‘Leap of faith’ lands former cosmetologist in Georgia’s film industry

Living in an unfamiliar area with nothing but a dream was a chance that Anita Williams took when she moved from Florida to Atlanta eight months ago, looking to immerseIMG_6917 herself in the growing Georgia film industry. Her “leap of faith” paid off when she quickly found work as a studio administrator.

“At some point I had to take a leap of faith, and get my foot in the door,” Anita says. “I don’t regret taking this chance.”

Anita started her career in the field of cosmetology, first behind the chair styling hair and moving to director of education at beauty schools in Florida and Virginia.  Now at Eagle Rock Studios, Williams works as a studio administrator, with duties ranging from creating weekly reports to processing production orders.

Anita says she became inspired to join the film industry when she sat in on the production of “Hitch,” filmed in New York in 2004 “I was invited to the set and I absorbed everything that was going on,” Anita says. “It was the first high-end production set I had been on.”

IMG_2367 (1)She talks about how she sat next to an older man she had never met, and he brought her out on the pier to watch the movie being filmed right in front of her. The gentleman then introduced her to Will Smith and Jada Pinkett. “You never know who you are talking to, so be kind to everybody,” says Anita.

Anita immediately became interested in everything it took to make a film.

Now happily working at Eagle Rock, she says this is just the beginning for her. In her free time, she’s writing scripts. She’s written many pieces, including one called “The Dog Walker” that has won a few contests and is expected to premiere at film festivals around the state in 2019.

“This is a great opportunity for me,” Anita says. “I can’t wait to see what’s ahead.”

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Full-time film work means health benefits replace GoFundMe for Decatur resident

Germaine Rigg has two passions — making films and roller derby. His love of films inspired him to earn a degree in film from University of Central Florida. His love of the derby sent him to the emergency room.

At the time of his accident, Germaine worked as a cook at Whole Foods to make ends meet. In Florida, film work had slowed down due to the repeal of film tax credits and Germaine couldn’t find a job in his field.
Germaine Rigg

“I was a cook and I worked on my feet all day. With the injury, I couldn’t do my job, so I had to start a GoFundMe page to pay for medical expenses and to help me get by while I was out of work,” says Germaine. “Now that I’ve found steady jobs in the Georgia film industry, I joined the union and have health benefits for the first time in a decade.”

After film school, Germaine earned a certificate through the Film Production Technology program at Valencia College in Orlando. The program trained students in production-related skills. Germaine heard there was more opportunity in Georgia, and took his new skillset to Atlanta in 2015. It took him six months of working for free on indy films and supplementing his income as a driver for a food delivery business before he finally landed paying jobs, mostly on commercials to start.

Germaine is an on-set dresser. Scenes can be filmed out of order, so he maintains the continuity of the shot. He ensures none of the property is damaged, takes photos of the set for reference, and is the liaison between the production designer and the shooting crew. He’s passionate about the work the art department does. He hopes to eventually work his way up to Production Designer.

Now Germaine works full-time and earns double what he did as a cook. His recent film credits include “St. Agatha,” “Good Girls,” “An Accidental Zombie (Named Ted),” “Superstition,” and “Stan Against Evil.”

“It’s such a relief to not worry about money,” says Germaine. “I get healthcare benefits, too. I finally went to the dentist for the first time in six years.”

And the roller derby? Armed with insurance, he’s able to pursue his love of the derby as a referee for the Atlanta Roller Girls. It’s paid off, too. He got his last job from a contact he made there.

Native Atlantan and Navy Veteran Finds Happiness in Film

Kent Roland has seemingly done it all, but finding work in Georgia’s film industry sparked a new energy in this 57-year-old Navy veteran.20180325_190800

Stumbling across VGIFT (Veterans of Georgia in Film and TV) while searching for film classes on the internet was certainly a blessing.  One quick, three-month internship with Eagle Rock Studios and Kent found himself diving head first into the tidal wave of filming in Georgia.

“The film industry always had my interest, I thought it was time to give it a shot.”

After graduating from Northside High School, Kent went on to play a couple seasons of college baseball at Mary Holmes College in West Point, Mississippi before joining the Navy. Once stationed in Charleston, SC, his time in the Navy included work as an Illustrator/Draftsman on one of the U.S. Navy’s newest ships, sailing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and a trip through the Panama Canal.

