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Local movie company makes good

Anne Knowles

You can take the boy out of Reno, but

you can’t take Reno out of the boy.

That’s one reason that Matthew Lane

Kilburn returned to his hometown of

Reno after 10 years in Los Angeles to

create Gamma Universe, a media miniempire

and the only film production

company in the city.

A lot of Hollywood feature films do

location shoots in northern Nevada, but

most locally produced content consists of

TV commercials, industrial films and

some documentaries, mostly for local consumption.

Enter Kilburn, who in 1991

came back to Reno and started up a company

that, after a few name changes, has

evolved into Gamma Universe.

Kilburn is president/executive producer

of Gamma Universe, which comprises

Gamma Productions, for graphic design

and video production services; Gamma

Publishing, which has published one book

on auditioning and has two more industryrelated

titles in the pipeline; and Gamma

Films, the film production unit.

Gamma Film’s first production was a

film called “The Harvesters,” a thriller

about black-market organ harvesters based

on a true story and shot in Reno, Sparks,

and Pyramid Lake. The 1999 film has

been picked up for distribution by Lion’s

Share Entertainment, said Kilburn, which

has yet to determine whether it will get a

theatrical release, a showing on TV or go

direct to video.

Gamma Films recently finished its second

production a two-hour TV pilot

called “Shadowlands.” It’s a science-fiction,

“Star Wars” type drama starring Gary

Busey and written, directed and produced

by Kilburn in Reno. Next month Kilburn

will be making a trip to Los Angeles to

talk to executives at Fox, Paramount, PAX

and other TV networks to negotiate a deal

to air “Shadowlands” and turn the production

into a series.

“We’ve been assured it will be picked

up,” said Kilburn. “Now it’s just a matter of

negotiating the best deal.”

The best deal, in Kilburn’s view, would

be to create a series and produce it in

Nevada. “Part of our charter is to provide

ongoing work for people who work here,”

said Kilburn. Two-thirds of the

“Shadowlands” cast, for example, was local

talent, in addition to some of the crew that

worked on the pilot. Another possibility is

that a studio would buy the idea and produce

a new pilot and series on its own, said

Kilburn, though he plans to hold out for

the locally based production if he can. The

pilot, which was shot in 24-frame, highdefinition

digital video format, like the latlatest

“Star Wars” installments, will premiere

at the Reno Film Festival on Nov. 3.

High-definition video is the latest technology,

and TV studios are clamoring for

content because networks have been mandated

to broadcast in HDTV within two

years. To shoot in high-definition video,

Kilburn rented a camera from Sony Corp.,

which along with George Lucas of Star

Wars fame developed the technology. He

did run into some technical problems and

had to return the camera to Los Angeles

for repairs. He also had to use a lot of outof-

state crew, such as camera operators and

lighting technicians, because there just isn’t

a local talent pool to draw from, Kilburn

said. A more thriving local film industry

would have solved both those problems, he

said, but the area can’t yet support those

ancillary businesses.

Eventually, Kilburn hopes to produce

three films a year at Gamma Films. Next

up is “Snowstorm,” an action adventure

based on a just published novel written by

Mike Alger, the meteorologist for Reno’s

CBS affiliate, Channel 2. That film will be

somewhat of a step up for Gamma. The

budget will likely be about $20 million,

said Kilburn, and the money provided by a

studio. So far Kilburn and investors,

some local have funded Gamma.

(Kilburn isn’t complaining, though, since

he expects something like a 10-fold return

on his investment in “Shadowlands,”

which he financed entirely himself.) The

company is also in negotiations with

“Friends” star Matthew Perry for a

romantic comedy, and working on another

film that Kilburn describes as a

“Clancy-esque thriller.”

Kilburn has many ambitions. He started

a performing arts school, called Model

Talent Universe, to produce more local talent.

The school taught 300 students in its

first year. He also started a non-profit

called Renowood.org to foster the local

film community.Next year he plans to start

a film production school. Gamma Universe

is already closely aligned with two other

businesses: Integrity Casting, a casting

agency with offices in Reno and Silicon

Valley, and Daniel Herron Photo, a still

photography studio. All of that Gamma

Universe plus the affiliated businesses

are located in a 5,000-square-foot space in

Reno. The company will move to a larger

space, though, if it gets the deal to produce

the “Shadowlands” series.

Next January, Gamma will host a talent

contest that will be televised regionally

by a major network. Finally, Kilburn

has plans to build a sound stage somewhere

in northern Nevada within the

next five years. It probably wouldn’t be

located in Reno or Sparks, due to the cost

of real estate, but may go in Fernley or a

similar location, said Kilburn. Gamma

had to film “Shadowlands” in a 10,000-

square-foot warehouse in Sparks, which

may look like a sound stage but isn’t

soundproofed like one. As a result,

Gamma has had to redo all the dialogue

from the TV movie, which adds time and

cost to the production.

The sound stage could be a big boon to

production here. And that’s part of

Kilburn’s plan. In addition to growing

Gamma, he hopes to cultivate the film

industry in northern Nevada. “I love this

area,” said Kilburn. “It’s my hometown

and I’m committed to growing the business

here.