Location pays off for Douglasville restaurant

What is it they say about location? Just ask the folks at Hudson Hickory House, a landmark restaurant in Douglasville.

Located across the street from the city jail, the popular restaurant made its film debut in ‘Star,’ a Fox series starring Queen Latifah. When floods in Los Angeles shut down production on a Sundance series — Douglasville1Hap & Leonard’ — an assistant director who had worked here on ‘Star’ recommended a move to Douglasville to film the restaurant scenes. The restaurant represents the Texas Armadillo Diner in the series.

Hudson Hickory House, originally opened by Buford Hudson in 1971, is the place to go for hickory-smoked anything in Douglas County and was a perfect location in a town filled with perfect locations.

Douglasville has had several turns in the spotlight in recent years. “Stranger Things” has been filming there for several years, and two years ago a set was built down the street from Hudson Hickory House to represent a McDonald’s franchise in “The Founder,” a movie about the expansion of the fast-foot chain starring Michael Keaton.

That makes the Hickory House location good for business in two ways –– as a watering hole for the casts and crew from the parade of film and TV productions coming to Douglasville, and as a great location for filming.

“It’s great for the town and for our business, “ says owner Scot Hudson. “The movie and TV people have treated us very well, and we love having them here.”

Film industry gets credit for historic renovations

Cabin in the Pines during sunset.

Ever played the game “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon?” It’s a bit of a stretch, but … follow the link from the famous actor to President Theodore Roosevelt.

  1. Kevin Bacon starred in the TV series “The Following.”
  2. The series was filmed on the campus of Berry College.
  3. One of the college’s most beloved historic buildings is the Roosevelt Cabin.
  4. The cabin got its name after college founder Martha Barry hosted President Theodore Roosevelt for lunch at the Cabin in 1910.
  5. Renovation of the Cabin was completed in 2015.
  6. Production fees from Bacon’s “The Following” played a major role in paying for the renovation.

Ok, it’s a reach … but it’s not a stretch at all to connect Georgia’s film and television industry to preservation of historic buildings on the 115-year-old campus.

Teddy Roosevelt presentation at Roosevelt Cottage presented by Joe WiegandLocated in Rome, the scenic private college provides the setting for productions that include Reece Witherspoon’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Edgar Allen Poe’s Mystery Theater.”  The most popular selfie spot on campus is in front of Ford Dining Hall, part of the Ford Complex, which served as the football camp facility in “Remember the Titans.”

Lasting impressions from filming can be found in two buildings more than 100 years old. In addition to the renovation of Roosevelt Cabin, restorations were recently completed for Cabin in the Pines, a building that dates to the late 1800s that used to be referred to by students as the “kissing cabin.” Money to spruce up Cabin in the Pines came from fees paid by the television series “Constantine” and “Kingmakers,” a TV pilot that was never aired.

Where possible, local materials and businesses were used in the renovations. On the Roosevelt Cabin, Mike Crook Garden and Stone handled the work of “chinking,” a process in which mud is spread between logs to seal the walls. The mud was a clay mixture made up of local sand, quicklime and sawdust.Cabin in the Pines restoration

“There’s no doubt that Georgia’s film industry is good for our campus,” says Chris Kozelle, Berry’s Director of Public Relations, adding that site-location tours are now a regular part of her job.

“People in the industry come here, and are amazed at the beauty of Berry,” Kozelle says. “Even if we don’t get the production, we get great exposure every time a potential production group tours our campus.”

Abandoned warehouse gets new life from the film industry and businesses who serve it

Four abandoned cabinetry factory warehouses covered in graffiti sat vacant for more than a decade on a forgotten lot just south of the recently retired Georgia Dome. By all definitions, it was an eyesore.FullSizeRender

The solution began with the creative vision of the Swartzberg family, who purchased the 1920s complex that was used by Abrams Fixture Corporation to manufacture cabinetry until the 1990s. And then entered two sisters who launched a creative space to house their late mother’s antiques, now used as set decorations on numerous television and film productions here in Georgia.

