic diversity of downtown, complimenting the Covelli Centre and the downtown amphitheater.  

“We want to change the conversation downtown,” he said. 

First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver said the idea is bold and what the city needs. “I think this is great,” he said.  Recently, the city played host to a popular African-American film producer – he declined to name the official — affiliated with the company Revolt. 

“This area is becoming increasingly more popular for filming to get done, particularly people are looking for places to put sound stages,” he said.  The South High School Field House was under consideration for such as stage, as well as open land on the East Side of the city.

Plus, Oliver said the cost of doing business in Youngstown is far more advantageous than other regions across the country. 

“For him to be innovative to get this started now is awesome, because they’re looking,” he said.  “I commend him for jumping out there and getting it started.”

Pictured: Michael Anthony Forney proposes converting the former Republic studio into production space for film and television products.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.