It’s showtime for Sanborn in LWR

LAKEWOOD RANCH — The most buzzed-about business venture in the Sarasota-Manatee region has officially opened.

Sanborn Studios held its celebration under beautiful blue skies Friday. Chief Executive Officer Ken Sanborn, studio President Karinne Behr and U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, cut the ceremonial red ribbon while standing in front of the company’s new 30,000-square-foot production facility. A multitude of invited business and community leaders cheered while a small army of media members documented the event.

“This brings economic diversity and good paying jobs to the area,” Buchanan told the Herald. “It will bring hundreds of jobs, plus form a local community of work that will stay here.”

Sanborn has stated that his studio’s debut television show — the action-packed drama of competing television news helicopters, “Miami 24/7” — sold the standard 13 episodes to foreign distributors at the recent American Film Market trade show held in Santa Monica, Calif.

“We cannot disclose the names of our buyers at this time but the show has sold internationally during AFM in multiple countries including: France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Poland, CIS, Africa etc.,” the studio said in an e-mail to the Herald.

A helicopter bearing the “Miami 24/7” logo landed FriTrade Court. Sanborn, Behr and the show’s star, Casper Van Dien (best known for his role in the 1997 feature film “Starship Troopers”), greeted attendees as they passed through the main entrance to tour the facility. Behr’s brother, Philippe Martinez, is executive producer of “Miami 24/7.” He did not appear at Friday’s festivities.

Inside the cavernous studio, a trailer for the action drama played while people observed the giant green screen stage created for special effects shots.

“I’m really impressed,” said Pinellas-based filmmaker Curtis Graham. “This beats anything in Orlando except for maybe Universal.”

Warehouse-style shelves were filled with filming equipment. All of it bore the stamp “LSOT” and/or “Last Stage Out of Town.” Advertised as “Florida’s premiere motion picture lighting and grip company,” LSOT operated out of Lake Alfred, halfway between Tampa in Orlando. Its owner Danny Harvey has gone to work for Sanborn.

“I think this is a great opportunity for the film business in Florida,” Harvey said. “Ken (Sanborn) has a great vision.”

Sarasota County and the State of Florida approved performance-based incentive grants to facilitate the Sanborn Studio’s plans. The county’s commitment totals $717,000, including a local match for state funds, which will total $468,000.

Sanborn noted that the vast majority of funds have come from his company.

“While Sanborn Studios certainly appreciates any grants and tax incentives we’ve received from the state and county, those dollars are minor in comparison to our own financial commitment,” Sanborn said in an e-mail to the Herald. “Since the announcement of this exciting new venture in late September, we have spent over $2.5 million and already hired nearly 20 workers with plans to hire about a hundred more.

“Plans are to spend a total of $30 million dollars over the next three years,” the statement continues. “This sort of ambitious project launched during a challenging economy should be celebrated — not criticized. Any money we’ve received from the county or state is closely monitored — and if we don’t produce and we don’t hire workers at an average of $72,000 per employee, the money has to be given back.”

After operating in Los Angeles and London, Bauer (Philippe) Martinez Studios moved its headquarters to Largo in 2005. Behr worked with her brother there, overseeing the company’s film distribution for European markets. According to state records, Bauer Martinez ceased operation in Largo in 2008. The Florida Division of Corporations dissolved the studio’s incorporation for failing to file a 2008 annual report. In a brief phone interview with the Herald on Friday, Behr declined to comment on her company’s closing in nearby Pinellas County and how she expected different results in Manatee/Sarasota.

Sanborn responded to the same question optimistically.

“I have no comment about their business,” Sanborn said. “The economy has changed. Look around. Hundreds failed in 2008. The economy and things in the film business have changed.”

— Staff writer Duane Marsteller contributed to this report.

CLARIFICATION: Sanborn Studios has acquired the assets of Last Stage Out Of Town and its owner, Dan Harvey, now works at Sanborn Studios. Harvey has a current Polk County business tax receipt for Last Stage Out of Town. The status of LSOT was updated in this story March 25, 2011.