The rebirth of the complex began a few years ago when the Swartzbergs initiated “Phase I,” which involved revamping two of the four warehouses. The warehouses were gutted to create wide-open space inviting to artists who wanted to display their work and generate unique ideas, much like the graffiti artists did years ago on the exterior of the warehouses.

It wasn’t long before this hidden gem was discovered by Georgia’s film industry and a number of creative businesses that serve it. That’s where Maryelle St. Clare and Christine FullSizeRender-1Nelson enter the story. The sisters and owners of Oompalala, a company providing set decorations to Georgia’s film industry, were looking to upgrade their workspace at the end of 2016.

Ask them about their work, and you won’t hear Christina tell you about life as a bank controller, or Maryelle go on about the day-to-day life in corporate operations. Not anymore. Thanks to the film industry, these women have turned one of the Swartzberg’s warehouses into a mini-mall for set decorators and prop masters.

Welcome to Abrams Creative Space, home to set props ranging from original still imagery to creepy doll heads, bedroom sets to lighting. There’s even a taxidermist that rents space there. The rundown warehouse has literally turned into a one-stop shop for any set decorator — and Georgia has plenty of those at work. Add a few more golf carts and a movie trailers and you would think you were on Sunset Boulevard.

Ok, maybe it’s not there yet, but give it time …

In just a few months, Abrams Creative Space has become home to more than a dozen businesses, each bringing something totally unique to mix. 01-abrams-4467When asked about what’s most popular, Christine said, “It’s hard to say — people come for one thing and leave with their hands full of all kinds of other things.” The space outside is often used as basecamps for Atlanta-based films.

The sister’s main reason for having a space this size was so that they could keep all the antiques their late mother collected in her world travels. “The shop has given us the freedom to do things we actually enjoy while prolonging the life of our mother’s possessions, and making money all at the same time,” says Christine.

Job security: Family business grows with movie & TV productions

It might seem a stretch to follow a career in law enforcement with another in the movies.

But don’t tell that to Ben Payne.BenPayneFaces.jpg

Payne was a sheriff’s deputy in Florida and Georgia for 30 years.

Now his company, Risk Management Associates of Georgia, thrives by providing security services for movie and TV productions, in studios and on locations.

In just three years, the Conyers-based business has doubled in size to include about 50 full-time employees and a pool of 150 on-call officers to help on temporary assignments. With about 70 percent of its business coming from productions, Risk Management recently opened a second office in Eatonton as well.

“In the last three years, we have done probably a half-dozen of the regular, ongoing TV series, and dozens of movies,” says Payne, whose son Jason also retired from law enforcement to join the firm.

“It’s just been great. We’re a small company. It has helped us tremendously as far as growth potential.”RMAEatontonOffice

The company has worked on titles like TV’s “The Vampire Diaries” and the forthcoming feature “Felt” with Liam Neeson.

Security challenges on sets include the high-end equipment, the presence of celebrities, and the fans who want to get a picture of the production or stars.

Payne credits Georgia’s tax incentives for bringing and keeping productions here.

“It looks very good, very promising,” he says about his company’s outlook. “Several studios are being built. As long as they continue to receive the tax benefits, we’ll continue to grow.

“Several states got rid of the incentives, and because of that, Georgia is reaping the benefits. More and more people are coming here.”

Film industry helps Woodstock native boost art career

IMG_7849.jpg

Drew works with a great team, shown here in front of a wall they wrapped. From left Danny Chavez, Kenny Walters, Nick Paolucci, Drew Keener, and Chris Gross.

Growing up, Drew Keener always knew he wanted to work in the film industry. What he didn’t know is that he’d be able to do it in his hometown of Woodstock.

Drew, 26, is an illustrator who creates scenery for film and TV sets. He works with Kennesaw-based Max Graphics, a company that has expanded over the past five years along with Georgia’s film industry. Recent projects have included creating frosted glass logos and wrapping a taxi for scenes in Ben Afflack’s “The Accountant.” He also helped transform a street in Stone Mountain to look like one in another city, primarily by replacing local business signage.

