The Gift of Georgia

When productions come to Georgia, they can bring hundreds of crew members. Some of them might consider the state a second home, while others will experience the state for the first time.

Daren Gayle of Georgia Gifts & More wants to make sure everyone gets a taste of Georgia’s culture, even if they can’t leave the set to do that.  

With more than 300 local businesses represented and offerings like Braves Koozies and peach cobbler jam, the Tucker-based company is doing a fine job of showing the world what Georgia has to offer.

“Everyone wants something that says Georgia,” says Daren. “Everyone knows when they come here they have to get some pecans. They know you have to come here to get the peaches and peanuts.”

Gift baskets are given to cast and crew for any number of reasons, and because they work with companies like BET, Starz, and Tyler Perry Studios, Daren and his wife Karen have sent Georgia-themed mugs, hats, and shirts home with national and international film stars and crew members. At one point they were handling annual orders for EUE/Screen Gem’s holiday gifts.

Overall, film and television productions account for more than 10 percent of annual sales for the family owned business. A steady increase in orders over the past several years led the husband-and-wife team to open a brick and mortar location. From there, they serve as ambassadors for Georgia, offering crew what could be their only glimpse into the diversity of the Peach State.

“We were a home-based business when we came together, and we were strictly Internet. It got to a point where our customers wanted to show up and secure the gifts as opposed to doing it all online,” says Daren.

His background in entertainment had him traveling and handling booking with major musical artists, and Karen already had a successful gift basket company when they met. Together, they’ve been able to ensure that one of Georgia’s most important industries and the people who work in it will always remember where they filmed … and how much they loved Georgia’s peach cobbler jam.

Single mom trades travel-heavy job for rewarding studio opportunity

Rachel Fry, office manager at EUE/Screen Gems Studios Atlanta, is a proud mother to an energetic five-year-old boy. After building a career in sports TV production and reality TV, she had to figure out a way to continue her work and care for her son.

Atlanta’s booming film industry offered her a great opportunity to do both.

“I loved traveling for sports productions, but I had to find a city where I could work and care for my son,” says Rachel. “There are really only a few places where I could do that and Atlanta, with its many freelance opportunities and affordable cost of living, felt like a great choice as a single mother.”

After traveling for years for her career and flying her son across the country to stay with his grandparents while she was gone, Rachel moved to Atlanta and joined the EUE/Screen Gems team as an office manager in 2019.

As office manager for the bustling studio, Rachel uses her organizational skills honed over many years as a production coordinator to help her keep track of the many requests and issues that arise on a daily basis.

From a young age Rachel knew she wanted to work in TV.  As a former athlete and self-proclaimed sports junky, sports production was a perfect fit after graduating from college with a degree in media communications.

Rachel began her career doing freelance work for leagues like AAA baseball, the NFL, MLB, college basketball and football, and the Drone Racing League. She expanded her skill set during this time working as a camera operator, production coordinator and director.

Rachel says she loves her job at EUE/Screen Gems. She especially enjoys working with the networks and keeping normal hours.

“It’s been hard building my career as a single mother in the film industry but coming to Atlanta changed my life,” says Rachel. “I can work in an industry that I love and have time for my son’s activities, too.”

From classroom to film set, teacher leaves lasting impact on kids

Teachers are used to wearing numerous hats in their career, and Reeva Forrester is no different. The married mother of two from Gwinnett has been a special education instructor, a learning coach, and a diagnostician. Now, she’s an on-set educator.

After teaching public school for nine years, her role as a diagnostician had her acting more like a school psychologist, and with a desire to teach again, she took a friend’s advice whose daughter was working four days a week on a film set.

“She told me she had a studio teacher, and that I might want to try that,” says Reeva. “I love teaching, and I love kids. I did some research, and the first job I applied for, they called.”

For two seasons she worked on “Resurrection” instructing a lead actor. After that show wrapped up, the Georgia native started getting more calls, especially as the film industry exploded across the state. She’s been a part of productions such as “Venom” and “Jumanji: The Next Level”, and TV series like “Greenleaf” and “Devious Maids.” She’s even been on location for the occasional music video.

But being outside of an actual classroom also brings different challenges.

“On set, you want to make sure the kids are safe. There are a lot of different people on set, and kids can wander on and off. I have to make sure they get quality time and they’re in an area where they can learn without a lot of distractions,” Reeva says.

Teachers are used to challenges and putting in long hours, and there’s a lot of preparation that goes into her curriculum. She only finds out about a week ahead of time who she’ll be teaching, then she contacts parents and teachers to gauge where each student is at and what materials she’ll need.

Reeva also gets to be a part of surreal moments. Once, she taught a student through her senior year, and like any other senior, she needed a graduation ceremony. Instead of a commencement speaker, she was joined by the cast and crew, which included several major celebrities.

“We had a big celebration for her. It was a special and unique experience … getting to see her graduate while fulfilling her dreams as an actress,” says Reeva.

Rome’s film industry allows North GA native to work close to home

Seth Ingram and Max Martini. Photo by Andy Calvert.

The Rome International Film Festival has been around for 17 years, and Seth Ingram has been running the show since 2015. In that time, he has successfully raised the profile of the event while maintaining his work in film/TV and higher education.

Seth began his higher education in film at the North Carolina School of Arts before completing his graduate work closer to home at Georgia State University. The film industry at the time here was slow. While still dabbling in independent work Seth settled down and started a family. His wife and three children made it even more important to find steady work.

“Georgia’s film industry makes it possible for so many of us to build careers in our home state,” says Seth, who was born in Rome, GA. “As a husband and father, it’s more important than ever for me to make a decent living, If I can do that doing what I love to do that’s a bonus. I enjoy imparting my knowledge and creating opportunities for others.”

Through the connections he made in school and the years that followed, Seth created a path to doing what he loved. During the day you’ll find Seth at the School of Film Studies at Georgia Highlands as a Division Chair, helping build the future of the industry in Georgia. His work includes building a film production pathway in partnership with the Georgia Film Academy, and a Film Studies degree at GHC.

And much like Seth saw an opportunity from the tax credit bringing jobs back to Georgia, the city of Rome and surrounding areas have also taken advantage. Feature films like “The Mule” directed by Clint Eastwood have set up camp in the area, as well as shows like “Stranger Things” and “Ozark, who have filmed in the area in recent years.”

PAM studios recently chose Rome for a studio location. Film production in Rome area is continuing to grow with its small-town appeal and various landscapes that serve as natural backlot. And with that so is the Rome International Film Festival. In the five years since Seth’s arrival, it has attracted celebrities such as Burt Reynolds in 2017, Judge Reinhold, Henry Ian Cusick, Mark Valley in 2018, and Max Martini in 2019. RIFF continues to entertain and educate North Georgians about the film industry while providing opportunity for local and international attendees to meet the right people and advance their career.

“Rome has all natural, beautiful landscapes,” Seth said. “Everyone who comes here loves it and eager to come back.”

The Rome International Film Festival is scheduled for Nov. 12th-22nd. Learn more at www.riffga.com.

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.