Once he found his land legs again, he was back to learning. Studying at The Southeastern School of Photography Arts set Kent up for one of his favorite jobs as a school photographer. After 18 years of photography he began driving limousines. Over the next 10 years, Kent made a few connections with all the people who were coming to Atlanta for the production of movies. Watching the film industry come to life in Georgia led Kent to search for film classes in the area, and eventually to VGIFT.

With the help of Terrell Sandefur and VGIFT, Kent was able to get an internship with Eagle Rock Studios.

20180330_185909.jpg“I am so grateful they gave me that internship,” Kent says. “They’re real good people and they’ve helped me a lot.”

Now working full-time with the TV show Dynasty, a reboot of a classic, prime-time soap opera that has recently been renewed for a second season, Kent does whatever is needed to take care of the studio.

From picking up things that have been delivered to helping solve problems, and even assembling equipment, “I basically do it all,” he says.

Today, Kent and his wife Sandra live a comfortable life in Snellville, just outside of Atlanta. Kent says he’s grateful for a supportive wife because sometimes the hours can be long.

“But me? I don’t even care about how long I have to be at the studio,” Kent says. “I love what I do.”

Film industry provides year-round opportunities to tent rental company

December to March are traditionally slow months in Georgia’s festival and outdoor events, but that’s no longer the case for Classic Tents & Events in Norcross. Now, those months — and every other month of the year — are busy with TV and film productions.

“Due to the film industry and other revenue, we’re able to keep busier during the off-season,” says Bari Holmes, account executive at Classic Tents. “Before we got into film, Classic Tents and Events 1.jpgwe had workers that were reduced to 20 hours a week in February, now they’re getting 40 to 50 hours a week. That makes a real difference in their lives.”

In 2011, Classic Tents & Events started renting tents and accessories to productions filming in Georgia. With this additional revenue stream, the company grew from six full-time employees with lots of temporary and seasonal help to more than 50 people on the payroll year-round. Classic Tents & Events quadrupled its warehouse space to 44,000 square feet and went from two to nine trucks — with three more on the way.

Classic Tent’s lucky break came in October of 2011. In a classic movie twist, a location manager called Classic Tents & Events by accident thinking it was a different company. Bari rented tables and chairs to him. She understood the potential of the film industry and worked on building a business relationship with the location manager until he declared that she was his new tent person. Classic Tents & Events reputation spread and other location managers began to call.

In 2013, Bari was introduced to a key assistant location manager with the “Walking Dead.” This was the company’s first large production. It represented an 800 percent increase in revenue from film industry clients, and what’s more, it was a consistent flow of revenue. Films come and go but Bari could plan on the repeat work on Walking Dead.

Classic Tents and Events 2.pngConsistent work allowed the company to create an internal infrastructure with different levels of management. Seasonal crew leaders were hired on as full-time employees and given training and support.

“The film industry has allowed us to grow and offer more benefits to associates,” says Bari.

But Bari and her crew don’t take the work for granted. They know the off-season work could go away just as easily. Bari makes sure she understands what location managers need. She creates CAD drawings to map tent layouts on set and offers accessories like mirrors, LED lights, drapes, tables and chairs. Classic Tents & Events has found ways to serve smaller productions like commercials and has three small crews who are dedicated to them.

Bari says she knows her client is the location manager, not the production. She’s watched Georgia-based location managers rise through the ranks. Now they’re the ones making decisions and referring Classic Tents & Events to more people in the industry.

“It’s wonderful to see Georgians help each other out and build a locally-based infrastructure for the Georgia film industry,” says Bari.

Dynamic Duo Growing Film Industry in South Georgia

Roy Kirkland, a filmmaker in Valdosta, is working hard to put South Georgia on the map when it comes to the film industry.

THE ROY KIRKLAND SHOW

Roy Kirkland (right) uses his talk show to promote film careers in south Georgia. Shown here Chandler Lane & Megan Pitts.

“It’s time for everybody to jump on the bandwagon so we can shine a spotlight on South Georgia,” said Roy, a native of Willacoochee, GA, about 45 miles north of Valdosta. “We’re proving that you do not have to live in Atlanta or Savannah to make it in Georgia’s film industry.”

