Skydance Studios has opened up shop inside Pacific News Group's old printing press.

Hollywood North spreads south of the Fraser with new Surrey studio

Netflix sci-fi series Altered Carbon to begin shooting in November

  • Sep. 21, 2016 3:00 p.m.

by Andrew Fleming

Skydance Studios is boldly going where no one has gone before. Or at least when it comes to shooting movies and TV series inside the former printing press in Kennedy Heights.

The Los Angeles-based film and production company, whose recent credits include the locally filmed blockbuster Star Trek Beyond, has converted the 13-acre space on 88 Avenue into a new state-of-the-art facility featuring five sound stages and able to employ as many as 400 people. The complex covers nearly 200,000 square feet over three storeys and boasts one of the film world’s largest stages at 140 metres long and 15 metres high.

“It is made to house an entire production, so we have everything from production space to costume shop, set deck, stunts, special effects, a training facility for the actors,” said producer John G. Lenic during a tour of the building after a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday (Sept. 20). “It is made to house either one massive production or two to three smaller productions.”

While it isn’t known yet if Kirk, Spock, Bones and the rest of the Enterprise crew will be beaming back to B.C. for their next adventure, Skydance already has one massive production waiting in the wings.

The first occupants of the new studio will be a new Netflix sci-fi series called Altered Carbon.

As part of the popular video-on-demand provider’s plan to invest $5 billion in original content, it has commissioned 10 episodes based on Richard Morgan’s 2002 novel of the same name.

Adapted by showrunner Laeta Kalogridis (Avatar, Shutter Island) and with the first episode directed by Miguel Sapotchnik, who won an Emmy last week for the bloody Game of Thrones episode “The Battle of the Bastards,” Altered Carbon is set 500 years in the future and explores what happens when the human mind becomes digitized and souls can be swapped from one body to another.

The big-budget show stars Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman, who has worked previously in the Lower Mainland through the AMC series The Killing and the Robocop reboot, as an elite soldier who has been downloaded into the future and must solve a murder in a world where technology has made death virtually obsolete.

Mayor Linda Hepner said she was “thrilled” that Skydance choose to set up shop in Surrey.

“We are, in the province, two billion dollars of economic activity every single year relative to the film industry, and Surrey plays no small part in that,” she said during the opening ceremony attended by several local politicians and dozens of film workers. “Last year, we had over 100 production permits issued, and this year we have smashed that record to the tune of something like 150 production permits already issued. Things like Supergirl, things like The Flash, Why We’re Killing Gunther. Huge productions are already happening here, so for me … this is a very full circle moment. When I was an employee at the City of Surrey, the film office was one of the sections that I oversaw and it was always my dream that we would a production studio right there in the city.”

Shooting on Altered Carbon begins Sept. 28, and the giant soundstage meant to represent a 25th Century version of the city of San Francisco is expected to be complete by early November.

Skydance CEO David Ellison, the son of billionaire Oracle Corporation co-founder Larry Ellison, said he came across the abandoned printing press less than two years ago.

“When we were fortunate enough to get green-lit on Altered Carbon and were also up here at the same time for Star Trek, we began looking for a space well,” said Ellison. “We were very fortunate to find this one and it was (executive vice-president) Jake (Rose)’s vision that saw we could convert this into a stage.”

The printing press, which was constructed in 1997, closed in January 2015 after Pacific Newspaper Group, which owns the Vancouver Sun and Province newspapers, outsourced its print production to Transcontinental Printing on Annacis Island in Delta.

Although the six-year-old Skydance Media runs the risk of being confused with George Lucas’ Skywalker Entertainment, Ellison said the term has a personal meaning for him.

“I started flying aerobatics when I was 13 years old and got to fly air shows and race a little bit,” he said. “We always called it sky dancing. So it was something that is both personal but also converted the scope and scale of universe-building stories that we love to tell.”

Skydance specializes in telling large-scale and otherworldly stories.

Along with the latest two installments of the Star Trek franchise, their other big-budget credits include World War Z, Terminator Genisys and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Upcoming film releases include the Tom Cruise vehicle Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, World War Z 2, and action comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard, produced in partnership with Lions Gate Entertainment and starring former Vancouverite Ryan Reynolds.

Its current slate of television series include the Emmy-nominated Grace and Frankie also on Netlfix, Red Mars (Spike TV), Jack Ryan (Amazon), Condor (DirecTV) and Ten Days in the Valley (ABC).

No date has been set yet for when Altered Carbon will be available online.

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