Production work provides life-saving benefits to Savannah family

Mike Neal, a former dive instructor and advisor to armed forces around the world, has created a new career for himself as a marine coordinator for Georgia-based film and TV productions.

The impact of the film and television production industry has been significant on Mike’s business and his family. Mike, a Savannah resident and owner of Bull River Cruises, attributes 50 percent of his business to film and TV work, and that share is growing. Most importantly to Mike and his family is the impact on the healthcare benefits that he receives as a union member.

Mike’s wife was recently diagnosed with liver cancer. She’s gone through treatment at the Mayo Clinic and is waiting for a life-saving liver transplant — none of which they can afford without the healthcare coverage he gets through his film industry union benefits, Mike says.

“My wife is able to have a transplant that would have been economically devastating before I had union benefits,” says Mike. “Our coverage is accepted by major hospitals and clinics, like the Mayo Clinic, whereas before our options were limited.”

Through these hard times, the film community has been very supportive to him and his family. “Savannah has a very tight film community,” Mike says. “The film industry is more like a family than people just working together. They’ve been checking in on us and helping.”

Mike has worked on a steady stream of productions since 2010 like “The Walking Dead,” “Baywatch,” “Ozark,” “Gemini Man,” and “Peanut Butter Falcon.”

As a marine coordinator, Mike scouts locations, works on pre-production planning, and recruits and manages crews on the water during filming.

On a production like “Ozark,” Mike works for the marine department which is in charge of everything on the water. “Ozark is one of the bigger water shows filmed in Georgia. That crew is always a pleasure to work with,” says Mike. “Season 3 was especially exciting working with river boats.”

Mike says the union benefits allow him and those in his industry to work for multiple productions in a year.

“I’m only one of many, many people to whom the film industry is crucial to their futures. I’m a strong proponent of keeping film in Georgia,” says Mike. “A large swath of Georgians who work directly on productions and the businesses who support them would be devastated without the film industry.”

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