Long days on set rewarding for former city paramedic

Left to right:  Director Mike Flanagan, Met Clark - Actor, Stunt Coordinator Chuck Borden

As a young kid growing up in Powder Springs, Met Clark would sit in his parent’s house and watch movies that were made far away in Hollywood. He watched everything from gut-busting comedies to thrillers with daring rescues and stunts. But he never dreamt of flying out West to join the action.

“I never would have thought in a million years that I’d be doing anything on a film set,” says Met, who now resides in Atlanta.

And at first, he was right. It was a chance invite on an ordinary day from a coworker that changed Met’s life and career path. Before that, he was a paramedic who served as fire rescue, which was a good way to put the skills he learned as a paratrooper in the 325th Airborne to use.

“I ended up joining the union in 2017 when a friend who was working on ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ invited me over to come work as a medic,” says Met. “From there, I’ve had a whole bunch of opportunities come my way.”

Some of those opportunities put Met on camera doing stunts and acting. He’s appeared in productions like “Haunting of Hill House,” “The Underground Railroad,” and “Doctor Sleep.” And because Georgia has become such an important destination, his medic and water safety credits include both Avengers films, “Stranger Things,” and “Just Mercy” … plus a couple others he can’t talk about yet.

“I’m actually doing movies full-time,” says Met, adding that he took early retirement from the  City of Austell Fire Department.

Life on set isn’t all about film credits, though. His workdays can stretch to 18 hours long, and there’s still the fact that everyone there is counting on him for guidance and safety.

“It’s still the same stuff and still the same real dangers,” Met adds. “The construction guys might chop their fingers off or nail their hand to a board.”

When a mistake like that is made, it’s Met’s job to make it right, and sometimes the stakes are higher than a wounded hand.

“I did have to save an actress. I was water safety and she was supposed to tread water,” he explains. “As soon as I pulled the float away, she sunk. I went in and had to save her.”

When Met’s parents moved from Thailand to Powder Springs in 1970 to avoid the conflict in Vietnam, they couldn’t have predicted the path their one-year-old son would take. But he’s not basking in the sunlight, he’s just happy he gets to contribute to productions that millions of people love. And there’s the perk of knowing when a new season of “Stranger Things” is about to film.

“I’ve been pretty fortunate, I can’t lie,” he says.

Gwinnett County resident trades low-paying jobs for grip work

Musician Daniel Deckebach worked in kitchens and bars to supplement his income. Yet the night life and low wages motivated him to seek out a new career, one he’s now developing as a grip in the film and television production industry.

He says he’s always dreamed of owning a home, and the money he earned in Georgia’s film industry helped make that dream come true.

“I was able to save enough money from my work in the film industry to put a down payment on a home,” says Daniel. “I couldn’t have achieved my dream before on kitchen wages.”

While working in the kitchen at East Atlanta’s The Earl, Daniel met crew members working on various productions in Georgia, and learned more about their work. The film industry appealed to Daniel, with its combination of hard work and creative people like him.

At The Earl, Daniel met key rigging grip Francis Harlan, a connection that would change his life.

“Francis gave me a chance. I didn’t know anything, but I was hungry and ready to make a change,” says Daniel. “Francis liked my work ethic and I did my best to step up to the challenge and gain knowledge and experience. I ended up working on his crew for the next few years.”

Daniel’s first experience as a grip was on the film “The Hate U Give.” He benefitted from the small crew size, which gave him the opportunity to learn many aspects of rigging. He says Francis was a great teacher who showed him both what to do and why they were doing it. Now Daniel can operate large, heavy machinery like condors and pettibone forklifts, a difficult skill he’s proud to have learned.

According to Daniel, the benefits of working in the film industry have made a huge difference in his life. He has affordable medical benefits. He bought a home. And he has pride in his work.

“Kitchen work was monotonous. In the film industry we’re at a different place and on a different adventure every day,” says Daniel. “I’m always learning new things. It’s challenging and I’m proud of the work we do.”