For Drew, it’s rewarding work. “Already my networking has skyrocketed,” says Drew, who studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design and does freelance illustration, IMG_7988 2design and murals in addition to his set work. “I’m connected with other artists, and this brings in customers for my own art. I’ve seen so much opportunity here for me. I’m boosting my skills and connections.”

Drew remains intrigued by the movies. “I watch a film a day out of my huge collection,” he says. “The fact that I get opportunities to work on a film set is amazing. I live for that.”

“I never would have thought I could get this kind of opportunity here in Georgia. It’s steady work and steady income.  In fact, it’s better than steady. We stay busy all the time.”

Gainesville man finds a second career in Georgia’s booming movie & TV industry

Gainesville’s Cliff Battle has loved working on cars his whole life.

Local residents might remember his business, Performance Works, which souped up boats, cars and recreational vehicles.

IMG_3671-1Battle sold his business in 2011 and was getting restless when an old buddy called: Could Cliff help out with a welding project?

The friend was working in the movie business as a set decorator, Battle knew. He had heard that more and more movies and TV shows have been filmed in the state, largely because of a 30 percent tax incentive.

Still, Battle wasn’t expecting more than an afternoon helping out on some specific task.

He walked into a workroom at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta and was shocked to find “20 other guys in there welding and building” for the second “Hunger Games” movie.”

“I said, ‘This isn’t a project, this is a real job.’ I was on that for eight months,” Battle recalls.

He’s not alone. Film and TV productions in Georgia have an economic impact estimated at $8 billion a year, employing countless Georgians and giving local economies a boost.

Battle’s welding work caught the eye of a special effects supervisor. That led to other projects driving vehicles in elaborately choreographed scenes – like with Jake Gyllenhaal in “Prisoners” and an eight-second stunt for “Need for Speed” that took three weeks to arrange.

In addition to “precision driving,” he sometimes drives trailers for cast members or welds safety cages for stunt drivers, along with numerous other tasks.

Between cars and welding, he’s worked on movies and shows from the fourth “Alvin and the Chipmunks” to his current gig on Oprah Winfrey’s “Green Leaf” TV series.

He loves the job, which includes getting to know some famous folks, even with the long hours. And he can’t imagine what else he’d be doing now.

“It’s been huge,” Battle says. “The tax incentives are extremely important. There are so many people that are employed by this. I’ll stick with it for as long as it goes on.”

And he couldn’t be happier that he’s still working on automobiles.

“I grew up tinkering with them,” Battle says. “And now I get to blow them up, and flip them and spin them …”

Rome nurse puts extra income from film jobs to good use

Erika Crawford Gordon of Rome is a highly skilled RN who works at Northside Hospital in the High Risk Perinatal Unit — and a few days a week she earns a second income working as a baby nurse on film and TV sets.

When she was asked on the set of “Containment” to swaddle the baby for an upcoming scene, she did it just as she would in the hospital. Extra tight, like a burrito.

“But that’s not how they wanted the baby Faces Erika Gordon 4 (1)swaddled on camera,” says Erika with a laugh. “I swaddled the baby the way I was trained to, very tightly, because it’s all about conserving body heat. I had to learn to swaddle for a camera with the baby’s arms hanging out and looking cute.”

Erika has learned the ins and outs of being on-set since her start in 2012 on “Single Mom’s Club” where she shadowed lead medic Paul Lowe, also a Rome resident. “He took me under his wing and explained set etiquette, like when to be quiet, the need to keep my cell phone on silent and to never chew gum,” says Erika. “A lot of things are props, like that trash can really isn’t for trash. He taught me where I should stand so I’m not in the scene and to be mindful of my space.”

Now Erika tries to work her 12-hour shifts at the hospital on the weekends so she can keep most of the week open for film and TV opportunities. The extra income helps her pay for tuition for her daughter, a sophomore at UGA. She’s also in the process of building a townhouse, so the extra money is welcome.

