Hollywood on the Niagara? New Great Point film studio could deliver

Written by Tim O'Shei

Original Article

YONKERS – As you drive into town, the banner affixed to an overpass tells you exactly where you are: “Hollywood on the Hudson.”

But Yonkers doesn’t feel like Hollywood. Not at first. With crowded streets, tightly packed brick buildings and the Hudson River rushing by, it looks like a borough of New York City – which it almost is. Yonkers borders the Bronx and is a half-hour drive from the Broadway marquees and towering billboards of midtown Manhattan.

Yonkers exists on the periphery of the glitz, until you navigate deep into the city and start winding through a busy neighborhood with workers and trucks and large buildings.

Then the block-letter sign greets you: LIONSGATE. These large buildings are soundstages and film offices, named for Lionsgate, the film and entertainment company that is the primary tenant.

Head inside to the cavernous main office and you see it again: “Hollywood on the Hudson.” This time, the words are aglow, affixed to a wall in yellow neon letters. The message is persistent: You may look around a place like Yonkers and not think you’re in a showbiz center.

But you are.

“Since we opened here, we’ve always had a show here,” said Robert Halmi Jr., CEO of Great Point Studios, which opened the Yonkers complex in 2022.

Halmi and Great Point are on a quest to build studios in strategic locations, and this week, they are opening another: this one is in Buffalo.

Great Point is unveiling a $50 million-plus studio complex on Niagara Street that includes three sound stages and enough offices, dressing rooms and production space to house an ongoing series of film projects. Those productions haven’t started yet, though the announcement of a naming-rights tenant may come by the May 16 opening celebration, if not sooner.

For now, the building is a still-unlabeled glass-and-brick complex located a short walk from the Niagara River. We may not see it called “Hollywood on the Niagara” – that doesn’t quite have the alliterative ring – but that is what the Buffalo studio is designed to be.

“Once we start shooting up there, I think people will really get it,” said Halmi, who is planning to bring a steady stream of moderately budgeted movies to Buffalo’s already-established film industry.

“We can keep Buffalo working all year long,” he said, “making TV movies.”

The Halmi legacy

You know Halmi’s work, even if you don’t recognize his name. He is the former president and CEO of Hallmark Entertainment and the founder of the Hallmark Channel.

“Robert Halmi pretty much invented the holiday movie genre,” his publicist Daniela Sapkar pointed out last week while guiding visitors on a tour of the Buffalo studio.

She is not being hyperbolic. Halmi has produced more than 400 projects, many of them with his late father, the iconic and prolific producer Robert Halmi Sr. A couple dozen of his father’s 133 Emmy awards are displayed in Halmi’s office.

Of the younger Halmi’s projects, about 200 of them were made-for-TV movies – many of which were Hallmark holiday films. So if you inhale Hallmark flicks or other made-for-TV films, you’ve either seen Halmi’s work, or watched movies that were influenced by it.

You’ve also gotten a glimpse at the type of movies most likely to be shot inside his new Buffalo film studios: Not necessarily Hallmark, and not always holiday-themed, but relatable stories that take place in everyday America.

“When you watch the kind of TV movies that we made with the Hallmark Channel, which are all small-town family stories, it’s just perfect to shoot that in Buffalo,” Halmi said. “It has that look, that feel.”

Buffalo can be a small town, an old town and, in some ways, any town. Filmmakers have appreciated that flexibility. “We have such a vast array of things here, from airports to subways to something like the Broadway Market or a vacant church,” Tim Clark, commissioner of the Buffalo Niagara Film Office, said in an interview earlier this spring. “They lend themselves very well to the camera.”

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