Georgia Tech grads find their niche

Christmas_2019Georgia’s film and TV production industry is the benefactor of a Georgia Tech math student’s epiphany that he really didn’t like doing calculus after all.

“When I realized I needed a new direction, I thought about what I loved to do,” says Ben Lambeth, co-owner of Cinder Lighting & Grip. “I turned to a hobby of mine –– filmmaking.”

So long math department, hello business major.

Active in the film club at Georgia Tech, Ben met Gabe Pippas, an engineering major also drifting toward film. They owned their own equipment to do their film projects, but discovered people wanted to rent it for their own work.

IMG_6381“That was our first step to becoming a business,” says Ben. “We worked for six months before we came up with the name Cinder. Our clients were those we met at Tech and friends we made as freelancers. Along the way we also met a lot of producers who needed our equipment.”

“Within a few months they were bringing on a staff to help with the workload, and rented a warehouse to store their expanding inventory”

By 2014, the industry starting to take off in Georgia, and the company grew as well. It now has 10 employees and has supplied equipment for television series like “Love and Hip Hop Atlanta,” “Your Worst Nightmare” and “Dead Silent.” The bulk of the company’s rentals are for commercials and music videos.

Although most productions are months or years in the planning, a producer’s need for extra equipment can pop up overnight. “We’re very used to day-before or day-of orders,” says Ben. “We react as we go.”

The growth of the industry has been a big boost to Ben and Gabe.

IMG_0262“While we’re in competition with everyone else renting lighting equipment, the market is big enough to support many companies,” Ben says. “Everyone is growing and there’s plenty of work to go around.”

Although the movie and television production is spread across the state, most of the major suppliers of equipment are concentrated in Metro Atlanta. Because Cinder will pack all the equipment in a truck and let the production crews drive it to their own locations, statewide distribution is simplified.

Ben and Gabe have kept up their own work as independent filmmakers and share a keen drive to help other independents by providing affordable ways to rent equipment.

“We want to encourage more locally produced content,” Ben says. “We want to encourage more Georgia-based production, not just filming.”

Searching for a creative outlet, law student switches to a career as a set decorator

How does a creative mind trapped in law school escape? For Jess Royal, it was taking a huge leap of faith in herself and working hard to break into the burgeoning Georgia film industry in 2008.

Jess says she learned about set decoration from a behind-the-scenes show about the film “Revolutionary Road.”

“The set decorator described how she dressed out the room so that every item would be from the correct period and in character, even if it would go unseen in a drawer,” says Jess. “As a history freak, I found it absolutely fascinating. I knew right then I wanted to be a set decorator and I felt so lucky to live in Georgia where it might be possible.”

Now Jess is able to let her creative mind free as the set decorator responsible for nailing the peak ‘80s vibe on the Netflix series “Stranger Things.”

One of the breakout stars on Netflix’s “Stranger Things: Season 3” wasn’t a person. It was a place: Starcourt Mall. Fans were swooning over the perfectly retro set complete with vintage clothing, signs and furniture.

The set was built around the unused food court of the Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth. In order to transform the mall’s modern décor, Jess used her skills as a historian, sleuth, and artist. She found photos of the mall from its opening in 1984 and researched photos of other malls to make the set decorations correct for the period.

In “Stranger Things,” Eleven and Max’s montage makeover and shopping spree was a pivotal scene. The original script called for the girls to shop in a large department store, but logistics forced Jess to suggest The Gap instead. And it worked perfectly. Jess used a Gap catalog from 1985 to get the look right. She hunted for vintage Gap clothing and supplemented with new clothing she found on Amazon to fill up the store.

While at the hotel her family owns in Madison, Jess ran into a production designer on “Halloween II.” From that chance encounter, Jess started her film and TV production career as a location scout for the show, helping to procure odd items like large cable spools from Georgia Power.

