BY Carol Badaracco Padgett
Michael Hahn and Dan Rosenfelt are two guys with a major love for film
and a passion for the planet.
Hahn, an Atlanta native and former Third Rail Studios executive, is a real estate
developer and the current CEO of Capstone South Properties, while Rosenfelt is an experienced film industry veteran with many years spent working as a producer in Philadelphia and Los Angeles before being hired by Hahn to run Third Rail Studios.
Today, they’ve put their heads together as co-founders of Electric Owl Studios in
DeKalb County, the world’s first fully sustainable film production facility. The new studio opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 8, 2023, as they launched their mission to help make the industry as a whole – historically somewhat of a carbon footprint nightmare – greener and less wieldy in the process.
Electric Owl Studios
Today, they’ve put their heads together as co-founders of Electric Owl Studios in DeKalb County, the world’s first fully sustainable film production facility. The new studio opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 8, 2023, as they launched their mission to help make the industry as a whole – historically somewhat of a carbon footprint nightmare – greener and less wieldy in the process.
To do this, they’ve reenvisioned the traditional film studio and given Electric Owl a high quality boutique finish and feel – one with a tighter footprint. Components include 140,000 square feet of purpose-built sound stages, 90,000 square feet of mill and support space, 50,000 square feet of production offices, and a 35,000 square foot wardrobe and art building.
"Another added benefit is that Electric Owl is close to every place in town that productions want to be"
Sustainable design elements at play in the studio include solar panels that offset 30% of power usage; the use of carbon-negative concrete; high-efficiency HVAC; bike racks and EOS electric bikes; solar powered golf carts; and other features. In addition, Electric Owl was approached during the earliest stages of design by a company well-versed in green projects and sustainability, Griffco Design/Build of metro Atlanta.
In the design process, they also significantly and intentionally cut back on the amount of waste the studio spews.
“Some studios do this effort or that effort toward sustainability, but none have our focus. That was the genesis,” Rosenfelt says of the dream he and Hahn followed in the creation of Electric Owl Studios.
Another added benefit is that Electric Owl is close to every place in town that productions want to be, according to Rosenfelt, immediately off I-285 on the East side of the city.
“There’s lots of crew here, and there’s the proximity to the airports, to Midtown, to Buckhead. And there are so many diverse locations around us that give us a leg up on other studios around Atlanta,” he notes.
“When we started out to do this, there were two aspects: building it sustainably and then operating it sustainably after it was built,” Hahn notes from the development perspective. “The building we knew would be a challenge, and we picked LEED Gold (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold level certification in a program administered by the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, D.C.), so we’d have the most impact right out of the gate.”
From there, the business partners looked at pricing, wondering if green building alternatives would be beyond their reach economically.
“We determined we could do this for a very reasonable cost due to advances in construction and materials within the past 4-5 years,” Hahn adds. “It took us only 1% of our budget to build to LEED Gold certification. And we’d love others to follow our lead.”
There’s not necessarily a financial upside to Hahn and Rosenfelt’s green approach at Electric Owl. They don’t charge for sustainable features, like their 48 free plug-ins for electric vehicles which have gotten great response from people in the film industry.
But even so, the green amenities at Electric Owl don’t go unnoticed. And they help put the co-founders and their studio in a unique position to form partnerships with like- minded players, such as big studios who may be interested, universities, companies like Apple, and many others with sustainability departments that are committed to cleaning up
from past years’ environmental abuses.
“So we’re leading that, doing the right thing, and moving the needle just a bit,” Rosenfelt notes. “We want to be leaders in the space. And we’d love for people to take us as an example that this [level of sustainability] is achievable in their studios, even if they only
do a portion.”
Even after the Electric Owl facility achieved LEED Gold certification, Hahn and
Rosenfelt noticed that their passion for environmentally sustainable practices and operations has only heightened. They wanted to do more – to pursue even greener dreams.
As Rosenfelt describes, “Some things we [researched and included] weren’t even part of LEED, like adding food dehydrators in our catering buildings.”
The dehydrators reduce the amount of waste by pulling water out of the food, so it takes up less space in landfills. And since rotting food releases methane gas that contributes to climate change, the dehydrators were right on mission for the studio.
For instance, when on-site caterers get to the end of a head of Romaine lettuce, the studio has them put it through the food dehydrator and uses the salvaged water for landscaping.
“We also partnered with a company that picks up edible food immediately after food service and [takes] it directly to shelters,” Rosenfelt adds.
Since film studios are big producers of Styrofoam waste, Electric Owl is outfitted with Styrofoam condenser machines, as well.
“Without them, Styrofoam would fill up our dumpsters fast. But the condensers squeeze it down into tiny cubes, and we use them over and over. Every bit helps,” Hahn says.
Pollinator bee hives are part of Electric Owl, too.
“We teach productions why bees are important, and we [produce] 90 pounds of honey a year to give away as crew gifts to productions,” Hahn notes. Adding, “We do these things all around the studio, and we didn’t get extra LEED points for them, but they’re good for the environment, and they help people.”
"When a show comes to Electric Owl Studios, they’ll find what they need to succeed, sustainably."
Rosenfelt and Hahn are finding that the excitement and positivity around Electric Owl Studios is helping them share the message about the importance of environmental sustainability on a larger scale.
“It starts with sustainability and extends into industry education and connecting people into this industry,” Rosenfelt says.
As part of this, the co-founders are bringing in elementary, high school, and college students to learn about film and environmental sustainability.
Rosenfelt describes it like this: “Look what you can do with your lives and your
As technology matures, he also envisions Electric Owl Studios at the forefront of virtual production.
“We can really imagine in-studio filming for cost reasons and environmental reasons, so that productions don’t have to take trucks around the world,” Rosenfelt notes. “There’s a big future in virtual filmmaking within the confines of the studio.”
But for right now, Hahn and Rosenfelt are poised for the flood of activity into Electric Owl Studios following the SAG-AFTRA strike.
As Rosenfelt notes, “We’re all hands on deck, and we’ve put a great deal of thought into how each department operates. We did extensive research and interviews with department members – asking them what do studios do right and what do they do wrong. We [built out] our departments in that fashion.”
Rosenfelt adds, “We can fit a movie that needs massive space, but in a smaller
footprint. And these productions get the attention they need [from our team], we’re true partners to production.”
When a show comes to Electric Owl Studios, he adds, they’ll find what they need to succeed, sustainably.
Next up for Electric Owl Studios (EOS): Hahn and Rosenfelt are creating EOS NYC and EOS London in 2024.