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PLYMOUTH

Movie studio screens plan to set up shop

PLYMOUTH - The California movie company Good News Holdings has selected a 1,000-acre tract in the southern section of America's Hometown as the target location for the first large-scale movie and production facility to be built in the Northeast.

The massive studio will feature multiple sound stages, back lots, and editing facilities. Major movies, television series, and commercials will be produced on site, say officials, who unveiled the plan for town officials on Wednesday

Portions of the studio will be rented to other major film companies who want to produce on the East Coast. Some television series are expected to be completely produced in Plymouth.

Good News also plans to work closely with area high schools and colleges, offering apprentice opportunities and internships in everything from culinary arts to movie-making. Company officials are discussing with the Motion Picture Foundation the creation of a teaching program that would be led by directing, producing, and acting talents from California.

"We could have the greatest film education program in the world right here, if we do this right," said Earl Lestz, a Paramount Pictures president for 20 years, who recently retired and has joined the Good News team.

Good News Holdings officials predict the facility will be up and running in five years, bringing to the area 2,000 good-paying jobs along with a dramatic boost to the tourist trade.

The annual income of a laborer at the studio, a position on the lower end of the pay scale, will be about $40,000. According to Plymouth's Economic Development Director Denis Hanks, many jobs will be in the $75,000 range. Town officials have welcomed the studio.

"This is a really unique opportunity for everybody: for the people of Plymouth, for the state, for Good News Holdings, and for me," Lestz said. "We will build a studio that will be second to none in the world."

Once infrastructure and permits are in place, Lestz said construction will take no longer than 3 1/2 years.

The California firm isn't wasting any time. David Kirkpatrick, cofounder of Good News Holdings and a former president of Paramount Pictures, has already set up an office in Cordage Park, in north Plymouth.

"What we're talking about here is gardening a whole new industry in the state," Kirkpatrick said. "And this isn't just about money, it's about the New England heritage, and our interest is to protect that."

Good News Holdings selected the Plymouth site after spending months checking out locations in Massachusetts, Connecticut and the mid-Atlantic area. The former Fort Devens in Ayer was a serious contender, said officials; the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station site had also been considered. But Plymouth won out.

The venture has been dubbed "Project Julia," with "Julia" being the Latin word for "joyful." Its website www.cometojulia.com, put up Wednesday, outlines some of its plans for Plymouth.

Kirkpatrick said Good News Holdings will produce family entertainment.

When asked if it would be Christian-based, since the company promotes what it calls "spiritainment" on its website, Kirkpatrick said, "Our interest is not to do preacher television." He said productions would reflect a "Judeo-Christian heritage."

"If you look at movies like 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Narnia,' they are of a Judeo-Christian nature," Kirkpatrick said. "We want to keep faith in the mix, but we're not going to wear it on our sleeve."

Kirkpatrick said Good News is also working on "some major surprises," which it will unveil for the town in about four weeks.

"There are some major entities that will be a part of this as well," Kirkpatrick said. "It will be pretty breathtaking."

He also said the film company is looking forward to partnering with the community on such ventures as Plymouth's upcoming 400th anniversary and the local fledgling Plymouth Film Festival.

The company's vision includes a theater and performing arts center where films made on site will be showcased. On its website, officials suggest a shuttle service from the studio to Plimoth Plantation and other local tourist attractions. With the arrival of this major studio, tourists will stay longer, they believe.

Good News plans to build a so-called "green facility," minimizing its impact on the environment. Extensive landscaping and parks will be included to soften the look of the buildings, and the architectural style will reflect the area.

"It will be user-friendly to the community," Lestz said.

Project Julia is expected to move along rapidly. Plymouth Town Manager Mark Sylvia said the initial master planning stage, when officials and a citizens' committee will look at all the issues surrounding such a multimillion dollar venture, is expected to take only three or four months.

Meanwhile, funding for the $31 to $45 million infrastructure improvements, including water, sewer and utilities installation and upgrade, and an access ramp from Route 25, is already being arranged.

"We have already gotten a proposal from Massachusetts Business Development of a significant nature," said David Kirkpatrick. "Even though we're a new company, to be honest, the Commonwealth has been so supportive, we've been blown away."

MassDevelopment, a nonprofit agency that works with cities and towns on projects such as this, will also help identify funding sources. The state's new tax credits for the film industry will supply some relief as well.

Christine Wallgren can be reached at CLWallgren@aol.com.

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