Love of storytelling creates path into Georgia’s film industry

When a family move from Chicago landed Brent Lambert-Zaffino in Canton, GA, as a teen, Brent brought his love of movies and visual storytelling with him. It’s a passion that stuck with him through high school, college and multiple stints at coffee shops.

Today, Brent is the Programming Director for the Etowah Film Festival, which this year will be a virtual experience at the historic Canton Theatre highlighting Georgia productions

Brent’s path to Etowah Film Festival wound through Kennesaw State University, where he studied communication in hopes of finding a career that fit his passion.

“I thought I might be an English teacher, but I realized I have way too much creative angst for that,” says Brent.

After college, Brent worked and became the manager of a local coffee shop where he kept busy building relationships. Some of these relationships are still helping Brent today.

While working at the coffee shop, he fueled his love of film by developing a videography freelance career for corporate and music videos.

“I just kept finding enough work to upgrade my equipment and keep going,” says Brent, adding that he kept adjusting his work to best suit his abilities and continue to grow. Brent raised money to fund his first film, “The Head.”

His work with the Etowah Film Festival is a natural fit for someone who spent much of his time in high school at the Canton Theatre watching new and old films. He was eager to step in when Event Director Laine Wood approached Brent about a new project, The Etowah Film Festival.

“It wasn’t something I had experience with, but it seemed to fit my skills and I was eager to promote the talent in the area,” says Brent.

Thanks to COVID-19, the Festival’s second year requires a different approach. But those coffee shop relationships may come in handy once again.

Turns out a former co-worker’s husband was able to put Brent in touch with a streaming company who provide streaming services to large events.

“It looks like the show will go on,” Brent says, “and hopefully we can continue to showcase Georgia’s talent for years to come.”

Athens-based location manager helps spread production budget to Georgia’s small businesses

Picture one of your favorite scenes from a movie or TV show. Maybe it’s a heart-pounding car chase through the Atlanta streets or the Queen of Soul belting out a song from the choir loft of an old church.

No matter the scene, you can bet it took a small army behind the scenes to make it happen.

Danielle Rusk, key assistant location manager, helps productions assemble that army.

“The location department’s budget spreads money far and wide,” says Danielle. “We spend a lot of money when we go to a location to film. ‘Ground Zero’ gets a large portion but then the money spreads from there, beyond the location fees. Even the local coffee shop benefits when we’re there every day.”

Since she began working in locations department in 2013, Danielle has built relationships with a wide range of businesses across Georgia. She hires companies like Classic Tents & Events in Norcross for tent rentals and Harris Diversified in Dallas, GA, air conditioner rentals. She rents parking lots, bathroom trailers, dumpsters, and heaters. She hires security companies, police officers and firemen. She needs map-makers and engineers. And even bio-hazard removal companies like Bio-One Atlanta when hazardous deep-cleaning needs to be done on location.

That’s a wide variety of Georgia businesses.

Danielle has worked with productions like “Genius: Aretha,” “Hap and Leonard,” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.”

Recently, Danielle needed to repair an antique wrought iron fence. She reached out to her Facebook group of location managers and found the right company. The group helps each other find obscure vendors to solve just this kind of problem.

Danielle’s mantra is “no surprises.” She says that she is selling trust to the homeowners, businesses and productions with whom she works. It’s her job to find the most efficient, logical way to get the desired result for the production and to communicate all aspects of the shoot to every party involved. For a recent shoot filmed in Woodruff Park, Danielle coordinated with the Georgia State Patrol, the local government, Georgia Power, Trees Atlanta and many others. And that was just for one scene.

“I see the immediate economic impact of the film industry on our local vendors,” says Danielle. “I love that I get to give them work and connect them to our industry. These companies know what we expect and they deliver excellent product and services at the drop of a hat.”

Clayton County native helps film scenes come to life

Georgia is a versatile place for staging feature films and television series. Want to film robberies and get-away chases in the middle of a city? Downtown Atlanta fits the bill. How about a comet coming to destroy the Earth? Georgia is just the place to save the planet.