Her next gig was a location scout for the “Vampire Diaries” TV series filmed in Covington, GA, where she leaned on her relationships with locals to get the show what it needed.

“Ring of Fire” was her first opportunity as a set decorator — a job that tested her creativity and her dedication to achieving her goals. The movie follows June Carter’s life from the 1920s to the 2000s. For Jess, it was a dream come true because she got to decorate homes, recording studios and radio stations in every decade, what she calls “a feast for period design.”

“My jam is Americana. At estate sales I collect period pieces for future productions and they’re also a great place for research, to see what people keep and what’s important to them,” says Jess. “It makes me feel good to give people’s stuff a second life on film.”

Macon native hooked on production career

Catina Jones 2 (1)Catina Jones wanted to be a television newscaster in the 1990s when she was enrolled in Clark Atlanta’s radio, film and journalism program. Then A.B. Cooper of the Georgia Film Office came to a class to talk about making films.

“The industry then was only a glimpse of what it is now,” Catina says. “But I was hooked by Cooper’s enthusiasm. I wanted to be a part of making movies.”

The path forward for the native of Macon and graduate of Mary Persons High School in Forsyth wasn’t clear, so she made her own way. “I was just annoying and aggressive about meeting people and learning new things because I desperately wanted to get experience, to learn more about the business and the players,” she says. And she hasn’t stopped learning.

Her “next big thing” was during the Olympics when she worked on the crew videotaping the boxing at the Georgia Tech venue. That experience helped prepare her for a seven-year run making music videos.

Catine Jones 1What followed was her first feature film experience in 2002 working on “Drumline.” Two principal bands appeared in that film –– the Southwest DeKalb High School Band and the Clark Atlanta Band. Catina’s job was to coordinate the activities of both, making sure they were where they needed to be doing what the producers needed them to do. It was her first experience in a scripted production.

By 2007 Catina was studying film production at UCLA — and getting calls from Georgia as the state’s film industry was building momentum and attracting production talent to the state. She came back to work as a production coordinator and supervisor for various studios and independent companies. Her “annoying and aggressive” drive for experience was paying off in her ability to fashion a make-it-yourself career.

“I love what I do helping producers manage everything from costumes and props to tracking the spending,” says Catina. “I learn something new on every single show.”

Film/TV production created opportunity across the state in 2019

As we look ahead to 2020, take a minute and reflect on the impact film TV production has on those of us working in the industry:

  • The Georgia Department of Economic Development reports that the film industry had a $9.5 billion impact on the state’s economy in 2018, the latest figures available.
  • The Motion Picture Association of America reports that the motion picture and television industry is responsible for more than 92,000 jobs in Georgia.
  • And, according to MPAA, that’s $4.6 billion in wages generated.
Film Overview 2019

Top: Ben Patel, Samone Lett; Bottom: Ariel Kaplan, Allen Cheney

That’s great news around the state, where 29 shows are currently in production.


The industry creates jobs in Madison, where entrepreneur Ben Patel helps support his community and the film/TV industry through his transportation company B.I. Production Works.

“We’re bringing dreams to families who couldn’t ever envision this type of success,” says Ben, a 33-year-old father of two. “There are certainly jobs in Madison, but many of those jobs have been taken for years. We’re creating new opportunities that make dreams come true.”

Across metro Atlanta, Georgians like prop master Ariel Kaplan are building careers in the industry — and helping small businesses profit, too.

“When the film industry first started in Georgia, we got everything from New York and California. Now we’re getting so much from local businesses,” says Ariel. “We gave these companies a chance to meet our needs and they’ve met the challenge wholeheartedly.”

Allen Cheney is leading industry influencers to his hometown of Thomasville, and the film “Tiger Rising,” starring Queen Latifah, Dennis Quaid and Katherine McPhee, is expected to have an economic impact of more than $1 million in the community.

Across the state, the future looks bright.