Like many other Georgians, his path to the film industry was a bit off the beaten road. Roy lived in Atlanta for a while before his Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. His father urged him to move to Valdosta before passing away, and Roy listened.

Roy started in the furniture business until the market went belly up in 2004 due to the housing market crash. He’ll admit, he was struggling but found that his hobby of film writing would lead him to his present-day business partner, Doug Sebastian, who already had his foot in the door of the film industry. Roy’s writing and Doug’s film experience is a strong combination that is still producing commercials and music videos, but “the big film productions are what we love most.” he says.

Doug Sebastian Court Room Scene

Doug Sebastian briefs actors for a scene.

The duo’s work includes a documentary called “Cross Burning,” which won best documentary at the New York International Film festival, and their current theatrical release “Spook Bridge,” which was filmed at the legendary bridge in Quitman, Georgia.

This hobby immediately turned into a career and Roy and Doug noticed the lush and amazing things about Valdosta that some others wouldn’t. “The area is so full of talent with singing, writing books, and filming. And the weather is amazing!”

Their work continues, today with a few projects due to be released later this year. Roy also uses his talk show, The Roy Kirkland Show, to keep his audience up to date on projects. “I am passionate about Valdosta and I know that our part of the state will appeal to the rest of Georgia’s film industry sooner rather than later.”

High school student serves up help for homeless

Emerson Leonaitis, a senior at North Atlanta High School with dreams of becoming a screenwriter, has discovered a way for Georgia’s film industry to help women in need.

Emerson

“A few years ago, location scouts for the USA Network show “Satisfaction” came to our house and asked if they could film there,” Emerson says.  “Each day after lunch I noticed how much food the caterers threw away.  I suggested they give it to the homeless, but they told me legal restrictions prohibited that.  I said, give me the food and I’ll give it to the homeless.”

So she did.  The show, starring Matt Passmore and Stephanie Szostak, filmed in the Leonaitis home for two seasons. That’s a lot food.

“I did some research and found that individuals who gave food to charities don’t have the liability that a catering or film-production company would have,” Emerson says.  “I bought about 100 pans of all sizes and started going around to various filming locations to pick up leftovers.”  She named her charity “Hollywood Helping Hands.”

The beneficiary of Emerson’s work is My Sister’s House, a shelter for women and children run by the Atlanta Mission.

Some days she needs help, so her mom, Lorri Leonaitis, pitches in, often recruiting friends to join her.  Emerson pays all her own expenses for the project.  She earns that money from “I’d Eat That,” the catering company she started when she was 14.  She has also worked with the pastry chef at Umi, a popular Japanese restaurant in Buckhead, an opportunity she called “a dream come true” for a passionate foodie.

But her long-range dream is a role in the film industry.  During the filming in her home, Emerson was able to participate in the television making process, standing in for the actors and actresses, “clapping the clapperboard for a few takes,” and interacting with the cast and crew.

That was fun, but her real goal is screenwriting.  She’s not yet written a full script, but has practiced on short stories and individual scenes.

A 4.0 student in the International Baccalaureate program, she is awaiting word on admission to the film program at the University of Southern California.  If admitted, she is already thinking about continuing the “Hollywood Helping Hands” in Hollywood.  With her record of charity and achievement, it’s a sure thing.

Empowering the next generation of storytellers

Susanna Spiccia has a simple question: As Georgia’s workforce embraces opportunity in the state’s film industry, are we training our kids for these new jobs?

Susanna Spiccia

As founder and executive director of re:imagine/ATL, a non-profit organization that connects Georgia’s youth to film and television experiences, she’s laser-focused on answering that question.

“Our biggest goal is to support teen storytellers, and let them create and produce their own stories,” says Susanna. “We want to help them learn to write, use a camera, edit and more.”

Susanna has lined up some high-profile support for her efforts. Announced today, Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance joins The Arthur Blank Foundation and more than 20 other companies to create the re:imagine/ATL Alliance, a group that will focus on creating pipeline for mentoring and jobs to train the next generation for film and digital jobs right here in Georgia. Led by a three-year commitment from The Arthur M. Blank Foundation of $285,000, companies have committed a total investment of $450,000. These companies have also committed to mentor students, create internships and provide job-shadowing opportunities. 

