Marvel: They'll take Manhattan (Beach, that is)

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Marvel Studios is keeping its movies in California. The company has signed a long-term lease with Raleigh Studios to film four big-budget movies at Raleigh's Manhattan Beach complex: "Iron Man 2," "Thor," "The First Avenger: Captain America" and "The Avengers."

As part of the agreement, Marvel will move its Beverly Hills-based executive and production offices to Raleigh's facility in Manhattan Beach.

The deal is a boon for Los Angeles' and California's beleaguered film industry, which has been battling runaway production for the better part of this decade as other states, and other countries, have lured projects with massive tax incentives. The Marvel projects are tentpole movies, and the agreement easily keeps more than $500 million worth of production in the state. "Iron Man," for example, had a production budget of at least $140 million.

Soundstages already are being prepped for the first production, "Iron Man 2," which Jon Favreau will direct. Favreau, who shot the first "Iron Man" in California, was one of the advocates of the agreement. The director, an ardent proponent of in-state shooting, has a clause in his contract that specifies the movies he directs shoot here.

"Iron Man 2" had been expected to shoot in California, but the fact that the rest of the slate will be shot in-state is an eye-opener.

"I'm very surprised. I wasn't sure they were going to be able to make it work financially, considering how attractive some of the other options were," said Amy Lemisch, director of the California Film Commission. "This is great news for California. Each one of these movies is going to employ thousands of workers."

One of the options was locations in Canada; Marvel's "The Incredible Hulk" filmed in Toronto, as did some of the "X-Men" movies.

Based on its own studies, the commission estimates that each movie — if it has a budget in the $150 million range — will mean about $20 million in tax revenue for California.

Louis D'Esposito, Marvel's president of physical production, credited the company's production partners and vendors such as camera and truck companies for being "incredibly accommodating in terms of their creativity and financial structures, allowing us to remain in California."

Said Raleigh president Michael Moore, "We're thrilled they had the will to keep these productions in L.A."

Committing to shoot the four movies in one place over an extended period helped Marvel leverage the sweetened production deals, and shooting close to home will make for easier oversight.

Marvel already has set release dates for the movies: "Iron Man 2" will be released May 7, 2010; "Thor" on July 16, 2010; "Captain America" on May 6, 2011; and "Avengers" on July 15, 2011.

Raleigh Manhattan Beach Studios, which opened in 1998, sits on 22 acres and encompasses 14 soundstages. It also has an 300,000 square feet of office and support space. Currently shooting on the site are TV shows "CSI : Miami," "The Medium," "America's Funniest Home Videos" and "90210." (partialdiff)
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