She’s officially known as a “baby nurse,” caring for babies under six months that are required to have an attending RN. The baby is only allowed on camera for 20 minutes at a time and on the set for two hours per day. Erika makes sure the baby is safe, and if it’s fussy, she’ll step in to let the mother nurse. If there are twins involved she may help change diapers or soothe a crying baby.

One of her most interesting experiences was during a scene of a birth on “Containment.” Erika had to watch the baby get special effects applied to ensure the baby could tolerate the makeup.

“I’m used to the real thing. It was fun to see how Hollywood portrayed giving birth. They used cream cheese and jelly on the baby, who didn’t seem to mind at all.”

Erika is happy to work as often as she can for the film industry.  She’s worked on the sets of “If Loving You is Wrong,” “The Vampire Diaries,” “Star,” “Greenleaf,” “Thank You For Your Service” and several others.

“I work on films because it’s fun, exciting and a wonderful way to earn a second income,” says Erika. “This is what I do on my off days because I really enjoy it.”

City makes the most of its locations, assets to bring money from TV, film industry

The city of East Point, GA, was named for its location as a 19th century railroad terminus near Atlanta.

Now, with film and TV production booming all across Georgia, the suburb of 30,000 people is again benefitting from its key EPHardwarelocation. It’s between downtown Atlanta and the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson International. It’s easily reached via highways and mass transit.

And East Point is within a “film triangle” of sorts — flanked immediately to the north by the new Tyler Perry Studios complex, to the east by EUE Screen Gems and to the south by Atlanta Metro Studios.

This makes East Point an ideal location for film production and industry professionals and businesses that serve the industry. As a result there is a broad “spillover effect” boosting the city’s role in the industry and lifting job creation at local businesses.

“We extend as much hospitality, cordiality and professionalism as we can because we really see the benefit for the community,” says Maceo Rogers, East Point’s director of economic development.

‘Hidden Figures,’ ‘Stranger Things’ filmed here

In just the last couple of years, the Oscar-nominated hit “Hidden Figures” used East Point as a location. So did the Netflix smash “Stranger Things.” Scouts from the Oprah Winfrey-backed “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and other productions come around constantly.Boswells.jpg

Some highlights of the economic impact:

  • East Point Studios started three years ago by offering 23,000 square feet for production, construction and storage space for movie and TV crews. It is owned and operated by seasoned film industry professionals Kim and Elliott Boswell.
  • East Point Hardware, experiencing strong business from crews needing lumber, nails and other supplies, is doubling its space. “We get a pretty good amount of business from everybody that’s filming around here,” says Robert Gallagher, store manager. That includes “a whole lot of propane” for caterers and crews. “It runs the gamut.”
  • BPS Companies has consolidated its various locations across metro Atlanta into its one million square-foot facilities. TV and movie productions account for a significant portion of the thriving business’s revenue, says CFO Debra Stanley.
  • The Sword of the Lord and other East Point churches are often hired out for use as a base camp, where crew and cast gather for long shoots.
  • The 1930s library has been used for “Stranger Things” as well as an upcoming movie about the Unabomber called “Manifesto.”
  • The residences along Linwood Avenue are appealing for walking scenes that need a historic touch. Homes in the city are rented out to crew members or for location shooting.

Effect boosts city coffers and pride, too

City governments also earn income for permits, fees and other costs associated with productions.

For its part, East Point’s government is doing everything it can to bring more productions to town. And economic development specialist Erin Rodgers sees more than just a financial impact.

“It’s good for civic pride and for the kids in the community,” she says. “It’s very inspiring to them, to see there are more jobs and more career opportunities for them here. They won’t have to go to Los Angeles if they’re interested.”

Filming in and around Bryan County fuels local economy

Is the film industry good for business in Georgia? Buck Meeks of Richmond Hill certainly thinks so.