Kyle Hinshaw, a Clayton County native and current Atlanta resident, helps make it all come to life as a location manager. For the crime caper “Baby Driver” he helped set up Atlanta for most of the action. In one scene, the director loved the exterior of one building but wasn’t satisfied with the interior. No problem. Kyle discovered that the interior of the Gainesville Post Office was a perfect match for that scene

The biggest problem on that set?

“We burned up a set of tires practically every scene,” Kyle said. “Fortunately, there are a lot of tire dealers in the area.”

To produce “Greenland,” the tale of impending doom as a comet hurls toward Earth, he located most of the filming at Robins Air Base, rural Monroe County and Atlanta. No comet struck the set, by the way.

Location managers not only seek out likely spots for filming, they handle most of the logistics onsite, from negotiating permits with the city about closing streets to finding parking spaces for cast and crew.

“I’m lucky to be able to make a good living with what I do,” says Kyle. “I’m grateful to the state for encouraging the film industry that enables me to take care of my family.”

A graduate of the film and video program at Georgia State University, Kyle has seen the industry prosper.

“We have an incredible infrastructure we didn’t have 10 years ago,” Kyle says. “Filmmaking requires an awesome array of skills and supplies, and everything we need is right here in Georgia now.”

A large part of the success of the industry can be attributed to the state tax credit to local productions. The return on investment is handsome. “Baby Driver,” for example put more than $30 million into the local economy.

“If that tax credit went away we’d see a huge reduction in productions, and that would put a lot of livelihoods in jeopardy,” says Kyle. “It’s truly a blessing to have this incentive.”

He cited the event management industry as an example, with its numerous companies that provide tents and supplies to concerts, festivals and other community events.

“Before the tax credit brought productions to the state, the film industry was a modest customer for those event companies,” says Kyle. “Now we’re their No. 1 customer.”

Work in fine-art painting and photography leads to career in Georgia’s film, TV industry

Steve Dietl was 10 years old when he joined a friend (also 10) to produce a couple of what they proudly called “neighborhood newspapers” in Santa Monica, CA. The friend would write the copy, Steve would shoot the Polaroids.

Forty years later Steve’s become one of the most active still photographers in the Georgia’s film industry with dozens of credits, including “Ozark,” “Real Housewives of Atlanta” and “Raising Dion.”

“The local film economy enabled me to buy a house, settle down, get married and run the rivers of North Georgia,” says Steve, who moved to Georgia in 2016.

Before his film and television work, Steve was a painter and printmaker who incorporated into photographs taken by others into his own his creations.

“I decided to hone my photography skills to be able to use my own images rather than appropriate from other sources,” says Steve, “When I did, the photography became a larger element in my work.”

He moved to Atlanta from New Orleans four years ago. By this time he had been working as a still photographer on sets for about 10 years.

Before coming to Atlanta Steve worked primarily on feature films, but here he began working on more episodic television and the occasional reality show.

“I’d work on a feature one day,” he says, “episodic television the next day and a reality show the day after that. The variety of opportunities was exciting. In network TV you get a real sense of structure, on a feature you get the feeling of experimentation and a reality show is like improvised jazz.”

The variety of assignments also stretched his creativity. “You never know what importance a photograph will have,” he says. “All of a sudden you see your photo in a magazine or up on a billboard.”

To keep busy during the slowdown of a pandemic Steve took on some personal projects.

“To keep myself interested and get outside during the quarantine I’ve been photographing neighbors and fellow crew members, socializing while I work with them in their own backyards. Often artists work in isolation, so this was a good way to keep busy and keep sane.”

He displays this collection, called “Camp Isolation,” on his Instagram account, @steve_dietl.

Stand-in roles provides the flexibility former city worker needs

Janice Scott has held a number of jobs that fulfilled her personally — special deputy with the U.S. Marshals Service, motivational speaker, and part of the City of Atlanta Watershed Department, to name a few.