The re:imagine/ATL Alliance is a major milestone for the organization Susanna founded in 2014.

reimagineATL Photo on Sixthman Cruise

“I had never been a part of film or media before re:imagine/ATL,” says Susanna.  “I wanted a way to bring kids together from different backgrounds, and as I met more and more people in the industry, I saw what tremendous opportunities there could be for our young people.”

Opportunity comes through re:imagine/ATL events and programs such as “No Comment,” “re:imagine/COMMUNITY,” “The Green Room” and “Currents.” Each program focuses on a specific set of skills students need to get involved in the film industry. The re:imagine/ATL team, supported by a cadre of volunteers, has spent the last four years building bridges that connect students and professionals in the industry.

“We’re going into schools across metro Atlanta to give kids with limited film-study exposure some real opportunity,” says Susanna. “We’re creating a teen network focused on highlighting the stories and issues that impact young adults across the globe.”

Film industry veteran spreads the wealth in Macon

Alan Rawlins has 42 years of experience in the film industry, mostly in Georgia with a brief detour to California. His best job so far? Providing opportunity to his hometown of Macon.Gentlemen Grips

“I’ve kept a lot of local people busy during lean times. When my business is flourishing, I’m able to hand off business to others,” says Rawlins, who has worked on more than 100 productions. “Lord knows how much lumber, metal and tools I’ve purchased. I keep as much business local as possible.”

Rawlins started as a driver on the set of “Future World” in 1975. He packed up his home and brought his wife and children to California for two years.

It didn’t work out.

Not for lack of work in California, but because he and his family missed Georgia. Back in Macon, Rawlins worked as a driver and eventually as a grip on commercials, music videos and movies of the week.

“The movies of the week were our bread and butter, but those dried up around 1996,” says Rawlins. “Work could be scarce in those days, it was a struggle.”

Rawlins spent most of the next 10 years as a key grip in California living as a nomad. He kept his home in Macon but drove his motor home back and forth to California or wherever the work took him across the United States.

In 1988, Rawlins started his own company, Gentlemen Grips, that supplies trucks and grip equipment to a select group of key grips. He started with one five-ton truck. In 2000, work started to pick up and Alan built his first 40-foot trailer. Then in 2008, the Georgia legislature passed lucrative film tax incentives, and Alan’s business really took off. Now he has six 40-foot trucks and five truckloads of grip equipment, support and rigging.

Gentlemen Grips_2

“I was forced to grow my company to keep up with demand and keep my team of grips supplied with equipment,” says Rawlins. “I was one of the holdouts who wouldn’t move to Los Angeles. I stuck it out in Georgia and, lo and behold, the movie business came to us. It’s paid off.”

Rawlins acknowledges that the film industry has been a blessing and the business has been good to him. But he’s not the kind of person to keep good fortune for himself. He’s committed to spreading it to his neighbors and local businesses.

A neighbor who is a welder and fabricator builds carts for Rawlins. Another local tradesman maintains his trailers, ensuring the brakes, airlines, wheel hubs, interiors and shelving are in good shape. One Macon fabricator was in danger of losing his home, and Rawlins gave him an advance to do work on trailers. The man was able to save his home from foreclosure.

Rawlins’ father-in-law, J.L Parker, took a job driving a motor home for an up and coming young actor (Burt Reynolds — who happened to be a friend) on the movie “Gator” filmed in Savannah, GA. He met and impressed the right people and helped Alan get his start in the film industry. Now Rawlins’ son and nephews are getting their start. Three generations are working in the film industry.

“I had a bunch of young’uns come through the ranks in my shop. They’re thrilled with this opportunity,” says Rawlins. “Stepping into the film industry has been a blessing. The business has been good to me, my family and my entire community.”

New program offers film job training for Veterans

Georgia’s film industry is helping those who served our country find opportunity here at home.

VGIFT 1That’s the goal of VGIFT, Veterans of Georgia in Film and Television, an Atlanta Veterans Association program. The relationships it is creating with production companies and studios are helping VGIFT educate, train and place veterans into jobs in Georgia’s film industry.