Buck and his brother John are owners of Myrtle Grove Plantation in Richmond Hill. Their antebellum plantation has been the setting for many of the movies and television productions that have brought jobs and revenue to Bryan County in recent years.Myrtle Grove 3

“I just wish that the movie folks who come here would pay suppliers and local businesses with red $10 bills so everyone would realize how much they spend,” he says. “Some of the production people from North Carolina who came here to make films decided to settle here, and that’s a lasting benefit to all of us.”

For Buck and his family (his mother still lives in the manor house), involvement with the movie business began in earnest in 1989 when Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman came to town to film “Glory,” the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first all-black volunteer unit in the Civil War.

The producers needed a scene with a classic plantation house, and Myrtle Grove was perfect.

Over the years, numerous high-profile productions followed, including “The General’s Daughter” with John Travolta and Madeleine Stowe; “Four Senses,” produced and directed by Ruediger von Spies; and the TV series “Underground.”

A big production that had a widespread impact in Bryan County was director Nate Parker’s “Birth of a Nation,” released last year.  According to Christy Sherman, executive director of the Richmond Hill Conventions and Visitors Bureau, numerous local businesses were involved.

“A lot of local business were involved: restaurants, the Publix market, office-space rentals, catering companies and numerous local retailers and suppliers,” she says. “The Myrtle Grove 1cast and crew took up more than 30 hotel rooms for two and a half months.”

Film production also consumes a lot of supplies, especially lumber and hardware. Plantation Lumber and Hardware in Richmond Hill supplied thousands of dollars worth of cedar shingles, hardware and lift equipment rentals. Shearouse Lumber Company in Pooler stepped in when the producers needed custom-milled rustic siding to recreate plantations slave quarters next to Myrtle Grove. “A 40-foot trailer showed up one day loaded with the kind of creatively milled wood you just can’t get at Home Depot,” Buck says.

Other historic sites in Bryan County and beyond used as filming locations include Fort McAllister, J.F. Gregory Park, local waterfronts, swamps and the former Bryan County Fisherman’s Co-Op building.

The film industry spreads its economic impact across the state. More than 30,000 people are employed in film and TV production in Georgia, and more than 20 of the states colleges and universities offer certificate and degree programs supporting the industry.

But it’s the local impact that Georgians see first when production companies come calling.

“The producers and crews want to come back to work on other projects, and we certainly want them back,” Buck says. “They have helped restore historic buildings like Myrtle Grove and have used the public lands responsibly. I really believe that film people are good neighbors.”

A version of this story appeared in the Bryan County News.

Using entertainment industry to reinvent a successful business

Economic growth doesn’t always rely on something brand new.

At BPS Companies of East Point, sometimes it’s about reinventing your business to make the most of a new opportunity.

That’s what BPS did a few years ago with movie and TV productions, a booming industry that’s responsible now for $8 billion in economic impact across the state.

BPS is a 64-year-old company with 95 employees. During the economic Debra Stanley, Mike Reid of BPS.jpgdownturn, the company bought an 800,000 square-foot warehouse (that’s about 44 football fields) in East Point, where it already had a smaller facility.

BPS is primarily a used auto parts distribution and light manufacturing business. It had locations across metro Atlanta and wanted to consolidate.

“We knew we would lease some of the space, and that was about the time that the movie business starting moving in here,” recalls CFO Debra Stanley.

Now much of the big building is steadily rented out to companies in the entertainment industry. It’s mostly used for warehouse space to store equipment and to build sets, Stanley says.

“The building stays leased out between good tenants in other industries and the entertainment business,” she says. “We have welcomed the entertainment business and they pay well.”

East Point is a frequent location for movies and TV shows, including the Oscar-nominated hit “Hidden Figures” and Netflix’s “Stranger Things.”

Its convenient location near downtown Atlanta, major highways and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport makes it appealing to studios. And the East Point government works hard to entice productions for the city’s benefit.

“The boom in the entertainment industry has been an advantage for us, because we rarely go without rent,” Stanley says. “We have been able to have someone move in by the time the other ones are going out.”