But it wasn’t until she established herself as a stand-in actor in Georgia’s film and television production industry that she felt truly grounded. Today, the industry provides not only a challenging career for Janice, it gives her the flexibility to visit her elderly mother who lives about eight hours away.

“I’m a Christian woman, and God told me that if I gave up my city job to go one once a month to take care of Mom, He would open doors that no one could close,” says Janice, the youngest of 10 children. “And He did.”

Janice makes regular drives to Arkansas from Atlanta to take care of her 93-year-old mother.

In the late ’90s and early 2000s, when she worked as a special deputy for the U.S. Marshalls Service, she couldn’t drop everything to go home when the family needed her. It all became too much in 2002 and Janice moved to Arkansas to be closer to home.

In 2016 Janice returned to Atlanta and began a job at the city’s Watershed Department. She also became and a devout member of World Changers Church, where she made valuable connections that led her to the film and television production industry. She put her natural networking skills to work, and soon found work. It didn’t take long to build film and TV opportunities into a full-time career that provided the flexibility she needed.

Her work includes productions such as “Sweet Magnolias,” “The Resident,” “The Haves and The Have Nots,” “Ozark,”, but her favorite was standing in as a choir member for all four seasons of Greenleaf.

“I’ve always been drawn to the industry,” says Janice. “In the ‘80s I met Oprah Winfrey and said, ‘One day that is going to be me.’ So here I am, working in an industry I love that lets me be the person I’m supposed to be.”

Army veteran leads “Movie MacGyvers” of the Georgia film industry

“Hey, I’ve got a weird one for you.”

Jason Benton, owner of Great Dane Production Services, often hears that from location managers looking for a vendor to solve a problem.

Jason and his crew have been referred to as the “Movie MacGyvers” because like MacGyver, they have a knack for unconventional problem solving. If there’s a weird job that needs to get done on a production, Great Dane Production Services figures out a way.

During this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, Great Dane is helping studios get back to work. The company is approved to provide sanitation and decontamination services for several production offices.

Solving problems for the film industry has been a lucrative challenge for the company. Since 2016, Great Dane Production Services has worked on more than 140 productions and expanded from one employee with a pickup truck to seven full-time employees, five part-time employees, four trucks and a 5,000 square foot warehouse in Tucker.

After completing his tour of duty in the Army, Jason purchased an Atlanta biohazard company that specialized in crime and trauma scene cleaning. A location manager hired his company to do mold remediation on a house used for filming.

Jason quickly realized the film industry offered tremendous potential for work. He closed his biohazard company and started Great Dane Production Services. His company now focuses almost solely on film work, juggling 19 different productions during the summer of 2019 alone.

The company does everything from testing for air quality in abandoned buildings to site preparation, restoration and cleanup. Jason and his team remove railroad ties, jackhammer out metal bollards, clean and refresh musty air from vacant buildings, clean up trash, and remove biohazardous human waste. Nothing is too strange or unglamorous.

Great Dane also cleans sound stages. Before the coronavirus outbreak halted production, Jason’s team did on-site cleaning and disinfecting so filming could continue. With expertise in biohazard remediation, Great Dane stocks hazmat suits, chemicals and air scrubbers.

“The Georgia film industry has created awesome, well-paying jobs for our state,” says Jason. “It’s created tremendous opportunity for my family and

 

Key rigging grip creates opportunity for himself, others in Georgia film/TV industry

For Francis Harlan of Atlanta, Georgia’s film and television production industry has been a game-changer.

“The Georgia film industry has changed my life,” says Francis, a key rigging grip. “It’s allowed me to pay off credit card debt, build my own company, explore other entrepreneurial avenues and give back to others. I never would have been able to do that without this industry.”

Francis started as a lighting and equipment rental warehouse manager, where he learned the intricacies of the equipment, picked up film industry-specific vocabulary, forged relationships with industry people and did freelance work setting up lights for productions.

