At age 29, Carrie White sold her home in Atlanta, Georgia, and moved to Brooklyn with no job to live in a “tiny bedroom with no closet.”
Now, 11 years later, White is the founder of GUM Studios, a film studio in Long Island City which she says is the only woman-owned film studio in the New York metro area. The studio, which celebrated first anniversary last month, was the home of season 14 of “Project Runway,” season 1 of “Project Runway Junior” and a host of several commercials, music videos and indie films.
White previously owned Factory Studios in South Williamsburg for five years before her landlord was issued a vacate order by the Department of Buildings. She spent five years building up her business and was suddenly told that she had to move out overnight.
“When I lost my old studio and I thought no one is going to give me a chance. I’ve never wanted anything so bad in my life and I was like destitute,” White said. “I was living off my credit cards, I didn’t have an income and I just kept saying, ‘I want this so bad.'”
With the help of an investor, White was able to sign a lease on a 21,000-square-foot space on 2-15 Borden Ave. The space is seven times bigger than Factory Studios and is attracting indie filmmakers, musicians and big retailers who shoot commercials such as Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Mac Cosmetics and Intel.
Actors who have shot films in the space include Alec Baldwin, Alicia Silverstone, Demi Moore, Michelle Pfeiffer and Johnny Knoxville. Morgan Freeman and Katie Couric also recently stopped by GUM studios to shoot a new CNN show.
“It’s crazy to me; I was in this little studio,” White said. “We had our own clientele. It went from small commercials to large-scale TV and film and large-scale commercials. It’s a big gamble to take on something this big. I don’t have a million dollars in the bank.”
White started her career in marketing and event planning. She graduated from Auburn University with a degree in public relations and worked in email marketing for several years before she was enlisted by Singapore-based beer company Tiger Beer to create a guerrilla marketing campaign in Atlanta. White produced 175 events for the company in just one year.
When she moved to New York, White freelanced with a production company and was eventually hired by a local studio, where she worked as a manager for three years. After learning the ins and outs of running a studio, she partnered with a friend who owns a sound-proofing company and opened Factory Studios.
GUM Studios has been a labor of love for White, who had to completely renovate the rooms on the mezzanine floor to make them inviting for her clients. She’s had to renovate the bathrooms and floors, among other projects. She also recently purchased and installed a green screen.
“It was literally me upstairs renovating bathrooms, trying to make the rooms nice for the clients,” White said. “I figured out how to lay down flooring. I’ve tarred a roof. I’ve fixed plumbing. I will do it all if I have to.”
The space used to be home to a trophy manufacturer, a warehouse for clothing company Zara and production site for the television show “Ugly Betty.” Though White was looking to move to Williamsburg or Greenpoint, she said Long Island City was on her radar and she’s glad she made the move.
“I love it here,” she said. “It’s really easy to get to here [and] everyone is so friendly.”
White has even enlisted the help of local high-schoolers at the Academy for Careers in Television and Film, which is located across the street. Interns help with set dressing, fixing equipment and marketing.
The studio’s hours are sporadic and depend on clients’ needs. White provides her space to production companies and also provides any lighting equipment they may need from their sister company, Yeti NY. The services GUM Studios provide are similar to that of a hotel or restaurant, White said.
“I still consider this business a hospitality business,” she said. “People come here and you have to give them what they need and what they expect and do it quickly.”
White has big plans for the future including purchasing a building or several to create a high-end sound stage. She is also in the process of building up a production company with her work partner and filmmaker Assal Ghawami.
She recalls being the poorest she’s ever been during her first two years living in New York City when she would scrape up quarters to buy a slice of pizza for dinner and a can of food for her cat.
“I don’t come from a rich family,” White said. “I did this all on my own. Here I am, just a girl from the south who came to New York [with] no clue what she’s going to do, and 11 years later I’ve got a film studio. So, if that’s not the American Dream,” she said, laughing.
GUM Studios located at 2-15 Borden Ave. is a level one qualified production facility. To inquire about rates, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-350-8694.