“The tremendous opportunities and people here make me truly feel that I’ve come home,” says Samone Lett, who relocated to Georgia to build Wishful Concepts, a catering and event-management business. “I was just overwhelmed by the warm and helpful reception I got here.”


Security is big business on the set of Georgia film/TV productions

Sites for top productions like “Stranger Things” and “The Fast and the Furious” draw big crowds and curious onlookers.

It’s up to professional security companies like Atlanta-based Global Protective Services (GPS) to keep the cast and crew safe.

GPS L_Reginald Lindsay R_ Phillip A Lindsay

“Because of Georgia’s film industry, we went from employing fewer than 100 people to having 550 full-time employees during our busiest times,” says Reginald Lindsay, president and CEO of GPS. “As movies come to Georgia, we’ll continue to put people to work.”

GPS provides total security for the production set, securing equipment, controlling access to the film sights, securing basecamp, and providing bodyguards for onset talent. The security team even keeps an eye on social media and will track down the source of leaked information from onset.

Popular shows with large teenage fan bases can be a challenge, but Reginald says his team is happy to handle the crowd-control issues. He and his team are excited to be a part of the film industry and take great pride in their work.

Reginald and his brother Phillip Lindsay, vice president of GPS, took their entire management staff and employees to see “Furious 7.” When they saw the company’s name listed in the credits, the whole team felt excited and proud. “We let out a loud cheer right there in the theater when we saw it,” says Phillip.

Reginald moved to Atlanta in 1994. He had a degree in business management and an interest in law enforcement. He began his career as a police officer in Clayton County and was promoted to Major in the Clayton County Sheriff’s department. In 1999, Reginald started his security company. In 2006, a GPS operations manager formed a relationship with the location manager for the film “Stomp the Yard” and GPS was hired to secure its first movie.

Since that first opportunity, GPS has provided security for hundreds of productions in Georgia. The film industry accounts for 60 percent of GPS’s business. They currently employee more than 300 people.

“I feel great that our company put hundreds of people to work while unemployment was high during the housing market crash,” says Reginald. “We hired normal people from all walks of life, like former teachers and retirees. The economic security we provide not only helps our employees, it trickles down to a web of people in our community. We feel that responsibility — it’s overwhelming and exciting.”

Chamblee antique store quadruples business due to film industry

Biggar Antiques, owned by the Biggar family, started in the 1940s in New York and moved to Chamblee in the 1970s. For decades, its commercial operation provided antique decorations to chain restaurants across the country like Applebee’s and LongHorn Steakhouse.Biggar Antique 1

But styles change. As restaurants stopped decorating with antiques, the Biggar family turned to the film industry to create a vital source of revenue.

“As the antique world we lived in became economically unviable, the film industry opened up a whole new market for our company and gave us a new career,” says Billy Biggar, who runs the operation with his wife Karin and his brother Jeff Biggar. “Because of the Georgia film industry, we’ve quadrupled our business. It’s so hard for small businesses to make money but we’re doing well.”

Though it provided props to the film industry for the past 40 years, starting with the 1975 movie “The Apple Dumpling Gang,” the company has now completely shifted to focusing on props. Three years ago, Biggar Antiques stopped selling and switched its business to only renting antiques. They are now referred to as Biggar Prop House and run a huge warehouse filled with period props.

The enormous warehouse is full of secret treasures in every corner. The company rented lighting to “The Walking Dead.” The lighting was wrapped in newspaper by their father decades ago and hadn’t been opened since. The date on the newspaper was 1952.

Billy says Biggar Antiques was well-positioned to start renting props. It had a big inventory of period pieces and lots of antique signage that could be used to transform a set — helpful for large period productions filmed in Georgia. Billy believes the consistency of the film industry had a positive impact on his business, allowing him to hire two full-time employees to support the film and television production business.

“The film tax incentives keep Georgia competitive with other states,” says Billy. “We have the infrastructure here and we can make the biggest movies amazingly well now.”