Today, a big part of his job is hiring the best crew possible. He’s built a solid group of high quality, dedicated grips. Francis firmly believes that diverse people with a plethora of backgrounds and skills make the best crew, but most people never have the opportunity to even try so Francis gives people with potential but no experience a chance. And his gamble has paid off.

“I’ve helped 10 guys turn into high-quality grips and several are working as best boys. This opportunity really changes their life for the better,” says Francis. “I hired a restaurant cook and kept him with the crew since then. He’s skilled with a phenomenal work ethic. He was able to buy a house.”

After earning a degree in photography from Georgia State University, Francis joined the union in 2009 as productions started ramping up in Georgia. They needed crew and Francis used his connections to get a job on the first season of “The Walking Dead.” Francis says he told himself this would be his career, and he was right.

Francis moved up through the ranks to Best Boy where he hired crew, estimated equipment needs, and procured equipment. His warehouse experience gave him the capability to fix equipment before returning it and saved the productions money.

He now runs his own company, Omega Grip Studio Rental, and operates a side business buying houses and renting them to people in the film industry.

“I want to continue growing my business and bringing other people into the film industry,” says Francis. “This work gives people pride in themselves and they would do a lot to stay in this industry.”

DeKalb County native puts creativity to work with Georgia-based production team

Scott Thigpen has always loved movies.

“When I was in grade school, Atlanta superstation WTBS showed old movies at 10 a.m. and again at 1 p.m. Going through the TV guide one day I noticed that two of my favorites were playing: “Double Indemnity” with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, and “Maltese Falcon” starring Humphry Bogart,” Scotts recalls. “I faked a stomach ache to stay home from school so I could watch both.”

Scott doesn’t have to fake illness any more to see a movie. He makes them as a producer, director and chief operating officer of Atlanta’s Crazy Legs Productions.

He began his journey as an early enrollee in Georgia State’s film program. Back then there weren’t many internships or jobs available, so he called every film production company in the Atlanta Yellow Pages until the son of the owner one firm happened to answer the phone and confessed he was moving to Seattle and that Scott could have a job as a part-time production assistant. He worked that job until graduation, when he was promoted to fulltime associate producer.

“For a couple of years I covered sports like water skiing and offshore powerboat racing,” says Scott, who now lives in DeKalb County, where he was born and raised. “It was great training.”

Still, he wanted something more purpose-driven than the formula coverage of sports. Back to the phones and another lucky break. CARE was moving its headquarters to Atlanta from New York and was hiring to replace someone who didn’t want to make the move south. Scott got the job, and for more than 17 years produced documentaries about everything from poverty and marginalized populations to sustainable development. In his time with CARE he rose to director of advertising and media productions.

In 2011 he joined Crazy Legs Productions, where he is now chief operating officer. Georgia’s film and television production has come a long way since Scott picked up the Yellow Pages to find his first job.

“Everything’s expanded,” says Scott. “The bench of talent has deepened, so there are a lot more crew and actors available. It’s all here: Studios, vendors and services of all kinds

“Every day people are moving here to take advantage of the growth and opportunities. And the local talent is benefiting from the expansion.”

The global pandemic has disrupted but not stalled production. When the crisis hit, Crazy Legs was in post-production on a feature film expected to be released in the next few months. To keep everyone safe, Scott recruited an advisory board of medical experts to help establish guidelines for operations. One strategy was to select scripts that were “self-contained,” that is, requiring fewer cast members and crew, fewer filming locations.

Another creative initiative was to compile a list of actors who were married so when a script called for a married couple, the already married actors could fill the roles safely. Scott was assisted in this project by his wife, Jessica Fox Thigpen, who is one of Atlanta’s leading casting directors.

His goal to tell stories and keep people employed is working through more than a little ingenuity and effort, including the production of podcasts that eventually can be expanded to documentaries or feature films.

“I grew up thinking that making films was the only thing I could imagine myself doing,” says Scott. “And I’m doing just that.”