Nearly a year after it opened, lawyer-developer Jeff Rotwitt's Sun Center Studios, built from the former Sunoco employee-recreation center on Concord Road just off I-95 and north of Chester City with $50 million from banks, investors, taxpayer financing, plus tax breaks, is frantic with Haddad movie set-up trailers, Sony studio executives, L.A. and New York grips, costume, make-up and special effects pros, caterers and all the other movie-industry workers and paraphernalia supporting Philadelphia native Will Smith, wife and costar Jada Pinkett-Smith, director M. Night Shyamalan, and others supporting their latest sci-fi film, After Earth. (Revised)
"This thing has been a baptism by fire," Rotwitt tells me, laughing. In the three vast studio buildings are shops building spaceships and alien models, a department store's worth of costume changes, Smith's custom-built trailer (banished from New York as too wide for city streets), and boards groaning with warm meat and vegetables for hungry crews, prepared in open kitchens on site.
"They've been here since October. They'll be here til July," at least, says Rotwitt.
The number of out-of-town workers on site has Rotwitt performing a delicate labor role, familiar from his past as a developer or developer's rep on, among other projects, the high-rent Mellon tower, Atlantic City's Ocean One mall, the controversial Family Court building, and other projects: approaching local carpenters, electricians, Teamsters, show technicians and other unions to develop possible apprenticeship programs that would help ensure a permanent Philadelphia movie presence.