Q&A With Filmwerks Owner Michael Satrazemis
There’s rarely a moment to breathe on Filmwerks International’s Rocky Point, NC, campus. Even during the Christmas holidays, owner/Managing Partner Michael Satrazemis was racking his brain over major events that were just around the corner.
There was Red Bull Crashed Ice (St. Paul, MN), for which the company needed to provide heating, facilities, and 12 generators supporting a stunning 1,300-ft. ice track snaking through the city.
Oh, and there’s some football game in New Orleans next week. Already, 13 Filmwerks generators are in the Big Easy helping all the networks prepare for weeklong Super Bowl coverage. In addition to power, Filmwerks built two-story office structures, one in Artillery Park by Jackson Square — where many of the remote studio broadcasts will take place — and one 6,000-sq-ft. structure to house all the technicians and administrators for CBS at the Superdome.
Stages, power, heating/cooling, lighting: Filmwerks handles it all in providing infrastructure for many of the broadcasters’ and the nation’s biggest events. How does a company stay on top of such a rapidly evolving industry? Satrazemis sat down with SVG to discuss his unique segment of the business.
What are some of the other big events you guys have in the first few months of this year?
Well, we just finished the inaugural, and we were fortunate enough to build some really significant structures and portable studios on the mall for CBS, CNN, and MSNBC. It took a tremendous amount of heating for, particularly, CNN because they didn’t want a glass wall. They wanted an open structure, and yet, at the same time, they didn’t want their people to be too terribly cold. We [had] well over a million BTUs of heat going into the three-sided structure in a manner that didn’t disturb or cause any airflow to ruffle hair and whatever. That was a real interesting challenge. The weather was real kind to us, though. We didn’t get any kind of rain, so I think it was a real success.
As your company grows, how often do you have to make purchases to bolster your gear supply?
There’s not a month that goes by where we don’t spend all of the money we have. I’m convinced that I will never, ever have any cash, but I’m going to have a lot of stuff in my parking lot.
Back during the crunch, when we were asked by many of the networks to cut back, we did, and we stopped buying, but I think we’ve made up for all of that this year. We have several large generators on order, and we’re building some custom, smaller generators. We’re going, we had an incredible year last year. We have a brand new golf truck that we’re designing for CBS.
What measures is Filmwerks taking to make its operation environmentally friendly?
We do use bio-blended fuel. Not all the time, because it’s not always available, but whenever it is practical to do so, we do. The other thing that we have done is develop our synchronizing switchgear so that we’re able to take advantage of utility power and transition to generator power without any interruption. That saves a tremendous amount of fuel.
Also, on these larger events — and we’re doing more and more of them — where there are a number of remote facilities, in the past, we would simply bring big gear that was designed to accommodate the entire complex. We were then forced to run that gear sometimes for something as little as an office trailer, which was a horrible waste of fuel. It was totally unnecessary.
So we decided to develop and design some smaller units that are incremental from 9 to 15 to 30 to 45 to 60 kW, and all of these generators now are relatively lightweight and small. So, when we look at a job, we get the production schedule for the job, and we understand what the production management is going to ask us for on an incremental basis. We’ll package that with some of these smaller units, and, depending on how many trailers he or she may have or what he or she intends to do, we can now run them on teacups of fuel as opposed to gallons of fuel. This has made a huge difference.
We’ve been in New Orleans [for the Super Bowl] since the 6th of January. Normally, we’d have some pretty big generators running at this point, and we’ve been able to sprinkle these little ones around and keep all of the support staff in their trailers and all of our safety lighting going with so much less fuel. So we’re going to build to the job instead of just sending a big unit to everything. It costs us money on our end, but we think it’s going to pay off for us in the long run.
Is there a new technology trend that you see emerging in the broadcast industry?
We’re real excited about LED lighting. It’s going to make us so much more efficient, and it’s less cost. Again, that ties right back to the smaller-generator fleet, because we hope we’re going to be able to use those smaller generators once LEDs become more commonplace in these remote locations. Everybody is going to win on that. It’s there; it’s just unfortunate that, like most anything else that’s new, it’s just too darn expensive right now and everybody can’t just dive right in. But that transition is certainly taking place, and it’s going to affect everyone positively. Filmwerks is ready to make a major commitment to LED lighting fixtures as soon we find the right equipment.