You can see props from Biggar Prop House in productions like “Stranger Things,” “Ozark,” “Ford v Ferrari,” and the live action movie “Lady and the Tramp.”

Savannah locations manger building a career based on life-long love of movies

Professional LocationsMovies seem to have a way of making lasting memories from our youth. It could be a character you related to, or a scene that brought you to tears. For Cayman Eby, the passion about movies was passed down from his father.

“My dad was always pointing out lesser-known films that he liked and making sure we watched them with him,” Cayman said, “He built my first movie library for reference and it’s been growing ever since.”

Many years, six states, and eight relocations later, Cayman settled in Savannah as a Locations Manager. And he’s stayed busy for the last four years.

First introduced to Savannah during his time at Fort Stewart Army Base, Cayman quickly knew there was something special about the city. Once out of the Army around 2003, he wanted to stick around and learn more about the film industry. What better place to do that than Savannah College of Art & Design?

With a wife and young child, Cayman needed steady work to pay the bill. As a student, he and a friend found opportunity launching a production company doing commercial and marketing shoots around town.

After graduating in 2007, the movie scene in southeast Georgia was booming and things couldn’t be better. And then came the recession, and Cayman decided, like many others, to move west for work.

“I worked for MTV for a while, Food Network, a bunch of non-union stuff, just trying to get my foot in the door of the mainstream industry,” he said. But one year into his new adventure, life and family called Cayman back east to a small town in Virginia with zero film industry. A Master’s in Special Education and a job teaching passed the time there until 2015 when the phone rang.

On the other end of that phone was Cayman’s old friend from Savannah calling to tell him the film business was back and booming in Georgia and he needed a partner. That was enough to convince Cayman. He packed up and was heading to Savannah on a mission.

“The last few years have been the golden years for Savannah film,” he says.

Thanks to a tight-knit locations community in Savannah, and film community as a whole there, these ‘Golden Years’ have kept Cayman busy. He’s worked on about 10 projects during that time, including films such as “The Poison Rose” and “Mara.” A favorite project was “Peanut Butter Falcon,” where Cayman worked with Jody Schiesser, one of his biggest supporters in the industry.  

Besides working hard as a locations manger and starting his own company Cayman has also joined the Teamsters Local Union and been welcomed into the Locations Mangers Guild International.

“It’s been a journey that’s for sure, but the production industry led me hear and I’m happy for that.”

Entrepreneur committed to building opportunity in Madison

At the age of 18, Ben Patel traveled from Madison, GA, to India, where he was born. The extreme poverty he witnessed during his month in India changed the trajectory of his life, and in the process, the lives of many who live in the rural Georgia town he’s called home since he was seven years old.

As the owner of B.I. Production Works, a transportation company that serves film and television productions throughout Georgia, Ben is committed to creating long-term, stable jobs in Madison. In the last U.S. Census, the population of the town barely hit 4,000.

“We’re bringing dreams to families who couldn’t ever envision this type of success,” says Ben, now a 33-year-old father of two. “There are certainly jobs in Madison, but many of those jobs have been taken for years. We’re creating new opportunities that make dreams come true.”

Ben credits his introduction to Georgia’s film and TV production industry — and his entrepreneurial spirit — to his long-time mentor, Paul Paschal, who owned a dry-cleaning business in Madison that employed Ben’s parents. As a teen, Ben also worked there, and witnessed the dry cleaner’s business boom with wardrobe cleaning for productions such as “Driving Miss Daisy,” “In the Heat of the Night,” and “We Are Marshall.”

It was while delivering wardrobe to EUE/Screen Gems Atlanta studio, then hosting “Hunger Games,” that Ben looked around and saw the opportunity for a transportation company serving productions. Today, his dry-cleaning days are behind him, and he’s staked his future on B.I. Productions. It’s a move that pushed his family out of poverty, and allowed him to more than triple his business income.

And it allowed him to hire even more residents of Madison.