Fueling the organization’s early success is Terrell Sandefur, a long-time member of the industry. His work in casting, producing and scouting, as well as his work on a number of film festivals, helped him recognize opportunities here for veterans.

Terrell has spent more than a decade working in the Macon film scene. His work as chairman of the Macon Film Commission, as well as work with the Macon Film Festival, has sparked relationships and friendships with many people in the industry.

VGIFT 2

(Left to right) Intern Kent Roland, Beth Talbert of Eagle Rock Studios, Terrell Sandefur, intern Anita Williams

“Relationships lead to opportunity, and I want to share that opportunity with veterans,” says Terrell, who is expanding his work to Atlanta. “It’s my goal to get veterans into all the major studios.”

VGIFT offers training programs and screenings that help veterans transition from the demanding military into the production work. Free training programs through its partnership with Georgia Entertainment Institute’s PACT (Production Assistant Certification Training) has helped VGIFT place veteran graduates in productions such as “I, Tonya” and “Mine 9,” as well as TV shows “MacGyver” and “Dynasty.” Training includes areas such as set etiquette and terminology, set safety, set call outs, lockouts and wrangling.

But the real learning comes on set.

“You can only learn so much in a classroom,” Terrell says. “Through internships, our goal is to enhance their learning right there on set. Most of the time this leads to full-time hires.”

“The Georgia film industry, along with VGIFT, is doing something amazing for veterans in our state,” says Terrell. “The best part is, we are just getting started.”

Learn more about VGIFT at http://www.atlantaveteransassociation.org/VGIFT.html

Life-long love of the water translates into film, TV opportunities

Mike Neal grew up on the water.  As a kid in Maine he was always outdoors fishing and boating.  Many years later he’s still out on the water, only now he works there as a marine coordinator for Georgia-based film and TV productions.  Mike Neal 3

After a peripatetic career as an advisor to armed forces around the world, a dive instructor on cruise ships and a student at the Maine Maritime Academy, he settled in Savannah to run a small marina.  He now operates Bull River Cruises, an collection of explorations of coastal Georgia that have become popular with locals and tourists.

Unlike thousands of Georgians who got jobs and new careers when the movie studios came to town, Mike got his start in 2008 in Costa Rica, where he was a contestant/talent on “The Catch,” a one-season reality series about a fishing competition.  “I learned a lot during the filming of the show on that job, especially about all the skills needed to make a tv show,” Mike says. “I also recognized the need for greater safety on the water in these productions.”

His next production was “The Town,” starring Ben Affleck, which helped him gain valuable experience on working in the film industry. His aspiration was to become a film’s marine coordinator, a job that included scouting locations, working on pre-production planning, and recruiting and managing crews on the water during production.

Mike Neal 2

Mike’s big break came on the production of  “Savannah,” featuring Jim Caviezel, who starred in the TV series “Person of Interest,” and Chitwetel Ejiofor, an Academy Award nominee for “12 Years a Slave.”  Mike had eight men on his crew for that film, a step up on his management ladder.  More importantly, he was coached on the job of marine coordinator by an experienced assistant director.

Filming a scene on the water involves the close coordination of at least three vessels: A camera boat, its supply boats and a “picture” boat being filmed.  Mike himself has a fleet of boats, kayaks and paddleboards, and can charter other boats as needed.

Currently waiting release is “Peanut Butter Falcon,” featuring Dakota Johnson, Shia LaBeouf and Bruce Dern.  The film tells the story of a child with Down Syndrome in a Huck-Finn-like adventure.  “We filmed off Georgia’s barrier islands, marshes and black-water creeks,” Mike says. “We didn’t have to create many sets; the natural splendor of the Georgia coastline was our theater.”

Mike is also in production in Savannah for “Gemini Man,” with Will Smith.

The impact of film-making on his excursion business has been significant. Film and TV work now accounts for 50 percent of his business, and that share is growing.  Mike attributes that growth to the Georgia tax credit for film production.

“It’s produced thousands of jobs and built up existing businesses all over the state— everybody benefits,” Mike says. “Georgians and the state itself are getting back far more revenue than the tax break gives up.  It’s a great deal for everyone.”

When he looks at his own bottom line, Mike sees the impact of film and TV on his family, too. “It allows my family to make decisions we didn’t know would be available to us.”