Film industry helps Woodstock native boost art career


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.”

Hollywood makeup veteran finds ‘good times’ in Georgia business

Travis Pates spent two decades as a makeup artist in Los Angeles.

Starting with musical acts like Bow Wow Wow and the Grammy Awards, he moved into a long career in films.

A stint in North Carolina on the first “Hunger Games” movie brought him to the Southeast. TravisPates (1)After Pates worked on a couple of productions in Atlanta, Georgia’s growing film and TV industry enticed him here permanently three years ago.

Ever since, it’s been career growth, with positions of higher responsibility and credits on huge productions like the upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “The 5th Wave,” filmed in Macon.

The biggest difference between working in Hollywood and in Y’allywood?

“You can move up fast here – it’s great for people, a great opportunity,” says Pates. “When I was younger and in LA, it took a long time to aspire to get to a certain caliber of films. You really had to take your time.” The industry there was full of veterans and newcomers, and the cost of living was so much higher there than it is here.

The work-life balance is much more appealing in Georgia. Pates can still travel back and forth to California for jobs and enjoy other artistic endeavors.

As makeup department head for upcoming productions, Pates has a full calendar in Georgia, where tax incentives have boosted jobs and economic opportunity for local people and communities.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how this all evolves,” he says. “Good times.”

Building a career, set by set

Fifteen years ago, David Nash dipped his toe in the film industry as a set carpenter. Opportunities were scarce — only two or three shows a year — and he held on to his full-time job as a remodeling contractor.170314 NashD

Fast-forward to 2017, and Nash is the owner of his own studio, Wilder Studios, named after his three-year-old son. Wilder Studios, located east of downtown Atlanta, opened in 2015 and has been fully booked since the doors opened. On some projects, his studio space can employ a crew of up to 200 people.

“I was a struggling remodeling contractor during the bad economy, but I got into this business at just the right time,” says Nash, a Decatur resident who worked his way up through the ranks from carpenter to gang boss to foreman to construction coordinator. “I’ve definitely been able to do better for my family because of Georgia’s film industry — and there continue to be more opportunity for more and more people.”

As he built his business in the film industry over the past 15 years, Nash has seen hundreds of people from Georgia’s declining housing industry create new careers as set construction workers — including his foreman, Bobby Williams, who came to the job with 20+ years experience as a home builder. Nash is a member of the union IATSE 479, which represents crew in Georgia and Alabama, and has seen the organization’s membership grow from a few hundred members to more than 4,000.

2500_stage2_05Often, Wilder Studios’ production-company tenants will hire Nash to serve as the film’s construction coordinator, where he supervises construction, paint, and greens work. Recent projects include building a helipad on the top of the AT&T parking garage in downtown Atlanta, and building a set of functioning revolving doors in two days. Nash also coordinated an 80-person team — 95 percent of which were local hires — to create a two-story sorority house on stage, for Melissa McCarthy’s upcoming “Life of the Party.”

“We can take scribbles on a napkin, and bring ideas into existence,” Nash says. “With Wilder Studios, I’m invested in this industry for the long-haul.”

Film industry is a game-changer for special effects company

Fifteen years ago, Nelson Burke pretty much was “The Engineer Guy,” working in a 5,000-square-feet building with a handful of employees. Back then, the largest customers for his plastics-material business were in the automotive and home-building industry.EG3

Fast-forward to today, and the company has triple the size of its space, more than tripled the number of employees, and crossed $4 million is sales.

“That’s what the film industry has done for us,” Nelson says. “We now do in one day the amount of sales that I used to consider a great month.”

There’s no doubt The Engineer Guy has hit its stride. The company started in 2003 when Nelson linked up with the folks at Smooth-On and became its distributor for Georgia. As his collection of vendors grew, so did his business, but nothing could have prepared him for tidal wave approaching shore — the film industry.

At the time, Nelson’s business was fueled by the automotive industry, to which he provided materials to make plastic parts for cars, and architects seeking more efficient materials for things like countertops. When his work began to grow in the film industry, it still only weighed in as his third biggest customer.

Fast-forward to second-quarter 2016: The Guardians of the Galaxy 2 alone was the company’s largest client. Up to 50 artists at a time were on-site at The Engineer Guy’s EG2warehouse studio near the Atlanta airport for make-up and special effects training. Today, dozens of students from around Georgia are there each week learning techniques for mold making for all levels — beginner to advanced techniques.

It’s all about the tax credit Georgia offers to the film industry. Numbers tell the story the industry’s impact on The Engineer Guy: Ten years ago the company did $800,000 a year in revenue. In 2016, it crossed $4.25 million.

“The effect of the tax credit for Georgians has been incredible,” Nelson says. “I know we are lucky to be in the place that we are, but luck can only take us so far. We’ve put together a great team and we are not assuming anything.”

Read more about The Engineer Guy in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Film industry brings jobs and stability to Georgia family

Entertainment companies are flocking to Georgia to fulfill the needs of the state’s expanding film industry and the people who work for them are following. Count among them still photographer Erika Doss, who moved to Marietta in 2015 and is happy to have found a place where she and her family can finally settle down.

“We want to stay in Georgia — we like it here and we’re tired of moving,” says Erica. “We love our house, the beautiful weather, and all of the opportunities for work.  Georgia’s film industry is booming and I’m happy to be a part of it.”Erika Doss 2

California and New York have long been the go-to locations for filming movies and television series. Now Georgia is the third busiest state for filming, a $7 billion industry.

To follow the entertainment industry, Erika and her family moved back and forth from California to North Carolina several times. While in California she started doing stills for short and independent films. She also started her own portraiture and life documentary business. When the family moved back to Raleigh again she had trouble finding film work as the film industry began to dry up in North Carolina.

“Many people from North Carolina were moving to Georgia because they were following the film industry,” says Erika. “Once the North Carolina tax incentives were gone, most of the film industry was gone, too.”

Originally from Brazil, Erika moved to Los Angeles to study film. She graduated from Columbia College Hollywood in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in cinema. She was in film school during the transition from analog film format to digital images and was one of the last “lucky ones” who got to work in a professional photo lab for part of her career.

“Photographers are painters who use light instead of paint. Learning film made me understand how light and composition work together to make a photograph without the digital help of manipulating the image,” says Erika.

She now works on TV and film sets as a still photographer. Her job is to create film stills, which are photographic images intended for use in the marketing and publicity of feature films and network television productions.

When Erika moved to Georgia she joined the International Cinematographer’s Guild (Local 600). She’s one of only five female still photographers in the Atlanta region.

Erika has worked on many film and TV series like “Brockmire,” “The Vampire Diaries” and “MacGyver.”

“William Fichtner was one of the best actors to work with,” she says. “On the set of “Finding Steve McQueen” he was very relaxed, polite and gave me a lot of good shots. It’s actors like him that I love to work with and makes my job enjoyable.”

Erika and her family hope to stay in Georgia permanently. “As long as Georgia keeps the tax incentive we’ll be able to stay,” says Erika. “Our careers depend on the entertainment companies staying here and we’ve grown to love living in Georgia.”