Imagine an 18,000 square foot sound stage, utilized as a concert space, an arts venue, and a place for production companies to create movie sets. If this vision is to move forward, it would create one of the largest, most unique film-art centers, complete with sound stages, in the region. Now, add a separate room that serves to function for screenings (with green screen) and as a multimedia classroom. Attached to that, a post-production room, equipped with all of the latest technology. In yet another room, attached to the sound stage, an art gallery showcasing the works of local and visiting artists. The space would also function as a film collaborative for local digital media artists, along with helping to bring big budget filmmaking to the city down the line. The project that I am referring to is the Pierce-Arrow Film Arts Center, a vision that promotes integrating the city's art community in order to push the local film industry.
These are the plans that film maker Garrett Vorreuter (lead photo) and building owner Joseph Hecht have for the historic Pierce Arrow building. Located on the corner of Elmwood and Great Arrow, this 133,000 square foot building is in a budding neighborhood for business and residential projects. Their hopes of creating a film collaborative in the building would not only expand the medium of major arts in Buffalo to include film, but it would encourage the development of the film industry, one of the largest growing industries in cities such as New York, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland. In order to do this, Hecht and Vorreuter are looking for a variety of partners, both financial and industrial. "This makes sense," Hecht told me, "because we are working towards creating a self-sustaining business. It's an investment for the city, in an industry that could be big for Buffalo for both the short term and the long term."
Recently, I stopped in for a tour of the Pierce Arrow building, and was greeted by Vorreuter, who is spending a lot of time at the site these days. "For me, this started off as a film project, and ultimately became a preservation project," Vorreuter joked, "but I fell in love with the building, then the concept, and the rest is history." As he showed me around, explaining the vision that is already under construction (on a small scale), I couldn't help but see what made him fall in love with Pierce Arrow.
The building's faded, early 20th century grandeur, begs to be revitalized. It is an ideal space for artistic minds to collaborate; giving the city a chance to capitalize on a booming industry, and creating opportunity for local film and art types. Already there have been a number of artistic performances held in the massive showroom, including fashion shows and fundraisers. The building is in high demand these days, and the more functions that take place, the more businesses and organizations want to be a part of it. Not to mention the residential studio component that could go hand-in-hand with the development. The complex is limitless in potential if the right anchor is identified - in this case the film industry.
"The history behind the Pierce-Arrow auditorium had seen it used as a cafateria to feed the 800 employees of the motor car company," Vorreuter told me. "As well as serving as a private show room for the Pierce-Arrow automobiles during their reign as the most expensive automobile in history. There's an incredible history here of inventive industry, and we would like to pay homage to that same sort of drive that originally fueled the complex."
Currently, the collaborators are starting construction on "Room 214", the multipurpose green screen/multimedia classroom. As they look into finding additional partners, they can begin renovating the soundstage, and eventually build out more rooms, as their needs demand more space. "Our plan is to build the facilities in order to accommodate the immediate needs, slowly and systematically bringing artistic life back to the Pierce Arrow building." Hecht explained. Vorreuter agreed, saying that "We're committed to seeing this project through. Since I started working on the film center, Joseph has been there working side by side with me because he believes in the building and Buffalo, and knows this project could do wonders if we are able to get the additional support that it needs to move forward and become a sustainable arts center. We're looking for collaborators. We want to create opportunities. Many of the young people that I meet, trying to make it in film in Buffalo, leave the city to go somewhere else... to where there are jobs in the industry. We can draw actors and talent back to the community, and the existing college community already infuses Buffalo with additional talent from all over the country. We would like those students to stay in Buffalo after they graduate. We have so many of the components in place - we have the building, a developer who believes in the potential, young people in the industry who want to see this happen, arts organizations that have expressed interest in collaboration... the ball is rolling. At this time we've been trying to get political support and we've been doing the roadshow. It's a multifaceted project that could benefit from both both public and private partners."
The plan is to create local industry that will keep talented Buffalonians in the city, seeing it as a place where they can thrive in the digital media and film arts (among others). In New York State, the film and television industry is responsible for roughly 4.2 billion dollars in personal income across the state - how much of that was accounted for in Buffalo? By creating the Pierce Arrow Building Film Collaborative, these go-getters hope to create a self sustaining industry in Buffalo. "Buffalo has what it takes to bring the business here," Vorreuter told me later on our tour. "We have historic building stock, beautiful natural resources such as Lake Erie, little congestion, hard working and creative people, and all four seasons. Now we need to bring the infrastructure."
"Rochester turned an old Kodak warehouse into a soundstage. But nobody came." Hecht lamented, "Why would the industry come to WNY unless they had the incentives?" He continued to explain that Rochester had fizzled out by failing to include their local community in the action. They expected large, big budget films to come to the area, bringing with them entire crews to get the work done. On top of the space and equipment, Vorreuter and Hecht see the infrastructure as a necessity, as well as cultivating trained production crews.
In the end, the Pierce-Arrow Film and Performing Arts Center project is not only a good step in the right direction, it's a needed step that Buffalo should have taken years ago.
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