Filmmaker proposes $25 million film studio for Tamaqua

Oct. 21—It sounds a little like a Hollywood movie script.

A developer builds a state-of-the-art film studio in a small coal region town, luring big-time movie production companies and making it the rival of studios in Manhattan, New Jersey or New York's Hudson Valley.

Yet, that's pretty much what Berks County filmmaker Robert J. Morgalo has in mind for Tamaqua.

Morgalo, who proposes to build a $25 million movie studio on a tract of land within the borough, says his vision is anything but fictional.

"I want it to be the complete go-to film studio in the Northeast," he said in a telephone interview this week.

CEO of Outhouse Production Films, Morgalo believes he can lure the likes of Hallmark, HBO, TV networks and other major producers because it would be cheaper to make films in Tamaqua than in major metropolitan areas.

"They could save 20 to 30% in production costs in Tamaqua," said Morgalo, who has formed OPF Studios of Tamaqua.

He has developed a slide show, depicting the studio's design, and shared it with Tamaqua business and community leaders in recent months.

He's already negotiating to purchase a 50-acre tract owned by a former mining company as the site of the studio, Morgalo said.

As designed, the studio would have the nation's largest green screen.

The technological wizardry of a green screen would allow actors in a Tamaqua studio to be made to appear as if they were on a street in Paris or a mountaintop in the Alps.

'Sopranos' connection

Morgalo, 56, whose acting credits include playing Oscar Jimenez on "Law and Order Special Victims Unit," met with a host of local officials Oct. 14 at Hope & Coffee coffee shop in Tamaqua.

State Sen. David G. Argall, R-29, Rush Twp., Tamaqua Area Community Partnership director Micah Gursky and Daniel Evans, chairman of the Tamaqua Community Revitalization and Improvement Zone Authority, met with Morgalo and his partners in OPF Studios of Tamaqua.

Investors in Morgalo's project include Federico Castelluccio, who played Furio Giunta in "The Sopranos."

Giunta was one of Tony Soprano's most loyal associates and feared enforcers in the widely acclaimed HBO series about a New Jersey crime family.

Actress and producer Maria Schaefer, Castelluccio's wife, was also in the group that met with Tamaqua officials.

"On Friday, we got all the parties together," Morgalo said. "I wanted our people to get to know the town."

Reality or fantasy

Morgalo rated prospects of bringing a studio to Tamaqua as being good.

"We're very optimistic it will happen," he said.

Last month, the Tamaqua CRIZ authority gave preliminary approval to the OPF Studio of Tamaqua project, Evans said.

CRIZ provides the project with an annual reimbursement based on an array of sales, wage, alcoholic beverage and other taxes generated by businesses in a 130-acre zone in downtown Tamaqua, Evans said.

The project still has to arrange for financing, negotiate for purchase of a site and ultimately gain approval of the state departments of Revenue, Treasury and Community & Economic Development.

Evans estimated the approval process could take a year.

"We believe that we can support the project," Evans said, "and bring it to Tamaqua."

Reached in Harrisburg, Argall gave a more cautious assessment.

"This project is still in a very preliminary stage," he emphasized.

Gursky said that Morgalo is very enthusiastic about the project, but he also cautioned that it is still speculative.

"There's still a long way to go," Gursky said. "We're far from a deal."

Reading to Tamaqua

In April 2020, Morgalo directed a short film in The Gables At Stirling Guest Hotel, the 19th century Chateauesque mansion of industrialist James Hervey Sternbergh in Reading.

It worked so well, Morgalo said, that he devised a plan to locate a movie studio on a former Dana manufacturing site along the Schuylkill River in Reading.

While initially optimistic, Morgalo said negotiations dragged on for more than two years.

"It was death by a million meetings," he said. "I made 10 films during that period."

He turned his attention to Tamaqua after meeting with Argall in March to discuss the Pennsylvania Film Tax Credit program, which offers tax credits for companies that make films in the state.

During the meeting, Morgalo mentioned his project in Reading.

"Sen. Argall explained that Tamaqua had a CRIZ program," Morgalo recalled. "He was so enthusiastic, the seed was planted to move the project to Tamaqua."

Morgalo, who had never been to Tamaqua, said he has been impressed by the borough's cooperation.

"Their response was lightning fast," he said. "It gave my investors a very good feeling."

Varied background

In addition to acting, Morgalo is a producer, director and screenwriter.

Born in Miami, he is the grandson of late Cuban actor and poet Jorge Raul Guerrero.

He holds a degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the American Military University and a master's in diplomacy from Norwich University.

He was a medic with the 744th MP unit in Iraq during 2003-04.

Morgalo's latest film is "The Mick and the Trick," which premieres Oct. 28 at the R/C Reading Movies 11 and Imax in Reading. Castelluccio stars as a detective in a story about a prostitute who helps a former Irish Republican Army soldier escape the wrath of a Cuban mobster.

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