Family-owned business makes a bet on the film industry and wins

Nearly 40 years ago, a small family-owned trucking company took a chance on the Georgia film industry. It was a good decision.

Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis

Thanks in part to the increase in filming since the 2008 film tax credits, Lightnin’ Production Rentals has doubled its product line and grown from 45 to 70 employees.

Talk about being struck by lightning.

Lightnin’ Production Rentals, located in Lawrenceville, is owned and operated by three generations of the Lewis family. The company began renting trucks to film productions in 1979 when the team filming “Little Darlings” in Georgia contacted owners Bill and Joanne Lewis. The set needed trucks with lift gates, and Lightnin’ had them.

The crew also wanted to customize the truck with a dark room, something the company was apprehensive about at first, but it all turned out well. The dark room was added to the truck, and removed before it was returned to Lightnin’.

“Ever since that first production, we’ve built our company by saying ‘Yes’ more than ‘No,’” says Gary Lewis, Bill and Joanne’s son who is now president of Lightnin’.

Lightnin“Our motto is: Whatever it takes. We meet the film industry’s needs and it’s been a mutually positive experience ever since.”

Now Lightnin’ Production Rentals is a premier Georgia vendor for production truck and trailer rentals. It invested in its first makeup and wardrobe trailers in the early 1980s for made-for-TV movies filmed in Georgia. These movies gave the company the opportunity to expand its inventory to honeywagons (bathrooms and dressing rooms), star trailers, and cast trailers.

“We realized these productions were having to travel with equipment and drivers from California,” Gary says. “We could provide local business and have local drivers. It saved them money and it was a win for us and a win for Georgia.”

Lightnin 2Lightnin’ continued to work with the film industry in the 1990s, but lost some business to New Mexico and Louisiana when those states created tax credits that drew the industry away from Georgia. But in early 2008, when Georgia introduced one of the best film tax credits in the industry, the state’s film market really took off.

“Even while the rest of the economy was in recession, we were thriving due to the film industry,” says Gary. “People weren’t building houses, but we were building trailers which not only helped our bottom line, but it also helped the steel industry and manufacturers that we work with.”

The film industry demands innovation and Lightnin’s proximity to the set enables it to have more interaction with its clients when they build and design equipment.

Greg Lewis, sales consultant and third generation of the Lewis family, designed a hair and makeup trailer for the TV series “The Walking Dead.” Creating an army of zombies requires a lot of spray paint from the special effects department. Greg designed a trailer that could filter the air without affecting the temperature in the trailer.

“With all our experience, we can react a lot quicker to each film’s needs and provide the support they need. Now our equipment is only a phone call away,” says Gary.

But for the Lewis family, the best part of their business is the relationships they’ve built within Georgia’s film industry.

“What’s neat for us is we’ve grown up with the film people in Georgia. We work with drivers whose dads drove for Smokey and the Bandit. We see people rising through the ranks and now they’re running the transportation departments,” says Gary. “And best of all, we’ve been able to keep our employees longer and employ generations of craftsmen.”

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