Film Mare Island Creating One-Stop Film-Making Shop

Mare Island and Vallejo have pretty much anything and everything a film production company needs, and Mark Walter of Film Mare Island says he’s determined to bring whatever may be missing to create a one-stop studio shop here.

The southern California native’s Film Mare Island has partnered with Cinelease, a 37-year-old independent rental firm, to become the go-to site for any film, commercial, TV show, music video or other similar venture, he said.

Walter notes that Vallejo is centrally located with easy access to the entire Bay Area and transportation, that there is more than a million square feet of existing buildings of all sorts, “including churches, auditoriums and executive offices.”

Film producers tend to get excited when given the tour of the area, Walter said.

“They love the buildings they see,” he said. “They’re always pointing and asking, ‘oh, what’s that, or what’s this?’”

Already having to expand, Film Mare Island has been in its office building for about a year, and leases it and four other buildings on the island, so far, Walter said.

Ed Moser, spokesman for Lennar Mare Island which leases the sites to the firm, said Lennar officials are “thrilled” by its expanding presence on the island, saying that along with other recent developments there, its success “means jobs and economic activity on the island and we look forward to seeing what’s next for them.”

Clients already include Sony, Warner Bros., Fox, Paramount, and others, he said.

The 46-year-old single father of two said elements of his work life up until now — first as a federal fire fighter, then as a fire safety expert with Sony Studios, and later as a studio consultant throughout the U.S. and Asia — began to form a concept that has begun to gel in Film Mare Island.

“My initial thought, when I first saw Mare Island, was that it’s fabulous,” he said. “You have the old, Navy buildings, parks, neighborhoods and the ability to build a backdrop. Space is always a major challenge, and there’s plenty here, so it’s a perfect match.”

Walter’s concept is being implemented in phases, the first being the studio set-up, which is being done now.

“The ultimate goal is to couple existing interior space with new, purpose-built stages — like we did with the Rodman gym, which had been destroyed by vandals long ago,” he said. “We created a whole new gym, and when it’s done, Lennar Mare Island will (look for ways) for local youth to make use of it.”

There’s also an old, abandoned theater, there with similar potential, he said.

With minor, easily accomplished tweaks, many local buildings and spaces can be made to look like whatever the client wants, Walter said.

“The possibilities are really endless,” he said. “You can check off, really, all the boxes with Mare Island and Vallejo.”

These are his main selling points to film location scouts, he said.

There’s one element that could use expanding, and Walter says he has a plan for that, too.

“We need an expanded crew base in the whole Bay Area,” he said. “A lot of kids hoping to do this work have to move to L.A. or New York. We want to bring that back, so, we’re trying to create a three-tiered program to keep local talent local.”

The idea is to have students interested in film production, in the summer between their junior and senior years, work as unpaid interns, and then, once they’re in college, sign up with an employment agency as part of a roster of local, trained film production technicians for paid work.

“Their work here will help them build up a resume of experience,” Walter said.

A Marin County resident who said he’s looking for Vallejo digs, Walter said he sees Film Mare Island and Cinelease as a potential game-changer for Vallejo and its residents. He said he sees the possibility of creating a film industry cluster here.

“I imagine a Universal Studios-type of thing some day, with a retail component,” he said.

Doug Williams, a second-generation film industry construction coordinator and Bay Area resident working with Cinelease and Film Mare Island, said he sees merit in Walter’s plan.

“This is a great place to be; with great spaces and great buildings,” he said. “We just started moving in to our expanded space and it’s exciting.”

The film industry is a revenue generator, he said, adding that one client, Paramount TV, paid $1.4 million for labor alone last year and expects to spend about $1.2 million this year, for labor, alone.

Walter said the company tries to use local firms for labor and materials.

Film Mare Island has some 20 permanent, full-time employees, most of them local, but, when a project is in production, there can up to 500 working, the men said.

Ryan McLeod, a Fairfield native and the operation’s rental agent, said he was able to move back to the Bay Area when Film Mare Island came to town.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “When they called with this opportunity, I hopped on it immediately.”

Walter said he has every intention of “making this crazy idea work.”

He said he hopes Film Mare Island will soon become the rising tide that lifts all local boats.

“I may be an old softie, but, I feel so good about this,” he said. “It’s about giving the locals an opportunity here, so they don’t have to go to L.A., and, we’re doing it here, in Vallejo.”

Contact Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at (707) 553-6824.