Trilith CEO: As production slows, ‘everyone is eager’ for a rebound

Trilith has several facets that could position it for a quick rebound if a strike is avoided
Trilith Studios in Fayetteville is the largest film production campus in North America. RODNEY HO/



Trilith Studios in Fayetteville is the largest film production campus in North America. RODNEY HO/

In an office space above the Town at Trilith, Frank Patterson asks: “Do you know why my hair’s so gray?”

The president and CEO of Trilith Studios in Fayetteville is being facetious. But there’s an answer. He’s referring to the slowdown in film and television production over the past three months, the byproduct of studios waiting to see if the Hollywood crew and craft unions will decide to strike when their contract expires in July.

In January of this year, 114 scripted film and television projects in North America began production, Patterson said, citing data he recently presented to investors. In March, 120 projects started. In May, this number was 39.

The decline in active projects is putting further pressure on an industry still recovering from last year’s dual Hollywood strikes. Studios have a backlog of productions waiting to move forward, but they’re hesitant to begin, fearing work could get shut down weeks afterward.

“Everyone is eager,” Patterson said. “Literally we have lists of content that are ready to go.”

Trilith, previously known as Pinewood Studios, is the largest film production campus in North America, and has several facets that could position it for a quick rebound if a strike is avoided. It has some of the most technologically advanced soundstages in town, sits less than 20 miles from the airport and maintains a good reputation among Hollywood producers and crews.

It’s a behemoth development, stretching across 3,000 acres in Fayetteville, half of which is protected green space.

One part of the development is a self-contained community called Town at Trilith, with hundreds of single-family homes, apartments and townhomes, a private K-12 school and more than 20 operating retail and restaurant businesses, among several other components. A live entertainment complex is also under construction here, which will include a music venue, movie theater and two soundstages designed to hold live audiences.

Another chunk is a 330-acre production lot, where Trilith has added 32 soundstages, and thousands upon thousands of square feet of workshops, warehouses and space for production offices and vendors.

Despite the slowdown, there’s still activity on the Trilith lot. A handful of tentpole productions are occupying soundstages, from actively-filming projects to reshoots. Sets are going up for the live-action Moana movie. James Gunn has a designated parking space.

But it’s not as lively as it has been in the past. In North America, 2019 was generally the last normal year for production. The following year brought the pandemic, which halted filming for months as state governments established safety guidelines for production to resume. Georgia, coincidentally, was the first to release theirs.

Then, studios and streamers went gangbusters to produce content. But work slowed again as the industry anticipated strikes from the writers and actors guilds, and came to a standstill in the summer of last year. Union work ceased for nearly six months.

But Trilith has expanded its facilities since that 2019 benchmark. Trilith added 14 stages, almost doubling its existing number, and two workshops. This year, it wrapped construction on its two live soundstages.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the union representing many behind-the-scenes crew members, will resume its bargaining with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on June 24. The negotiations are scheduled to conclude on June 27, after which the industry will know its fate — whether another shutdown will occur.

Regardless of the outcome, it will take time for the industry to ramp back up, Patterson said. But he thinks it will happen faster than the last strike.

“We really do need to get going,” Patterson said.