Summerlin Production Studio

Brian Ramos

Roland Wainwright, student at College of Southern Nevada’s film program rush around Telecommunication Building A on the institution’s North Las Vegas campus fiddling with heavy cameras and others toting equipment to and from film locations in Las Vegas, Nevada on Monday, March 25, 2024.

Roland Wainwright and his colleagues in the College of Southern Nevada’s film program rushed around the telecommunications building last week at the North Las Vegas campus, some fiddling with heavy cameras and others toting equipment to and from film locations.

It’s a busy time for the film students, who are working to finish semester-long projects in time for graduation next month.

Wainwright, 34, who is pursuing an associate degree in videography, has already been mapping out his future in film. Although he didn’t want to move out of Las Vegas to pursue a career, working for industry giants would mean relocating to Los Angeles — home to companies like Warner Bros., NBC Universal, Paramount Pictures and Disney.

There might soon be an option in Las Vegas to work in the industry.

The Clark County Zoning Commission unanimously approved last month multiple variances paving the way for the development of Summerlin Production Studio complex in partnership with media giant Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The proposed film production studio would span 30.8 acres to accommodate multiple stages, operations spaces, conference rooms, “flex” areas, bungalows and multipurpose spaces for both indoor and outdoor use. It’s a $1.8 billion project that will be initially funded by Sony and Howard Hughes, the developer of Summerlin.

“It is an inspiration; it will provide some place or some more hope, I’ll say, besides saying, ‘OK, I have to at least go and live in L.A. for long enough,’  ” Wainwright said. “With Sony studios being in Las Vegas, hopefully it gives something to aspire toward; more motivation to just grind it out or do things the way you need to until you make the noise and people start to listen.”

It’s a dream that was pushed forward during the 2023 Nevada Legislature, when actors Mark Wahlberg and Jeremy Renner spoke to lawmakers about creating a budding film industry within a state that has been hustling since the COVID-19 pandemic to diversify its economy — especially within the gaming- and tourism-dominant Clark County.

The proposal, which never made it out of committee in the Legislature, proposed up to $190 million in annual film tax credits in over 20 years — which would specifically benefit two production campuses in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas has long been the backdrop of many movies and television shows over the years, such as the 1995 Martin Scorsese film “Casino” or the infamous “Hangover” trilogy.

Many out-of-town companies make the trip to film on-location within Southern Nevada, but local officials believe erecting a film production campus — of which two are in progress — could bolster the budding industry in Nevada.

“We are excited about the future of film in Nevada,” Kim Spurgeon, director of the Nevada Film Office, said in a statement to the Sun. “Las Vegas often becomes a character itself in movies and television shows, and we look forward to bringing more of the industry here.”

Howard Hughes Corp. CEO David O’Reilly, speaking at the county zoning meeting, said the production studio would “drive economic growth and diversification in a significant way, creating thousands of high-wage jobs, engaging local small businesses, generating millions of dollars in tax revenue for the region and providing hands-on opportunities for local film students and graduates to advance their career here in Nevada.”

In addition to the media production campus, O’Reilly expects the surrounding area to bring a similar vibe as Downtown Summerlin with the planned mixed-use walkable commercial area.

Office buildings will go up to support the film studio. Also planned are various shops, restaurants and “a number of neighborhood services” including a future satellite office for Clark County Administrative Services and an emergency medical room facility that has already broken ground, O’Reilly said. A Clark County Fire Station was opened in 2021, he added.

Sean Collett, a professor of media technology at CSN, said Nevada’s film industry was “a different animal” from Los Angeles, but it’s still robust, competitive and collaborative. It also has the added benefit of being smaller, which leads to CSN graduates and students from other institutions like UNLV and Nevada State University gaining more opportunities for work.

In fact, Collett noted that the majority of CSN’s students even stay in Las Vegas when looking for work and end up in production roles helping run the almost-nightly Cirque du Soleil shows on the Strip, among others.

The Summerlin Production Studio is expected to bring thousands of film industry jobs to the local market, O’Reilly said.

“There’s a lot of people that are excited about the opportunity to come in and not have to deal with moving their whole lives to somewhere else; that’s scary,” Collett said. “And plus, I think the other advantage that we would have is we’re not such a big ocean, so when our little fish swim from CSN, they can go out into — for the time being — a little bit of a relatively smaller area, and the opportunities for employment are much greater, whereas if you get a degree from CSN (and) you go to L.A., it can be very challenging to get noticed because the competition is so stiff.”

Collett said CSN was even starting to discuss how to prepare for the arrival of Hollywood in Las Vegas. Because the film industry is constantly evolving, especially in the technology used, Collet explained that the institution’s professors regularly meet to see where they can make changes to the curriculum to ensure students are being trained with the latest recording and editing equipment.

They’re also expecting a rise in students looking to study film once the studio is established, Collett said.

Although Wainwright believes local talent will be hard pressed to compete for prominent roles like director positions, which are often helmed by experienced and well-known figures that go where they’re needed, he thinks these studios could provide lots of opportunities for the grips, gaffers and other “below the line” positions.

“I’m just hopeful that those studios and those executives will do right by the people that live here in Las Vegas,” Wainwright said. “I’m pretty sure (the studios) are just as excited out there as we are here.”

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