A Charleston lawyer turned on-air personality is converting an old Piggly Wiggly supermarket into what would be the largest television and film studio in the state.
Akim Anastopoulo, who plays the judge on his courtroom reality TV show "Eye for an Eye," said Thursday he plans to open the facility Aug. 1. in Hollywood — the one down the road, not the one in California. The studio's name remains undecided.
"We wanted to call it Hollywood East, but it was taken," Anastopoulo said.
With a nearly $8 million initial investment, the studio already has attracted interest from two cable companies pitching pilot programs, according to Anastopoulo. While workers continue to ready the building on S.C. Highway 162, actors and actresses have been auditioning inside.
The 3-acre site includes four stages and high-definition cameras. Anastopoulo said the studio will offer all the bells and whistles: wardrobe rooms, actors' green rooms with couches and flat-screen TVs, even a "mobile control room" that will allow nearly live editing.
By year's end, he hopes to have a 20,000-square-foot film studio under way next door. Anastopoulo plans 40-foot ceilings that would be big enough "to drive a Mack truck in there."
"We're going to go after the majorfilms," he said. "Even the 16,000 square feet we've already done is the largest studio in South Carolina."
Anastopoulo founded Atlas Worldwide Syndications and Distributions shortly after beginning "Eye for an Eye" in 2004. Weary from traveling to Dallas to tape 150 episodes a season, he began dreaming up the studio idea.
"I thought it was a shame there was nothing in South Carolina," Anastopoulo said. He noted that the Lifetime series "Army Wives," which is filmed in Charleston, had "to rent an abandoned building, and that's not proper protocol."
Also, he said, setting up locally means more money coming into the area, from high-budget movie companies down to studio audiences. Anastopoulo will film "Eye for an Eye" at the Atlas facility in early August and said he hopes to phase out the Dallas studio soon after.
His show is billed as "a modern take on the criminal justice system." Litigants are awarded "paybacks," with a former middleweight boxing champion maintaining order as bailiff.
Anastapoulo's studio plan comes on the heels of legislation that creates incentives for companies that film in South Carolina by raising salary rebate limits and supplier rebates on in-state production. Within months of the incentives taking effect, six movies, a television series and two pilots came to the state.
Around the same time, Trident Technical College toyed with the idea of attracting a major film studio on land next to its North Charleston campus. That plan remains in the works, the college said Thursday.
Jeff Monks, the state's film commissioner, said other facilities across the state have been developed for corporate training videos or commercials, but nothing yet that would lure a high-budget feature.
"This is a great step toward indigenous development," he said. "It's these types of development that help South Carolina move from a state dependent on recruiting to a state originating a product."