Despite the industry-wide choke on filming brought about by the pandemic, Nashville’s film-production scene has been humming along for years. Over the past 16 months alone, countless productions have filmed in Nashville, including the Reese Witherspoon-produced country music competition series My Kind of Country, coming soon to Apple TV+, and the Showtime series George & Tammy. There have also been labor-of-love low-budget indies like Best Laid Plans and larger-scale independent features like the forthcoming Seth Worley-directed children’s fantasy flick Sketch. And while plenty of productions film on location, an essential part of the industry is the film-production facility — something Nashville is seeing more and more of.
Skyway Studios’ 16-acre gated campus on Dickerson Pike in East Nashville has existed since 2015 and was the shooting location for the syndicated daytime talk show Pickler & Ben as well as countless music videos, commercials and corporate videos. Worldwide Stages opened at the former Saturn headquarters in Spring Hill, about a half-hour south of Nashville, in September 2021. It’s home to more than 300,000 square feet of facilities on nearly 40 acres. Also in 2021, Music City Studios announced plans to open a similar large-campus facility out in Hendersonville, though there’s been little news of that development since. (When reached by the Scene, a representative for Music City Studios notes that they’ll “have news to share in the coming months, but nothing we can share at this time.”)
Meanwhile, in West Nashville near John C. Tune Airport, another large facility is also playing host to loads of productions — and doing so with bleeding-edge technology. Vū Studios has four locations, three of which opened in 2022, including Vū Nashville, which launched in March. The campus is on property built and owned by Citation Support, and offers 8,000 square feet of studio space, plus green rooms, hair-and-makeup spaces, VIP rooms, conference rooms and a large loading bay.
But none of that is what makes Vū Studios particularly remarkable. Vū is home to a massive, J-shaped, high-definition LED wall — a type of technology known as a “volume” that’s being increasingly used in place of green screens, having first been developed and introduced by Industrial Light & Magic for the hit Disney+ series The Mandalorian.
“It’s so brand-new that probably 80 percent of the people who come in have never shot virtual production before,” says Vū Nashville general manager Megan Hill, a Nashville native and Trevecca Nazarene University graduate. “So we’re holding their hand and guiding them through the process to make sure their shoot is successful. … Our virtual operators will work with them.”
The volume can be programmed with intricately designed virtual spaces that can be tweaked to the smallest detail.
“Every project is completely different,” says Hill. “We can just put videos up on the wall, and you embrace the stage, and it’s more of a concert vibe where you have this amazing LED wall and crazy lights for a music video. Or for commercials and short films and feature films, we use Unreal Engine, which is a gaming technology that creates these worlds. Say we put a forest up on the wall — it’s interactive, so we can change the time of day. We can move trees, delete trees, we can add in grass. And then an art director can build out practical art on the set, so they would match and work with our virtual operators.”
Having an illuminated LED backdrop sheds real-world light on performers and sets that eliminates the need for the amount of lighting and post-production touch-ups that green screens necessitate. “It’s a lot more immersive,” says Hill. “It’s great for clients, because they can see exactly what you’re shooting. It’s in-camera — there’s no more guessing like, ‘Just imagine trees here, and a river.’ You know exactly what you’re getting.”
Hill uses an example of a recent ad for a pharmacy: Vū created a virtual store that can be loaded up on the wall and paired with practical real-world props like shelving and a checkout counter. “So now that we have that in place, every time they need a commercial they don’t have to shut down a store or shoot at night — they can just come into our space and we can re-create their store and shoot anything they need.”
Vū saw a wide array of clients in its first year. Carrie Underwood shot a four-song performance in front of the volume in one day — with the performances used for different programs, including a rendition of “Pink Champagne” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. They’ve shot music videos for Dierks Bentley and corporate work with big companies like Volkswagen, Amazon, Tractor Supply Co. and others. While Vū hasn’t shot any feature films at the Nashville location yet, they’re signed up to shoot a few scenes of an upcoming feature at Vū Nashville in February, and parts of the forthcoming Nicolas Cage picture Sympathy for the Devil were filmed at Vū’s Las Vegas location in 2022.
Seeing as how Nashville has a film-production scene teeming with talent — and increasingly advanced infrastructure to match — that’s likely just the beginning.