“This small rural town is full of tradesman,” says Ben, who employees about 25 Madison residents. “I’m putting the vision on the table, and they are bringing the skills together to make it work.

“I took the idea of the America dream, and I made it possible for me. And I’m committed to making it real for others, too.”

Thomasville native instrumental in town’s starring role

Allen Cheney has always seen the potential in his hometown of Thomasville, GA. Now, he’s proud to say, the film industry sees it, too.

Allen, a graduate of Thomasville’s Brookwood High School and LaGrange College, is a producer of “Tiger Rising,” filming in the south Georgia town. Starring Queen Latifah, Dennis Quaid and Katherine McPhee, the film is expected to generate more than $1 million in economic benefits to the town. Those working with the production have filled nearly every hotel room in Thomasville, and nearly 100 local residents are involved as extras.Allen Cheney 1

“It’s great to be doing what I love in a place that I love,” says Allen, now a producer based in Los Angeles. “It is a dream for me to marry these two worlds together.”

Allen’s family has deep roots in Thomasville. He grew up there with his two brothers, and his father is a CEO of a Thomasville-based company. Both grandfathers were civic leaders, one as a physician, another as contributor to the performing arts.

After graduating from college, Allen moved to Nashville to pursue music, and made extra money working on music videos. That led to a friendship and partnership with producer Ryan Smith, and the two produced the 2016 independent film “Some Freaks,” starring Thomas Mann.

Since that time, Allen has worked to encourage well-known producers and influencers to see Thomasville in a starring role. He’s flown people to Atlanta, driven them around Thomasville, and pitched the potential of the town.

“I know this town and this community so well, and I knew I could make this work,” says Allen. “This is my opportunity to give back to Thomasville. My goal is for this to be the first of many, and to spend as much of the production budget locally as possible.”

Prop house provides hard-to-find authentic props from around the world to Georgia film industry

In Georgia’s booming film industry, where does a busy prop master find an authentic South American blowgun? Or a prayer container from Afghanistan? Or pottery from Morocco?

Ronnie KaplanThey go to Touchstone Props in Sandy Springs where owner Ronnie Kaplan rents and sells antiques, folk art, jewelry, textiles and a diverse array of handcrafted objects from around the world.

“For more than 35 years I’ve imported hand crafted items from small communities in Central and South America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa,” says Ronnie. “I have great respect for the people who still produce products by hand using locally sourced materials. Most of them live in remote areas and sell through cooperatives that I support.”

Ronnie opened her store, Folk Art Imports (now Touchstone Collection), in 1986 on Bennett Street in Atlanta, a hot spot for antique stores. She made her first connections to people in the film industry on Bennett Street. She was excited to find a new market for her collection and started Touchstone Props. Now Ronnie runs her businesses from a showroom in Sandy Springs.

In the movie “Zombieland,” Woody Harrelson’s character wore necklaces from Touchstone Props. One necklace was an Afghanistan prayer container and the other was made of Tibetan stone set in silver.

Ronnie Kaplan 2

For the TV series, “Lovecraft Country,” Ronnie provided an array of items from the South American Arawak culture and African cultures including blowguns, baskets and textiles. She also designs and creates replicas. She created four elaborate head dresses, feather earrings and armbands for “Lovecraft Country” based on the original Arawak items.
Ronnie is also a resource for the film industry with the knowledge she can provide of cultures around the world. Recently, a prop master needed a replica of a sword. They sent Ronnie a photo. She recognized it was from Toledo, Spain, and they were able to get an authentic copy made.

“We live in a global community. Set decorators, prop masters and costume designers can’t fake the cultures they’re portraying, they’ll be found out,” says Ronnie. “The film industry is a boon to my business and to the craftsmen who provide these culturally authentic items.”

Items from Touchstone Props have been featured in productions such as “Furious 7;” “The Fate of the Furious;” “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri;” and the TV series “Constantine” and “Necessary Roughness.”